You’re fired. Temporarily.

Two weeks ago, after the Chairman of the Senate Fiscal Oversight Committee had abruptly adjourned his committee without any discussion about the so-called Ford bill, we asked him if he thought his action might cost him his committee chairmanship. “It really doesn’t matter at the moment,” he told us, “I’m going to do what I think is right for the longterm direction of the state.”

We posted the entire interview on Missourinet.com with the story of the committee’s non-action.

Removal of a committee chairman is quite rare in the Missouri legislature. But it does happen. Once, when Kenneth Rothman was Speaker of the House (we think but could be corrected) he removed a chairman who refused to release a bill for floor debate and furthermore took it home with him. After much consideration, the chairman was replaced. A new copy of the bill was created and the committee sent it to the full House for consideration.

The now-ended standoff between Purgason and Shields has produced a discussion of the role of government. It has triggered talk of picking winners and losers. We’ll have more about that discussion at a later date. It has triggered a comparison of a political and economic utopia versus a real competitive world.

Years ago somebody told us something to the effect that “Economics becomes a lot easier after you realize that it’s only theory.” So far, the Purgasonian theory of economics has been trumped by the Shieldsian theory. But Purgason indicates he’ll still play the cards he has.

Purgason told us the issue raises the question of the purpose of government–whether to serve the people or to issue tax credits to private businesses. He shrugged off the loss of 3,000 jobs at the Ford Claycomo factory, noting that the state was facing the layoffs of 10,000 of its own employees because of a potentially large budget shortfall in the next fiscal year. Under those circumstances, he argued, the state had no business foregoing income it would get from withholding taxes.

But Purgason is a minority within the Senate majority.

About a half-dozen other Senators oppose the Ford bill. Two of them are running against each other for the southwest Missouri Congressional seat Roy Blunt is abandoning. Purgason is running against Blunt in the Republican primary for the right to face Democrat Robin Carnahan in the U. S. Senate race. Although Purgason says he “could care less” if his position helps his Senate campaign, many observers at the Capitol think he has, at the very least, solidified his base. And there is some thought that his removal from the chairmanship elevates his standing.

Senate President pro Tem Charlie Shields considers Purgason a good friend and says he has been a good chairman of the committee except on this issue. He plans to become the acting committee chairman long enough to get the committee to vote the bill out with a do-pass recommendation so the entire Senate can debate it. Shields does not expect the committee vote to be unanimous. The committee only voted out the pension reform bill 4-3 the same day Purgason adjourned without discussion of the Ford bill.

But Shields says the issue of 13,000 jobs or so is more important than the political philosophy of one Senator. And although he does not use the word “naive” to describe Purgason’s political philosophy, he does indicate he thinks Purgason is advocating a Utopian view of economic development in suggesting Missouri not participate in tax incentive programs for large businesses and instead focus its resources on incentives for small businesses. Shields says that philosophy works if the other 49 states also disarm in the jobs competition.

Shields, by his action replacing Purgason, has indicated the time for philosophical discussion has ended. Later today the committee will meet and although it is always dangerous to predict what any group of Senators will do when they gather together, Shields thinks the committee will send the bill to the floor for debate. The Senate will convene at noon and start debating shortly after that. Shields and Majority Leader Kevin Engler have not scheduled anything but debate until who knows when. But one way or another, Shields says, the Ford bill will be passed by the Senate.

He still hopes the House and Senate can reach compromises on the Ford bill and the state employees’ pension bill and go home tomorrow afternoon.

And after this business is conducted, Shields plans to reinstate Purgason as the committee chairman for the last six months of the year. He says he’s doing it because Purgason has done a good job with the committee and the committee might have some more work to do before the 2011 session begins. Shields doesn’t know if Purgason will accept the re-appointment but he’ll offer it anyway after the temporary firing has run its course.

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