So this is what political discourse has become

You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues

–Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Soviet poet of the Khrushchev era,  “Conversation with an American Writer

The two greybeards of the Capitol press corps, talking in the darkening and increasingly quiet Capitol halls early this morning, agreed we’d never seen a veto session like the one that had ended shortly before. Phill Brooks and this correspondent have never seen 29 bills eligible for overrides. We’ve never seen so many vetoes overridden in one session, brief though it might have been–and nobody else has, either, since 1833, somewhat before our time. We have never seen the two top leaders of the state senate make a principled vote against the wishes of their caucus, causing the override effort of a highly-controversial bill to fail.

And while we have seen spirited debate in the Senate in our combined eighty years or so of covering the legislature, we probably have never seen a worse disregard of Senate debate decorum than we saw last night.

The issue was the gun bill, the one that critics say would let local police arrest any federal agent enforcing federal gun laws. It’s the same bill that would have sent reporters to jail for a year for publishing the names of gun owners, even the names of legislator-gun owners who voted for the bill. The override failed by one vote because Senate President Pro tem Tom Dempsey of St. Charles and Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard of Joplin voted to uphold the veto while the other members of the Republican caucus voted to override it.

We’ve seen some pointed and sometimes angry debate during our careers. Phill recalled Senator Richard Webster of Carthage ripping fresh-faced Governor Christopher Bond a few times, calling him “Kid” Bond and Bond’s staff “the kiddie corps” back when Bond was the youngest Governor in Missouri history and Webster was a top dog in the General Assembly and liked to make sure youngsters knew it.

But the tirade launched by the Senate sponsor of HB436, the gun bill, Brian Nieves of Washington, beat anything this correspondent has ever seen in the Senate.

Nieves brought the bill to the floor for an override vote but instead of justifying the legislation and urging support of its merits, he tore into Attorney General Chris Koster for 25 minutes. Koster had sent each member of the legislature a letter, going into legal detail about the shortcomings of the measure. He sent out those letters a few days after he had given an opinion on the other flashpoint bill of the veto session, the tax bill. In the case of the tax bill, he was responding to a request for a legal opinion from House Speaker Tim Jones. Jones and other Republicans criticized Koster because his annotated legal opinion didn’t say what they wanted him to say.

Nieves cranked up the rhetorical onslaught when the gun bill came up.

In his 25-minute harangue against Koster and Koster’s letter, Nieves called Koster’s analysis of the gun bill “every kind of crazy imaginings…false arguments” and said Koster was “perhaps the most anti-Second Amendment person in Missouri.”

He said the letter, which he called a “joke of a document,” and the “most dishonest, disingenuous document I’ve ever seen,” scared the bejeezus” out of the law enforcement community. He further proclaimed that the letter “perpetrates a crime against the people of Missouri,” calling it a “ridiculous, untrue document,” and a “slick, snakeish move.”

“He has lied and lied and lied,” said Nieves, who continued by accusing Koster of “hating the Second Amendment.”

He later said Koster had taken time to draft the letter “to think up this level of lie.” He further said Koster was “lying” in the letter.

“This letter is the biggest bunch of baloney that’s ever been presented from an official in Missouri government,” he said. “He did it by lying and did it by deceptively using perfect timing” in the release of the letter to each member of the legislature days before the veto session.

However, Pro tem Tom Dempsey says he had heard concerns from public safety officials before Koster put out his letter. Floor Leader Richard said he had a letter from the Missouri Sheriff’s Association a week before the Koster letter arrived.

Dempsey released a statement after the session saying HB436 represented a point where “political prudence and good public policy have parted ways…While I have been advised to take a path of least resistance and vote to enact into law a policy about which I have grave reservations, I believe I must do what is right for the citizens of our state and for the voters who sent me here.”

Dempsey said his own legal staff had told him the bill “very likely” violates parts of the First Amendment. “My love of the Second Amendment does not trump my love for the First,” he said.

Dempsey’s remarks were echoed by Richard, who pledged “in the next four months, legislation will be filed regarding the Second Amendment Preservation Act that is constitutional and does not hinder law enforcement officers’ ability to do their jobs.”

Thoughtful, perhaps courageous, speech and action is, unfortunately, something unusual enough to merit attention in today’s political and legislative climate that is too often marked by disrespect for process and people and can degenerate into nothing but largely-unchallenged personal attack. Two Democrats chastised Nieves for his remarks. No members of Nieves’ Republican caucus expressed any misgivings about anything he said. But in the end the two leaders of the Senate, both Republicans, quietly voted “no,” their votes far louder than their voices.

The greybeards sometimes wonder if they will live long enough to see “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” in the House behave again as ladies and gentlemen, and if they will see Senators behaving as Senators.

 

 

Sing me a song, Mr. veto override man

It’s six o’clock on a Tuesssdayyyy…..

The regular crowd’s wand’ring in.  

There’s a bunch of them in Jefferson Ciiiity  

Waitin’ for the session to begin.

Someone says, “Jog my memory, 

I’m not really sure how this this goes.   

But we’re here for a meet, and when it’s complete          

We might overturn some Nixon vetoes.

La la la di dada     

La la, di di da da dum.

And the lawmakers are practicing politics 

 As the businessmen plead in loud tones. 

They’re sharing a hope for an override 

But the numbers are dropping like stones.

Get me the votes, veto override man,   

Says the billionaire’s shadow in the hall.  

Raise the prescription tax on the old folks     

And help me avoid any taxes at all.

La la la di, dada    

La la, di di da da dum…

We don’t know why that tune started flowing through our mind as we strolled the legislative halls of the Capitol today, starting to feel the heartbeat of the place that returns when our legislators are there.

It’s the veto session. Starts tomorrow at noon. And it could be a doozie.

We don’t remember anything like this one and we’ve been hanging around the halls for something more than four  decades. National teevee networks are sending crews to see if Missouri’s legislators really do want to decide what parts of the U. S. Constitution will be recognized here. House Bill 456, the gun bill that will let local authorities arrest any feds with badges trying to enforce federal gun laws, is one of 29 bills from the Spring session that will be considered. Governor Nixon vetoed it with a lengthy constitutional analysis. Majority Republicans have accused him of practicing politics. One might think the National Rifle Association would love this “defense” of Second Amendment rights. Not this bill. The NRA, it laays pretty low.

And we’ll see if the legislature thinks it’s okay to cut business and income taxes but also increase taxes on the senior citizen voting bloc’s prescription drugs and the college kids’ textbooks. Govenor Nixon has spent the summer on his “Save the Veto” campaign and it seems to be working despite Republican and business interest complaints that he’s using state resources to defend his actions. His critics prefer not to talk about the hundrreds of thousands of dollars (nay, millions of dollars) funnelled by one person through the business organizations to buy radio and television commercials snidely attacking the Governor for having the temerity to fight a presumably veto-proof majority. And it appears he might win on this issue.

Veto sessions are held on the first Wednesday after the second Monday in September. They cannot last longer than ten days. It’s a part of the Missouri Constitution that legislators still honor. It has not always taken two-thirds votes in each chamber to override vetoes. That’s only been with us since the 1875 Constitution. Before that it took only a simple majority in each chamber.

While Governor Nixon’s vetoes of 29 bills and four lines in appropriations bills might seem like a prodigious effort, it pales when compared to the efforts of others in the last two decades. King Marc Powers of the Kingdom of Legislative Arcania, a small territory in the Capitol, compiled a list a couple of months ago of all veto overrides in state history and especially of the last 20 years.

Nixon’s greatest vetosplosion was in 2009 when he vetoed 23 bills and 65 lines. Governor Holden vetoed thirty bills in 2003. But that’s it. He didn’t veto anything in the budget. He is the undisputed champion of the line item veto with 236 in 2001.

Mel Carnahan’s most combative year was 1999 when he vetoed nine entire bills but drew lines through 43 parts of other bills. In ’97, he vetoed a dozen and line-itemed 19. Governor Blunt in ’05 vetoed a pair of bills but line itemed 41.

So here are the standings of combined vetoes and line items since 1993.

1. Holden 244 (2001)

2. Nixon 88 (2009

3. Carnahan 52 (1999)

4. Blunt 53 (2005)

5. Nixon 33 (2013)

5. Carnahan 31 (1997)

6. Holden 30 (2003)

The first veto overridden by the legislature came before Missouri was a state. We had permission to form a state constitution, elect a governor and legislature, and transact business as if we were a state for a year or so before we were admitted to the Union. The tone was set for Missouri contrariness even then because Missouri had a provision in its first constitution ordering the legislature created by that constitution to pass such laws as may be necessary “to prevent free negroes and mulattoes from coming to, and settling in, this state, under any pretext whatsoever.” Congress refused to accept Missouri’s Constitution until that provision was removed. Missouri, as usual, complained about being bossed around by the federal government but finally agreed to pass a law saying that part of the Constitution would not be enforced. That satisfied Washington and we became the 24th state on August 10, 1821.

Our first state governor, Alexander McNair, vetoed a bill establishing salaries for member sof the legislature. That became the first bill overridden.

Governor Daniel Dunklin became the vetoingest Governor in his time and the most vetoes overridden when he vetoed 12 bills granting 47 divorces and the bills were overridden in 1833. In those days the legislature had the authority to grant divorces. Sorry we mentioned that. It might give some of these people ideas today. But it’s history.

From 1855 until 1976 there were no veto overrides. Democrats showed young “Kid” Bond a thing or two by overriding his veto of a Nurse Practices Act. A strongly bipartisan legislature overrode Joe Teasdale’s line item veto of money to build a new state office building. The Truman building catty-corner from the Capitol went up shortly afterwards. And that was the last override until 1999 when Governor Carnahan vetoed the partial-birth abortion bill and a strong bipartisan majority overrode that one.

Is it likely that we will see a lot of vetoes overridden in the session starting tomorrow? History tells us “no.” Of the 212 full vetoes and 381 line item vetoes by the four governors since ’93, including Nixon’s numbers this year, there have been only six overrides. What seemed like a good idea in May cools off in the four months until override time in September. People who crossed the partisan line in the Spring are more likely to side with their governor in the Fall. And others, having read a veto message that points out sloppy bill-writing, decide to try to get it right next year.

La la la, di da da

La la, didi da da dum.

 

The law will be broken

Watch this space next week. You might be able to participate in breaking a law.

The legislature appears likely to pass a law over the Governor’s veto that violates the Free Speech and the Freedom of the Press guarantees of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It’s HB436, the so-called gun bill.

One provision says that any “person or entity” that publishes the “name, address, or other identifying information” of anyone who “owns a firearm” could be jailed for as much as one year.

Overridden bills will become law thirty days afer two-thirds of the members of each legislative chamber vote to override the veto. 

Within minutes of the time the law becomes effective, the Missourinet will publish the names of some gun owners. In fact, we will publish the names of every legislator who votes on this bill. Most of them will be gun-owners. Publication of a public record of the names of gun-owner legislators who vote for or against the override will violate the law. 

We take the First Amendment seriously at the Missourinet. It is the foundation of everything reporters do. The First Amendment is what sets this nation apart from other nations in this world. Freedom of the Press. Freedom of Religion. Freedom of Speech. The right to peacefully assemble. The right to redress grievances against the government.

We suspect we won’t be the only ones whose news organizations are represented at the House and Senate press tables who quickly will violate this law if the legislature enacts it.

Any gun owners or other readers who would like to join us in standing for the freedoms of the First Amendment will be invited to add their names to the list under “comments” to that blog if the legislature overrides the veto and threatens reporters or anybody else with a year in jail for exercising those First Amendment rights.