Missourinet Capitol studio, Monday night, 7:30 p.m. — The special legislative session crashed and burned about 7 p.m., Monday, October 17, in frustration and deadlock. There will be some heavy finger-pointing. There will be some disagreements about whether the House or the Senate was the cause of an excruciatingly slow and painful downward spiral from September 6th, the day of the session’s already-flawed launch. One-hundred ninety-seven people, members of the House and Senate, were injured but are expected to recover by January.
When the senate floor leader announced the senate would meeting only for a technical session on October 25th and not calling the full membership back before the end of the special session, I asked him and the President Pro tem if they had just punted the session. In so many words, the answer was, “yes.”
In the end, failure was the option.
The session ends with passage of a bill encouraging development of high-tech biomedical industries. But that bill is tied to the broader economic development bill that is, as we write this, nothing but tattered remains. The House sent the senate a major rewrite of the bill the senate had approved earlier. The senate sent it back to the House with word that it wouldn’t even consider the House version.
The senate spent two hours debating whether Missouri should have a presidential primary in March, 2012, or cancel the primary for next year only, or move it to January. At the end, the vote was 16-16. The vote symbolized the inability of a special session called with a long agenda that could not get anything done.
It did pass the so-called Facebook fix bill that Governor Nixon’s staff says was outside the call of the special session. If that’s the case, it could wind up being vetoed.
This was something none of us had ever seen before. An absolute, total, failure. And dispirited lawmakers were voicing only faint hopes at the end that things will be appreciably better for the regular session in January. In a perverse way, though, the collapse is instructive.
All of us, legislators, reporters, and citizens, are trained to believe government will act, will accomplish something for good or ill, depending on our view of things. We are taught in our high school and college political sciences classes how bills get passed. But none of those courses deal very much with the human part of the process, the competition and conflict of ideas, the collisions of ideologies, the rivalry between chambers or branches of government, the increasing influence in a term-limited world of perpetual and well-heeled special interests.
Hard work and best efforts aside, this special session was in trouble from the git-go and was a six-week effort to salvage something. Special sessions are not supposed to be salvage expeditions.
What we saw in the disappointing, frustrating, failing, special session was just how difficult it is to do things that some see as vitally important or desperately harmful. The voting (and non-voting but nonetheless judgmental) public has little appreciation for the difficulty of reconciling all of the competing elements to find enough middle ground to stand on.
Sometimes things just don’t work out.
And sometimes failure is the best way to show how the system works.