Michael Bushnell
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Michael Bushnell

Michael Bushnell is a senior print journalism and political science major from Silver Spring, Md.  This is his second consecutive year covering the Missouri state legislative session, and he'll be on the ethics beat.

Stories by Michael Bushnell in 2010 include:
Stories by Michael Bushnell in 2009 include:
Michael Bushnell's Blog in 2009
Behind the Beat

Posted May 12, 2009: Transformers

It's the final week of the General Assembly, but the Senate surely didn't mind taking advantage of the power outage that randomly came through the capitol on Tuesday.  According to Ameren, a transformer blew downtown and shut off power to about a six block radius that happened to include the center of Missouri's government. 

At around noon, the Senate was getting ready to adjourn for a 45-minute lunch break when the power blew.  Senate floor leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, proposed to take a break until 2.  That wasn't good enough for most Senators.

"Senator, aren't there enough important committees that need to meet until at least 2:30 or 3?," inquired Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit.

"You're not getting enough time to play golf, Senator," Engler replied.

Senators then began shouting out numbers as if it were an episode of 'Sesame Street.'

"Three! Let's break 'til three!," yelled one Senator.

"Four!" said another.

"Can I get a 3? Going once, going-- oh, there's a 3:30, can I get--," replied Engler jokingly.

Engler asked if any Senators cared to make an announcement.  Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Arnold, couldn't resist taking a shot at the older-looking Senate clerk and referencing the lack of electricity.

"Can you ask the secretary of the Senate if this is what it was like when she started?," he asked to uproarious laughter.

Engler agreed to let the Senate adjourn until 2:30, 105 minutes after he had originally planned to.  The power was back on by 12:45.

Posted April 30, 2009: Kiss me thru the phone?

One lesson learned from the Senate session on Thursday?  Don't leave your cellphone around Sen. Jeff Smith, or people will think you're running for governor.

After Smith introduced some guests, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, chimed in.

"Don't leave your cellphone around the senator from the fourth," Dempsey said, looking at Smith's guests. "He'll probably do something mischievous with it."

Dempsey seemed partially okay with it, and somewhat peeved. 

"After the Senate bowling tournament, (Dempsey) left his phone by accident so I sent some text messages to some people that were of questionable nature," Smith said. "He had a strange morning.  There were some people who thought he was running for governor, and other people thought that he missed them very much, so that was awkward for him."

Posted April 28, 2009: Every day is a holiday

On the day it was announced that the U.S. economy was shrinking even faster than expected, the Missouri Senate was busy with other things.  Like what to call December 25.  A bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, that would make that day officially recognized as "Christmas" made its way to the Senate floor, and some Democratic senators decided to have fun with it.

Democratic Sens. Rita Days of Normandy and Joan Bray of University City wanted to know why other holidays were being left out.

Days: "Cinco de Mayo, is this in here?"

Bray: "Oh my gosh, Cinco de Mayo. And you know what?  Dieceiseis de Septiembre (Sept. 16) is Mexican Independence Day...my birthday."

Days: "Okay, well your birthday ought to be in here."

Bray: "St. Patrick's Day?"

Days: "Well that absolutely is true...that's not here."

Bray: "He said, 'Begora and thank ya.'"

Days: "St. Patrick. We're going to have lots of amendments for this one."

Days also asked about the recognition of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas.  It is actually recognized in 29 states and D.C., where it is also a government holiday.  The Christmas bill still needs to pass the Senate before it can go to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk to be signed.

Posted April 23, 2009: Know your Senator- Part 5 of 34: Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis

Some state Senators have done some pretty cool things in their lives, but only one can say he was the star of an award-winning documentary.  "Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?" covered a then-30-year-old Jeff Smith's campaign for U.S. Congress in 2004.  An little-known Washington University political science professor with no history in elected office, Smith ran against the far-better known Russ Carnahan and the political machine that his last name brought.  In the film, Carnahan is portrayed as aloof, not very engaging and running off his family name (his late father was a governor, his mom a U.S. senator and his sister is Missouri's secretary of state and is running for U.S. Senate). Smith finished second behind Carnahan in the Democratic primary, losing by fewer than 2,000 votes, and Carnahan has been in Washington ever since.  Two years later, Smith ran for State Senate and overcame long odds once again, defeating three state representatives in the primary and winning 36.4 percent of the vote, more than 11 points better than the second place finisher, Rep. Yaphett El-Amin. Smith, 35, is an Olivette native and still teaches part-time at Wash-U.

  • Do people here know you starred in a documentary?: "When I came to the Senate, the staff did a showing and a bunch of people saw it and told others about it."
  • When did you decide to run for Congress: "Two days before I announced.  I was looking at the field and I knew that Rep. Gephardt had been there 28 years and the woman before him for 24 years, and I thought to myself that if I didn't do it then, I would never get the chance."
  • Does Russ Carnahan have any ill will towards you?: "I have never talked to him about the movie, but I can't imagine he's too big of a fan."
  • When did it hit you that you really were a state senator?: "I think it was part presenting my first bill in committee, and my first bill on the floor.  But it's been everything I hoped it would be; it's fascinating and intellectually challenging."
  • Favorite thing about your district: "How diverse it is.  My district is about 55% black, 7% latino, 6% Bosnian, 5% Asian; about 15% are gay."
  • Being white in a black district, how did you break down racial demographic barriers to win the primary?: "A lot of people in that campaign kind of did it the traditional St. Louis way.  You know, they thought to divvy up the city by race and get out the vote on your own turn and pit sides of the city against each other.  We had other candidates with very, very strong messages targeting their own demographic.  Our message was that there's one St. Louis.  I think that message of unity and trying to bridge the lines that divide us was probably the key.  I didn't win south St. Louis, I didn't win north St. Louis.  I finished second in both parts, but I won because I was so close in both and the other candidates split.  Black people will vote for a white candidate if you knock on their door and if you care about things that are important to them.  Race is overrated in St. Louis politics, but it does take a lot of hard work to show that."
  • The Missouri Senate needs... "More time to read bills.  More time to informally talk about stuff and meet with experts in different realms who aren't biased.  Lobbyists are like locusts here and sometimes it's hard to find unvarnished information, which is hard for me because I like to hear the straight scoop."
  • What do you do for fun in Jefferson City?: "I play basketball every Wednesday up here.  I like to go running, too, and I like going out with other Senators.  Sometimes we'll go to Mike's Corner Pocket or Gumbo Bottoms."
  • Favorite band: "Cake is probably my favorite."
  • Favorite food: "Imo's Pizza and the bacon cheeseburgers from Blueberry Hill in the University City loop."
  • Favorite sports team: "I went to Chapel Hill, so North Carolina basketball is my favorite."
  • How do you bridge the political divide as a minority party senator?: "Even people like Sen. Matt Bartle, who is very conservative, is a good friend of mine.  I never dreamed I would be good friends with a lot of these guys when I came in, but they're all very bright, and when we find stuff we agree on we work hard on it.  We also don't villify each other on the things we don't agree on."
  • Any regrets?: "On the MOHELA bill two years ago, I should have driven a harder bargain before I compromised."
  • Favorite part of being a Senator: "I love floor debate, it's so fascinating.  There are so many incredibly bright Senators, and I learn so much from listening to them.  And constituent services are great.  And of course passing bills and helping shape policy in the state."
  • Did you always plan on public service: "It wasn't like I always thought I would do this.  If I had, I wouldn't have gotten a Ph.D., I would have gone to law school and learned how to closely read the law."
  • Does being a state Senator ever get old?: "Never.  Every day I learn something new about the legislative process and I get something out of it."
Posted April 21, 2009: One day late

Only a day after the "4/20" national holiday for potheads, the Missouri House got in on the action, debating amendments which would increase punishments against certain marijuana users.  First up was an amendment which would increase the penalty for someone arrested with more than 35 grams (1.25 ounces) of the leafy stuff in the presence of a minor, whether that child is a day old or a day shy of 18.  It would increase the penalty from a Class D felony to a Class C, which would require at least a five year prison sentence, but would not change anything related to those arrested with a smaller amount than 35 grams. 

But first they had to make sure that all their constituents knew how ill-informed they were about the drug.

Rep. Michael McGhee, R-Odessa, who introduced the successful amendment, started by saying "I don't know much about marijuana."  But he did say that it could give little kids brain damage.

"There was a man who was smoking marijuana regularly around this infant so much that it gave the child damage that today has affected her brain cells," he said. "How do we pay for these infants who are brain damaged?"

McGhee's commentary ignored the fact that the child still could have been brain damaged had the pothead never possessed more than 34 grams of herb at the same time.  But then the representatives wanted to know if 35 grams could reasonably be smoked for personal use.  Not wanting to look too knowledgeable about the drug that has been consumed by over 120 million Americans at some point in their lifetime, they turned to their resident former drug cop, Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart.  But even Roorda didn't want to appear too educated.

Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka: "For a frequent marijuana user how long would (35 grams) last?"

Roorda: "I'm not sure; I'm not a marijuana user."

Frame: "Oh none of us have been; thats why were a little foggy here."

But upon further questioning, Roorda did relent and informed the masses, while tossing in a pertinent movie reference.  One that should have been lost on all of the representatives, who surely never had used marijuana ever in their lives.  Frame joined in on the pot culture fun, and took it old school.

Frame: "So you don't have any idea how long it would take for a frequent marijuana user to use 35 or more grams?"

Roorda: "Well, a really heavy user, a 'Harold and Kumar' user could last a week."

Frame: "I think it was in 'Cheech and Chong: The Big Bambu; and this is all second hand information and rumors back in those days were rampant, but I seem to recall that the album included a gigantic rolling paper that would allow someone to roll as much as 28 grams."

Roorda: "Yes that's one ounce and I vaguely recall hearing of that as well."

Yes, Cheech and Chong's second album was referenced on the floor of the Missouri House.

When the Democrats were done having their fun, it was time for questions.  Rep. Michael Brown, R-Kansas City, was not pleased with the amendment, and he worried about how this would increase the prison population in a state with over 10 percent unemployment and a funding crisis for jails. 

However, McGhee was just looking out for the kids.  Or at least the ones with brain damage.

Brown: "Theres so many things i wanna ask you about...how is Missouri going to pay to house more inmates when weve just cut the budget for corrections?"

McGhee: "How do we pay for these infants who are brain damaged?"

Later in the debate...

Brown: Do you know what percentage of prisoners are repeat offenders? 67 percent! 67 percent we let out and we let them back in."

McGhee: "That has nothing to do with the brian damage inflicted on kids from marijuana users."

Brown: "Right now were talking about a dopehead selling to children, not someone smoking it."

McGhee: "I would rather have a dealer in jail than a baby in the hospital.  I'm trying to protect the mental integrity of children."

Brown: "When a parent goes to jail, who takes care of the children?"

McGhee: "That's not the issue.  The issue in front of us are the 35 grams of marijuana."

Ironically, that is probably what a lot of potheads all over the country also said yesterday.  Brown said this would just be another thing for blacks in urban areas to worry about getting in trouble for at the hands of overzealous police officers.  He asked why this legislation, as he viewed it, would only specifically single out marijuana, not much harsher and more damaging drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine.

"In the 80's, crack was the epidemic so we created leg to get rid of crack," Brown said.  "Now meth is the problem so maybe we should worry about that.  If we're going to throw in marijuana, then why not throw in vodka or beer? This is going right to the urban core and police who love nothing more than to pull over African-Americans."

Exit drugs, insert racist cops.  Who said the culture wars were dead?  Certainly not Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs (black population: 2.93%), who was very angry at Brown.

"To say that officers are out harassing black people is offensive," Pratt said.  "Find me one instance and then we can talk."

Needless to say, Brown was talkative away from the floor.

"I wanted to answer Pratt, but I didn't want this to go on for another hour or two," Brown said later. "All you have to do is go to any courthouse in a major are and look at the multitudes of African-Americans awaiting trial."

When pressed to give a specific instance to respond to Pratt, Brown said he was almost arrested one time in Jefferson City for having expired license plate tags. 

"I got pulled over, and almost immediately he told me to get out of the car," Brown said. "He searched my car, handcuffed me and was going to take me to the Cole County jail, had it not been for another state representative who saw me and told the officer who I was."

As for Pratt himself?

"He lives in a suburban area, where he can drive up and down the street and not be harrassed," Brown said. "He has no exposure to what goes on at night in an urban area."

Pratt said he was sympathetic to Brown's situation, but that it was irrelevant to the case.

"Besides, that was hardly an urban area," Pratt said. "I haven't heard of other instances of racial profiling from my consitutents, and I have constituents of all races. I live in Jackson County too."

As with most other debates on the House floor, the Democratic opposition fell on mostly deaf ears and the amendment passed with a voice vote.

Posted April 16, 2009: Especially honored guests

The Missouri men's basketball team has gotten national exposure as a result of their somewhat surprising run to the Elite Eight of last month's NCAA Tournament, but their highest honor came on this Thursday.  That's right, they got to visit the State Capitol.

"I have some especially honored guests," said Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who got to do the honors because his district includes the university.  "They were an inspiration for our state."

The entire team, including managers, trainers, media relations, Athletic Director Mike Alden and university President Brady Deaton all traveled down for an afternoon of being fawned upon and signing autographs.

While Missouri coach Mike Anderson spoke, the players stood awkwardly along the far wall of the chamber, with a good number staring either at the floor or admiring all the granite and opulence around them.  Some players were sharper dressed than others; point guard Zaire Taylor wore a crisp brown suit, while freshman power forward Keith Ramsey wore a black dress shirt and a purple tie that ended above his navel, sans jacket.  That normally would be a violation of the Senate floor dress code, but apparently there is a code excluding basketball players on teams that just finished their season 31-7.

It was Anderson's first trip to Jefferson City since his statewide tour following his hiring in the spring of 2006.

"I came here three years ago and at that point in time I talked about geting back to Tiger basketball and winning a championship, and I bet some of you thought I was smoking something," Anderson said. "Look where we are now."

After Anderson spoke, the team made a move towards the door, only to have Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, ask to speak.  He did for three minutes, about 30 seconds longer than the head coach.

"You worked harder than every other team in the country," Bartle said.  "I know and we all know that you paid for it with hours and hours of suffering."

After that line, some of the players who remained in the chamber looked at each other; a couple let out mild chuckles.  After the Senate, it was on to the House, although the significance of the day was lost on at least some members of the team.

"What room was that we were just in?," asked one of the team managers after leaving.  After being informed it was the Senate chamber, he replied: "oh so I guess that explains all the seats and columns and stuff."

As is common, the House was slightly more raucous.  Rep. Michael Brown, D-Kansas City, stood in line as the players walked on the House floor, high-fiving each of the players.

"Now they finally have reached their dream," remarked Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial. "They worked their tails off all year to finally be able to shake Mike Brown's hand."
In the House, the team was given a nearly minute-long ovation, but some members weren't fully engaged.

Anderson: "Can I get an M-I-Z..."

(Two second pause.)

About fifteen representatives at most: "Z-O-U!"

Anderson: "We're in Tiger country now, I think, aren't we?"

They were, and afterwards the team signed autographs in the third floor rotunda, turning the capitol into Mizzou Fan Day.  Ordinary people in Missouri hats and shirts stood in line with state elected officials waiting for autographs. Rep. Brian Yates, R-Kansas City, had a trash bag full of signed basketballs.

Posted April 7, 2009: Freshmen...

The Senate was busy discussing cell phone access rates, when debate came to a screeching halt.

"Excuse me senators," said Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, moderating the debate for the day. "The senator from Boone has a beverage receptacle that is not allowed down here."

A chorus of "awwww" and "shame, shame, shame!" came ringing from the chamber, reminiscent of a middle school lunch cafeteria.  Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, holding a soda can, made a beeline for the nearest door. 

Posted April 2, 2009: Screwing decorum and Tilley saves the day

While the state Senate is generally civil, the House of Representatives sometimes has the vibe of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange mixed with a coop at a chicken processing plant, with a little anger on the side.  It was probably a good thing that the House gallery was mostly empty on Thursday morning, because HB 681 brought out the fiesty side of some state Representatives.

It was judgment day for Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, and his bill which would dramatically change the way vacancies in statewide offices are filled.  If a vacancy occurs in the middle of the term of a U.S. Senator, State Auditor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, or, most importantly in this case, Secretary of State, the rest of the elected time would be filled through a special election rather than a gubernatorial appointment as is currently protocol.  This brought up some heated opinions on both sides, with multiple Democrats assailing Smith for introducing a bill they called nothing more than a partisan ploy.

While Republicans have comfortable majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, the Democrats hold six of the eight statewide offices in Missouri, and could potentially hold everything except the Lt. Governor's job after the 2010 election.  Smith said the bill was in response to the debacle in Illinois, where former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D, was thrown out of office after being caught on tape trying to trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, for political favors.  Smith told the House floor that holding special elections would remove any chance of corruptions.  Democrats didn't buy that; some of them said the only goal of this bill is to give Republicans a chance to take the Secretary of State's job before 2012.

Popular Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, D, who was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote in 2008, has announced her candidacy for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R.  If she were to win, under current law, Gov. Jay Nixon, D, would pick someone to fill her spot until the 2012 elections.  This bill would allow a Republican to potentially win an election sometime in 2011, giving them the advantage of incumbency for 2012.  Democrats did not like that, and some pulled no punches.

Calling the legislation "a silly bill," Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said Smith was being disingenous when he said HB 681 was promoting Missourians' freedom. "If there was still a Republican governor in this state and we had bad candidates running for statewide office, we would probably do the same thing."  No statewide vacancy in one of those six offices has occured during a term since 1994. 

Turns out that was about as cordial as it would get.  Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence, the assistant Minority Leader, was the first to call out Smith.  Before he called the legislation "ridiculous" and "uncalled for, unjustified and unneeded," he said he didn't believe the Salem representative's claim that his constituents asked for this bill.

"The gentleman from the 150th district says he got calls about this after what happened in Illinois," Kuessner said, referring to Smith. "I say this didn't happen unless it was solicited by him.  He had to be speaking detrimental of Missouri in that case."

Smith did not back down, however.  In response to Kuessner, he portrayed himself as the champion of election freedom.  However, this bill would only apply to those six statewide offices that the governor has power of appointment over; no local offices would be impacted.

"This has nothing to do with who is running or not running for Senate," Smith insisted. "I'm trying to give the power back to the people."

More Democrats didn't buy that and that's when the fun really began.  Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, called that argument "hollow."  He also began the trash talking. 

Smith said the Democrats were being too full of themselves, to which Talboy replied, "a twenty point victory will do that to you."  Nixon beat Hulshof last November 58% to 38%.

Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Claycomo, took the microphone to defend Smith.  That's when the decibel level was rasied.  Talboy said the bill "smacks obviously of political expediency" and called the Republican's goal disingenous because it doesn't cover local elections.  Silvey got testy.

"Did you try? Did you try?" Silvey asked Talboy about whether he offered an amendment when the bill went through the perfecting process on Tuesday. "You didn't try to make this bill better.  You're just looking for a soundbite, you're not looking for a solution."

The Republicans also tried to compare the decades-long battle for women's suffrage in the U.S. to the off-chance to holding a special election for Missouri State Auditor.  After Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Grantwood Village, said this bill would change the same protocol that has been the norm in Missouri since 1875, Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, gave Susan B. Anthony's fight a shout out.

"Women couldn't vote until 1921," Jones said. "If you use the minority party's argument, should they not have been allowed to vote?  That's the way it was."

But the biggest fireworks came in an exchange between Smith and the Missouri General Assembly's closest thing to an invisible man: a first-year Democratic legislator from the St. Louis area.  Rep. Don Calloway, D-Vinita Terrace, was very critical of the idea that the Governor could potentially be controlling the Attorney General's office before a special election could be held. Smith was not happy.

"You should get an award for the freshman who talks the most," Smith said. 

"You should get an award for the biggest-- nevermind, I won't say it," Calloway said.  "Two preachers' kids going at it, this is fun."

But then Calloway committed a cardinal sin in parliamentary procedure: referring to a representative by his or her name.  After two or three minutes of heated back-and-forth between Calloway and Smith, often to the point where it was impossible to understand what either man was saying, he called Silvey out.

Calloway: "It's so unbelievably rude that we can't have a dialogue. Maybe you didn't read the bill you drafted, but you guys; I'll get to you, Silvey--"

Smith: "Don't refer to him by name on the floor!"

Calloway: "Fine, call a point of order then!"

Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, came to the rescue, calling said point of order.  "I would appreciate some decorum."  He didn't really get what he wanted.

Calloway (to Smith): "This bill is like swiss cheese, there are so many holes in it."

Smith: "You want to tax but not represent. If you had a problem with this, why didn't you offer an amendment."

Calloway: "Some things slip by me."

Smith: "Imagine that, some things slip by you."

It got better.  After Smith said Calloway was making "false accusations" against him and the bill on the floor, Calloway got the last word in.

"You're the son of a preacher, you should know better," Calloway said to jeers from the Republican side.

"I think that was a personal jab," Smith said, looking at Speaker Ronald Richard, R-Joplin, for some support.  Richard banged his gavel.

"I think both of you have broken enough House rules today," he said.

Rep. Jonas Hughes, D-Kansas City, holding a rolled-up piece of green paper and pointing it at Smith from across the House floor, said the Republicans were beating a dead horse talking about Blagojevich.

"You talk about Illinois over and over," he said. "This isn't Illinois and this is not the will of the people."

Smith: "What my bill does--"

Hughes: "I know what your bill does!"

Smith: "You're the one trying to take away democracy!"

After nearly 90 minutes of debate and just when it looked like we were on the verge of a duel/gang fight in the middle of Jefferson City, like Spiderman repelling from the top of a building, Tilley came to save everyone from themselves.

"Motion to move to previous question," he said to cheers and sighs of relief from both sides of the aisle.  Finally something they could both agree on.  Until Smith equated special elections to the crux of America's foundation.

"If you believe in democracy, then you will vote for this bill," he said.

Based on that standard, democracy prevailed on basically a party-line vote. Five Democrats voted in favor and no Republicans voted against and the bill passed 94 to 63.

Posted March 31, 2009: Got their priorities in order

With time ticking down until the end of the 2009 legislative session, it would seem important to make the most out of every second that the Senate is gathered together.  Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, pleaded for his colleagues to make the most of their time by not wasting energy debating non-essential bills.  His words were heeded for maybe 45 seconds.

Immediately after Engler finished speaking, Sen. Dan Clemens, R-Marshfield, took the floor to speak on behalf of his SB 364, which would create something known as the "Television Electronic Recycling Act."  

Clemens' legislation would require any television manufacturer who wishes to sell their wares in Missouri to register with the state and pay a $2,500 fee on Jan. 1 of each year.  They must also recycle a certain number of televisions that would be based on the number sold.  This did not go over too well with some of his fellow Republicans, a couple of whom were more than happy to give anecdotes in opposition of the bill.

"My son eats nearly a box of cereal every day," Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, told the chamber. "And he finishes off doggone almost a whole gallon of milk a day, so we have all those plastic milk things and cardboard that we recycle.  Should we make the milk people register too?"

"If you're gonna filibuster my bill, I'll just let it go," Clemens said.  But Bartle was not done speaking about how this wasn't important enough to speak about.

"This doesn't rise to the level of filibuster passion for me," Bartle said.  He continued to speak about how he only bloviates for specific bills. "I only filibuster important life issues."

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, wondered how this law could possibly be enforced on major television manufacturers from overseas, or even against corporations such as Wal-Mart, which are not headquartered in the state. 

"So LG in Korea actually manufactures every TV.  I don't care who says it, they've got about 90 percent of the market share," Crowell said.  According to Reuters, LG's LCD television market share in the U.S. was around ten percent.  But he continued.

"We're gonna make LG pay $2,500 each year to sell TVs?  How do we do that?  Are we gonna send (Attorney General) Chris Koster to Korea and clean house?"

"If we have to," Clemens replied timidly.

"So he's going to fly all the way over there and tell LG to give us a $2,500 annual fee?  He'll probably stop in Hong Kong to get some suits."

Crowell then gave a shout out to a Cape Girardeau electronics store, making sure that the name and location were forever kept in the state Senate record.  He said only local manufacturers and retailers could logistically have this law enforced on them.  Clemens all of a sudden was in a time crunch.

"Senator do you want to waste our time with this?" Clemens asked Crowell.

"I don't like this bill at all, you're wasting our time!" Crowell responded.

The Senate did then go on to debate appropriations of certain federal stimulus funds.  But only after the important stuff, like television recycling, was taken care of first.

Posted March 17, 2009: Not quite Cancun

A stereotypical college spring break is known for alcoholic excess as well as lowered standards of physical attractiveness and personal respectability, to go along with the $125 nights out that would normally cost $15 back at school.  But spring recess at the Missouri state capitol has not been quite as rowdy.  In terms of excitement, it resembles the college itself while everyone else is in Panama City Beach or Acapulco bonging beers; a nearly barren campus, and the only people there are either horribly lost or trying to appear busy because they are still getting paid to do something.  Some staffers in the few offices open were wearing green t-shirts (it being St. Patrick's Day and all), a far cry for the business professional gear that is standard.  One receptionist was overheard in the hallway talking on the office phone about who was going to get kicked off "American Idol" this week.  At 2 p.m. today, fewer than five Senate offices were not locked, and of the ones that were open, at least a couple appeared unlocked by mistake.

Many school districts across the state are also on spring break, and there were still dozens of tourists (some wearing matching shirts, of course) soaking in the Missouri State Museum and nothing else, because what is there to do at the capitol when there are no legislators in town? 

"That explains why this place is so quiet," said Sue Jarrett, who was visiting from Joplin with her husband and two sons, as she asked a reporter to take a family picture for the third time because the kids messed up the first two. "At least today is a nice day, and we have more time to wander around the city than we thought we would."

Perhaps they could have spoken into the microphone that was left on for hours this afternoon, at times creating an unbearable feedback noise.  If last Tuesday was one of the busiest of the whole session, this Tuesday was the exact inverse in every way.  And, for the record, this week will be the merciful end for Mary Joy Corkrey on "Idol."

Posted March 14, 2009: Know your Senator- Part 4 of 34: Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington

If you look at the list of the full-time occupations of many state Senators, there are a lot of common trends; lawyer, professor, lawyer, doctor, farmer, lawyer...car salesman?  That was Sen. John Griesheimer's occupation and "lifelong dream" in Franklin County before he won his first election, to the Washington City Council in 1982; a race he won by four votes.  He has been an elected official ever since, serving six years on the council, four years on the Franklin County Commission, ten in the state House of Representatives and what will eventually be eight years in the Senate before he is forced out by term limits in January, 2011.  Griesheimer, 56, is native to the Washington area and a number of his colleagues have called him one of the biggest and friendliest personalities in Missouri's most exclusive legislative body. 

  • How did you get involved in public service?: "In the early 1980s, I sold cars.  But I sold Chrysler while they were going down the tubes, and the economy was bad.  To be honest with you, I thought I was a failure in life.  I thought I had more potential than that.  My parents died early, and in high school I was one of those kids who was teased and wasn't with the cliques.  But I wanted to prove to myself that I could excel and show everybody they were wrong.  But mostly I wasn't happy with what I was doing for a living, and I had an opportunity to run for the Washington City Council.  I heard about what the city council did, and I thought it was really neat because they were helping shape the community and I loved the area I was living in.  It was my first time running for office, and before that, any kind of public service was on my radar."
  • Do you wonder how life would be different had you lost that first election?: "To be honest with you, I was the first on the ballot. On the day to file, I was sitting in my car at 4 a.m. freezing my tail off to be first on the ballot.  If I hadn't been first on the ballot, I probably wouldn't have made it.  I've thought about it, but things are meant to be.  I worked hard in the campaign and I don't take anything for granted.  God has been good to me and the people of my district have, too."
  • Favorite part of your district: "The people in our district have a strong work ethic. For the most part, people keep up their property and are proud of their heritage.  We are a very proud county, and we had things like planning and zoning long before even bigger communities in the state.  In a lot of ways we're progressive; we're having an election in April on whether to have a charter government or not.  We're unique."
  • Favorite aspect of Jefferson City: "Quite honestly, I've loved this community for decades.  I used to come up here back when I sold cars, just to shop and drive around.  Jeff City and Washington are very similar; both are along the river, both have great historic sites and great scenery.  I love Jeff City.  I'd love to live here, but then I would have to leave Washington and I don't want to do that either."
  • Favorite food: "It's between steaks and shrimp."
  • Favorite sports team: "I'm a football guy, so the Rams first, but the MU Tigers second.  The Rams are my first love."
  • The Missouri Senate needs...: "In past years, I would say more socialization, but this year we've had that.  I would say that maybe we need more discipline.  We've got a couple members who are kind of rabid, and some of the tone we've had has not been good.  There needs to be some kind of discipline done to turn that around.  Other than that, we've done better this year than in past.  In 2007, we worked way too hard, there was no socialization.  I honestly wouldn't have given you the time of day back then after session adjourned because we were all so burnt out."
  • What was so bad about 2007?: "We were dealing with the whole MOHELA thing a lot of other issues, too.  There was rarely a night we went home before midnight.  Particularly with me, if we come back in the evening, I need to get some fresh air and come back.  But we just went non-stop, and I'm not good when that happens.  And it wasn't just me; it burnt everyone out."
  • Why people think he's a 'big' personality: "Look at my size, I'm not exactly petite.  I get along with everybody.  I didn't come here to play politics on either side; I don't like the politics of politics.  I would give the shirt off my back for anybody; that's just my demeanor.  I would rather be happy than anything; when I get down, believe me, you can scrape me off the pavement.  But for the most part I try to stay up, because you can really get depressed and stay in a funk if you aren't constantly on a personality high.  I don't think I'm a character, but I guess I'm kind of a different guy."
  • When did it hit you that you were a state official?: "The day I got sworn into the House and the day I got sworn into the Senate, what struck me was just the realization of the awesome power that was vested in me to do the people who elected me right and represent them well.  It is special knowing people from all over a county liked you enough to give you this job.  I love this building; at night, people don't know how magnificent of a place it is.  It sounds corny, but when you look at this place, and to know you were sent by the people back home to represent them and work in this building, it's a really awesome feeling.  I drive around sometimes when I'm about to leave and I'm amazed at how lucky I am."
  • How has the Senate changed since you joined in 2003?: "People in the Senate used to think they were better than everyone else, but there a lot more grounded people here now which is really important."
  • Plans after he is term limited: "I'd like to work up here some way. I want to work in the hallways still somehow; I don't want to retire or just drift away.  I love being in this place way too much."

Posted March 10, 2009: Free stickers for some, lobbying for all

If you're struggling to find good entertainment for cheap in this recession, the place to be might just be the Missouri State Capitol.  Tuesday was heaven for someone with a love of the arts, bad audio setups and masses of people wearing matching t-shirts.

With bills needing to be out of committee before the General Assembly adjourns for spring break on Thursday, all sorts of groups stepped up their lobbying frenzy this week.  Some were more about entertainment than others.  The Missouri chapter of the National Right to Life Committee was out in their largest numbers of the year, bringing members from all over the state dressed in red t-shirts, and handing out pamphlets and enjoying their "Action Day Rally."

Anyone feeling the pinch of the recession could have also picked up adornments for their automobile, assuming one hasn't sold it yet to help pay for this month's heating and gas bills.  For absolutely free, you could get pro-life bumper stickers such as "Blacks didn't choose slavery, Jews didn't choose genocide, Babies didn't choose abortion," or "Abortion = Terror." 

While equating abortion to terrorism, Missouri Right to Life was also passing out pamphlets which referred to itself as an "insurgency."  Gutsy, to say the least.

"The rule of insurgencies is that if they do not wither away they will eventually win," wrote Cathy Ruse, a Senior fellow at the Family Research Council, and Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, in a pamphlet MRL was passing out. "The insurgency of the pro-life movement has done much more than stay alive. It has thrived."

Had you been able to adequately impersonate a conservative elected official, you could have gotten one of the boutonniŔres Missouri Right to Life Representatives were passing out to pro-life representatives and senators. 

And there were also free photos to see.  As State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, D, spoke informally on the south capitol steps to a group of children visiting from the St. Louis area, he paused because the kids were districted by a moving billboard depicting an 11-week old aborted fetus that drove by.

While pro-choice Missourians did not have similar access to free goodies and moving billboards today, they still could have taken in multiple free shows, with less divisive themes than abortion. The Missouri Alliance for Arts Education had their "Fine Arts Education Day," holding performances in the rotunda and on the steps of the building.  Some school symphonic bands got the outdoor treatment, while others, such as the Linn High School band, played on the capitol steps in front of the band's parents, other bands, and a couple of people killing time on their lunch break.

"This sucks, I don't get why we couldn't have gotten to play inside," said a Linn band member, who didn't want to give his name.  "But at least we got to miss school, right?"

But at least outside it was easy to hear.  The program given out by the MAAE said, "keep in mind that the rotunda's acoustics are awful!"  That's probably not something contained in most Broadway playbills.

The sound made it nearly impossible to understand the words that any group aided by a backing track was singing, although the crowd always obliged with polite applause. 

When they weren't waiting to speak to representatives during the day's session, members of various lobbying groups were passing the time by checking out the youth art displays, put on by the Missouri Art Education Association.  Their goal was to promote art awareness, and there is probably no better way than by putting up over a dozen sandwich boards full of paintings and drawings all over the third floor of the capitol on one of its' most crowded days.

Also in Jefferson City in full force on Tuesday were members of the Truman State College Republicans, Missouri Association of Republican Women, the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, among other groups.

For those looking for free goodies, it probably paid to be a conservative.  This is Missouri, after all.

Posted March 5, 2009: Horsing around

While the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nearly 200 points, the Missouri Senate was focused on more pressing matters.  Like horse processing. 

Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 8, which would urge the U.S. Congress to not ban the process.  Illinois has already banned the procedure.  Shoemyer said it was unfair for the government to have to take care of horses that would otherwise be slaughtered.  He had plenty of support in the chamber.

"Let me just say that I think this is one of the most important things that we will deal with this year," Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, said.  He warned of a doomsday scenario in which Americans' access to all meat could be gone forever, not just horses.

"I'm not saying that before a Mizzou game we would go eat a horse's head," Bartle assured the chamber.  "But we could see it in our lifetime that we could not be able to access animal meat in this country."

Some politicians have railed against the trillions of dollars committed federally for the stimulus and bailout packages as an example of too much intrusion by Washington.  But for Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, the lack of horse processing was the apparent tipping point.

"I'm convinced now that Washington now is out of control and there is no responsibility and they listen to no one," he said.

The resolution passed 31 to 0, following some confusion from Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington. He appeared to vote against the resolution, drawing laughter from the chamber, although it was recorded as an "aye."

"How am I recorded?" Engler asked. When informed he apparently voted for the resolution despite saying no, he was not overly perturbed. "Eh, alright."

Over the course of the debate, the Dow Jones actually rose six points.  Hardly a coincidence.

Posted February 28, 2009: Know your Senator- Part 3 of 34: Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vernon

With term limits taking effect after just eight years of service in one chamber, the Missouri Senate definitely has its fair share of young, promising politicians, who have their eyes on bigger prizes.  One such man is Jack Goodman, who represents six counties south of Springfield, in the state's southwestern-most district.  After U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R, announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated in 2010 by Kit Bond, Goodman threw his hat in the ring for Blunt's current gig.  A native of southwest Missouri, Goodman, 35, is the Senate's assistant Majority Floor Leader, and he was re-elected to a second term in the Senate last year after serving from 2002 to 2005 in the state House.  Goodman is an attorney in the Springfield area and received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Missouri.

  • Favorite part of home district: "The pervasive sense of community.  I have seen overwhelming disaster across my district; tornadoes, ice storms, flooding.  And I've also seen occasions for them to celebrate.  The way the people of my district come together in times of need and celebration gives me a real sense of pleasure and pride in representing them.  They come to me as a representative of government after they've done what they can for themselves."
  • Favorite thing in Jefferson City: "There's a lot of interesting history in Jefferson City, but this building that we have the great pleasure of working in every day does it for me.  There's always something new or impressive to learn about the history and the work that has been done by people before us, and I have never gotten numb to that.
  • Why did you get involved in public office?: "I have been very civically active when I was younger and I used to work on political campaigns I agreed with.  And I was working as an attorney and an assistant prosecutor, and I grew frustrated with laws I felt were inconsistent, not well-crafted or not in touch with beliefs Missourians have.  I was encouraged to run for office, I thought about it and my wife was supportive, so I ran.  Growing up, it was sort of, I wouldn't say a goal, but a kind of romantic notion of something I might do later in life.
  • The Missouri Senate needs...: (Long pause) "It's definitely not perfect.  But if we're being fun, we need laptops.  We as public servants need to master and take advantage of every tool that would make us more efficient and better able to serve the people who sent us here."
  • First moment it hit you that you were an elected official: "The night before I was to be sworn in, I got my state ID and came to the building just because I could at 2 a.m.  I walked around and was just in awe that I could be here and do this.  As I was wandering the halls, I came across one light shining into the hallway, and it was the office of Sen. John T. Russell (R-Lebanon).  So it was a perfect pairing of a young novice and