The Long goodbye

Brian Long has said goodbye to his job as director of the Department of Revenue about four months after Governor Nixon appointed him.  He says the strain on his family caused by the month-long investigation of his department is the reason he is stepping aside. 

His department has been under intense investigation by the Senate Appropriations Committee because it started gathering personal information from Missourians getting driver’s licenses and other state ID cards and keeping it in a database.  Some of the allegations that have been thrown around have been easily made and less easily proven.  But in the end the key is a rule the department should have promulgated to remove any doubt about the legality of what it has been doing.  But it didn’t make that rule. 

The wobbly-wheeled Revenue Department wagon had been sent on its way by Brian Long’s predecessor who was appointed to an administrative hearing judge’s job the day after sending a letter to Homeland Security that has been pounced on by Senator Kurt Schaefer and his appropriations committee. They read it as the state saying it is complying with the Real ID law although Missouri has a law saying it will not do so.  Long argued the letter was intended to show the department that Missouri was doing some things the Real ID law requires but is prohibited by state law from doing others, and hoping the feds don’t start banning Missourians from airline flights because it can’t fulfill all of the criteria for adopting Real ID.  Perception, however, is in the eyes of the committee.

Long might have been able to remove some of the pressure if he had told the committee last week that he was going to order a halt to the information-gathering.  But he said he was not ready to make that commitment.  He didn’t explain why and the committee didn’t ask why–and perhaps it should have.

His position was not helped by the department’s lack of candor about how accessible this personal information is to others.  And when it was mentioned last week that a list of people with concealed weapons permits was made available to a federal government agency, the committee jumped on that issue with both feet.   Guns are involved.  The federal government is involved.  A list of people with guns is involved.  A federal agency got that list.  It couldn’t read the files, though.  But it got the list and it took three weeks for the Revenue Department and the Department of Public Safety to admit it.  

We don’t know why the department has handled this investigation as it has.  We don’t know why Brian Long didn’t want to commit to solving the problem last week.  Some of this stuff is pretty complicated and pressure comes to bear from several directions.    

Some Senators say others caught up in the questioning should join the private sector.  Senator Rob Schaaf has suggested that Long was thrown under the bus by the Nixon administration, although the governor’s spokesman, Scott Holste, told us the resignation was not requested.  But in our years of covering statehouse politics we have seen plenty of people fall on their sword to try to end a controversy.  

There is some sympathy, even among his critics, for Brian Long.  It appears he inherited a situation ripe for political controversy and tangled with a powerful group of legislators. 

Brian Long has been in state government for a long time in a number of different roles including a couple of years as state budget director and as the head for several years of the Council on Public Higher Education.  He’s been a career bureaucrat and administrator—two positions that merit more respect that the public and some politicians give them–for a long time.  This is the first time we recall any controversy about what he has done.  To be hit this hard after so many years of competent service is difficult to take.  The circumstances of his departure from state government are unfortunate and disappointing but the reason for it—to take his family out of unaccustomed and harsh spotlight–is proper.  

Somebody, somewhere in or out of government, is going to get a good man–soon, we hope. 

In the meantime we wait for the next shoe to drop, the next card to fall, and perhaps the next head to roll. 

 

 

 

It was a dark and stormy day—

And the state senate was plodding through its long list of not-particularly significant bills, nearing the time as the legislative session starts measuring its life in days when neither legislative chamber is quite ready to start serious work on bills passed at the other end of the capitol.  Deep, dark clouds inched across the sky from the west, erasing a narrowing band of light to the east.  Every now and then those of us working in the deep interior of the great stone building could hear the rumble of thunder and brief trips outside the Senate chamber to visit a window showed gloom and storms.   

The Senate chamber is normally a  place of men in dark suits, the room dotted by an occasional bright jacket worn by one of the women senators. The fact that some members think it is really, really special after Easter to wear seersucker suits on Wednesdays only emphasizes the general feeling at times that the Senate appears as a convocation of undertakers, most of whom resist the urge to break out in seersucker.  “I take too much pride in my appearance,” one dark-gray clad Senator said one day last week. .  

But on this dark day outside as well as inside, a single word brought lightness and a spirit of color to the place.   It was a made-up word spoken by one of the dark-clad Senators.  “Quorange,” came from the mouth of Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, clad in his dark suit, blue shirt, and dark tie.  Even his hair is gray.  

The Senate was debating a bill from Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal of University City, herself clad in a dark dress, that would make it legal for people to vote in meetings of public bodies if that person was attending by teleconference.  

The important language that Sen. Schaaf decided needed not only some color but also some literary embroidery dealt with quorum requirements for the transaction of public business.  He sought to define the situation in which the body needed one more person for a quorum, a situation he proposed calling a “quorange.” 

As you will hear if you listen to the audio link at the end of this entry, He not only suggested a new word in the world of parliamentary procedure, he proudly proclaims that he had solved the ages-old problem of poets.   To underline the importance of his contribution to the language, Schaaf blessed the Senate with a poem.  If you listen to the audio link you will hear the world premiere of the reading of that poem which is so magnificent that a title is unnecessary. But if you lack the patience to devote nine minutes of your life to this historic event, recorded live and on the scene by the Missourinet recording device, here it is.

 

Late at night in flick’rin light

A poet sat composing

Shadows dancing and entrancing

Flustered thoughts imposing.

 

After lines of sublime rhymes

His work was near to ending

But his trouble doubled double

And his heart was rending.

 

Work was dropped, the poem stopped

His hopes were torn and tattered

A simple word, like “rock” or “bird”

That rhymed was all that mattered.

 

As he cried, his poem died

The effort lay unfinished

Twas no rhyme in space or time

That left it undiminished

 

The word that fit, the one he writ

/That made the poem perfect

Stood alone, no rhyme was known

The absence left a defect.

 

To end sublime, jsut one more line

The end must rhyme with orange

But sad to say there was no way

To make a rhyme with orange.

 

And to this day the poets say

That poets suffer sadly

When orange works but sadness lurks

In lines thus ending badly

 

And so I say that now, today,

Their orange pain is ending

Because this bill’s amendment will

A cure to them be sending

 

For now a word–a glorious word

To make a rhyme with orange

A quorum less one–the job is done

The rhyming word is quorange.

 

And so my friends, this story ends

Our poets have contentment

I hope you’ll vote for the word I wrote

And support this fine amendment. 

 

Senator Schaaf made sure his amendment joined all of the other amendments to all of the other bills that are published in the Senate journal, thus giving his word a presence in an official document, there perhaps to be discovered someday by lost wordsmith wandering in the dryness of legislative journals.   The amendment is preserved in the journal but the poetic plea for acceptance will not be there for that wandering wordsmith to discover. The journal of the Senate for April 10, 2013 will not contain the important context that brings life to that contribution to the English language.   More’s the shame.  But we, here, at the Missourinet Blog are taking care to make sure this noble effort is not left unexplained.  The laureate of Quorange will be remembered for as long as this entry survives on the internet.  

Alas, the Senate did not adopt the amendment, which would have given the word a chance to enter the hallowed ground of state statutes.  

Senator Schaaf is a physician in St. Joseph when he is not serving in the Senate.  We suggested after hearing him argue for his word and read his great poem that he not give up his day job.

AUDIO: the ballad of quorange 9:08

The parable of the cast iron pipe

“The cost to replace a cast iron [water] main is going to be less if you pay for it as you go versus paying for it, carrying the interest costs on that for months or in most cases years.”

                         Sen. Brad Lager, Savannah, April 8 2013 debating SB297. 

 Sometimes a statement during legislative debate is staggering in its clarity and its simplicity. 

Senator Brad Lager sponsors a bill in the Senate that would let state-regulated water companies increase rates a little bit each year to pay for ongoing replacement of old cast iron pipes.  It’s a pay-as-you go system that he wants put onto the law books, arguing that small increases each year to pay for needed infrastructure improvements are much better than a spike in water rates if the company waits three to five years to take a full-blown rate case to the Public Service Commission and builds in the interest costs of the money it has had to borrow to finance pipe replacement,  

Pay as you go.  What a concept!

One observer has—uh—observed that if the water company operated the way state government does, the old cast iron pipes that are rusty and leaking and are increasingly inadequate to serve the public would just keep rotting away while the water company REDUCED its rates to make the town more attractive to the kind of businesses that would be attracted by low water rates.  Those companies would bring in more people and pay them good salaries and those people would buy a lot of things and those increased sales taxes would finance new water pipes.  Someday. Maybe.

Zowie!!  That’s the ticket to prosperity! 

All you need to make your community more attractive is to have the water company lower its rates.  It might not hurt if the business you want to create the new jobs in your town didn’t care that the old cast iron pipes might not be able to handle the demands for additional water the new business needs or the extra strain put on the system by the extra sewage the employees of the new business would generate.

And if the business worries about that, we’ll just issue some bonds that we’ll be “carrying the interest costs on…for months or, in most cases, for years” to pay for those things that haven’t been paid for as we’ve gone along. Of course, we might have to make some old people ineligible for home heating assistance to find the money to pay that interest.   But that’s okay.

Oh, by the way, have you heard that the town in the next county has decided to pay the water bills of businesses if they move there?   They always seem to be one step ahead of us.