Gosh, I wish the Missouri Channel had happened

It’s been almost a week since the Missouri House majority crowed about the great ethics bill it had rammed through to passage. Speaker Ron Richard said he was proud that a proposal for which he took responsibility had been adopted on a strictly partisan vote. Brent Martin’s previous post on this blog has recounted how Richard and some other majority party leaders ignored a bill that had been worked on for months by a special ethics committee he appointed was deep-sixed in favor of a bill hastily cobbled together by the House Rules Committee and sent to the floor. House Speaker Pro-tem Bryan Pratt maintains the Ethics Committee’s bill had been “killed” because some Democrats and a few apparently misguided Republicans had signed a discharge petition to put it on the debate calendar. The logic of that argument remains elusive to those who know the majority party could have made changes during the subsequent debate to correct any supposedly fatal flaws in the proposed legislation.

Yesterday, Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley told reporters he’d be okay if House and Senate negotiators removed many of the controversial items the House threw onto the bill last week and got back to basic ethics issues.

In light of Tilley’s remarks, what are we to make of last Thursday’s performance of which the Speaker took so much credit and in which he showed so much pride?

There’s no business like (legislative) show business.

You should have been there to see it.

About fifteen years ago–maybe a few more–we spent a summer planning a Missouri cable channel that would have let Missourians watch their legislators at work, go to fairs and festivals and concerts, visit historic and tourist sites, watch sporting events and beauty pageants, take in major museum exhibits—–a variety of stuff like that. But the Missouri cable television industry wasn’t interested.

Oh, how I wish there was a Missouri Channel so Missourians could have watched the ethics “debate” in the House last Thursday afternoon. How good it would have been for the folks back home to have seen the behavior of the people they elected to serve on their behalf.

Do voters believe they are electing sober, mature, altruistic people to represent them in the Missouri legislature? Do voters believe that major issues affecting the way we live our lives are debated in orderly, respectful, passionate ways? Do voters think pettiness and rudeness are things we leave behind in junior high school? If there had been a Missouri Channel they might have been surprised.

Would voters be surprised to see a House chamber where debate seems to be conducted at the top of the lungs most of the time? Would voters be surprised to hear one of the people they elected to represent them tell another member of the House, more than once, to “shut up?’

Would voters be surprised that a big issue in January, ethics, was still stuck in a special House ethics committee with the clock winding down in the session, causing enough concern that some members of the House signed a petition to withdraw the bill from committee involuntarily so it could be debated? And would the surprise be compounded when ANOTHER committee quickly threw together another bill loaded with all kinds of issues objectionable to the minority party that led the petition effort and sent IT out for debate—and that’s the one that was brought to the House floor.

Would voters be surprised that the majority party in the House, which had openly been antagonistic about the discharge petition effort led by minority members, refused to let the minority party members offer amendments or even speak on the bill unless spoken to first by the majority party during the debate?

Would voters’ jaws drop as far as the reporters’ and other spectators’ jaws did when the Speaker Pro tem proclaimed this is the greatest ethics reform bill “in the universe?”

Would voters be shocked by the lack of respect for the House, for the decorum of the chamber, or for the legislative process to hear a majority party member suggest minority party members should “shut up?”
Would voters then understand why no members of the minority party voted for the bill? And would voters then be astonished when a member of the majority party chortles on his Twitter message that it’s clear the minority doesn’t support ethics?

Would voters be surprised to hear the Speaker of the House proclaim how proud he was of what viewers had just seen?

Let’s be clear. In a long career covering the Missouri legislature, this reporter has seen a lot of partisan politics from both sides of the aisle. However, in this case, it’s s a good thing the cable television industry wasn’t interested in letting voters throughout Missouri see what happened in the House last week. Some of those voters might have learned some things about the people they elected to represent them that is markedly different from what they remember from their school books on political science and what they see and hear during campaigns back home. And a lot of these folks will be campaigning back home soon, some claiming they are mature enough to merit re-election to the House and others claiming their records in the House qualify them to serve in the state Senate, where political maturity has more value.

No, it’s better that the people who cast the votes back home find out about things by reading the newsletters and news releases from their Representatives.

Because maybe those citizens will just
Shut Up
And vote.
If you find some of the above hard to believe, we invite you to read the previous blog by Missourinet Managing Editor Brent Martin who was in the House Press Gallery during the entire event and listen to the excerpts of the debate with his blog.

You also might find the perspective of Kansas City Star’s political columnist Steve Kraske helpful.

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