(MISSOURINET CAPITOL STUDIO. Noonish, Tuesday, May 8, 2012) — This is the time of year, every year, when those of us who watch the Missouri General Assembly realize the inmates have taken over the asylum. Their supervisors have lost control. A character named Amok is running throughout the third floor, where the legislative chambers are located.
Amok, by the way, is a product of Malaysian culture, an individual who has been brooding about things for some time suddenly launching a mass assault against people or objects. Although Running Amok (we didn’t know that was his first name until we did some dictionary work a few minutes ago) was thought to be most prevalent in Malaysia although psychologists worldwide say it is part of every culture.
This is the time of year when the clock seems to grow in size and it becomes a countdown to THE END. Every two years it is more than the end of a legislative session. It is for many members of the House and the Senate the end of a legislative career. For some, it becomes a last chance to make a mark, to create a legacy, or to achieve something an obituary writer might want to mention, one hopes, many years from now. For some with dreams of greater glory, it is a time to add a credential, knowing that opponents are watching in these last crucial days for any mote or any misstep that becomes campaign ammunition.
Today, we’re back in the capitol on two and a half hours of sleep. The senate quit at 3:40 this morning, deadlocked by Senator Jason Crowell who is in a stare-down with Speaker of the House Steven Tilley about $2.3 milion out of a $24 Billion state budget. The House didn’t go quite so late, but House correspondent Mike Lear also is running on a tank where the low-fuel light is glowing.
But then, so are members of the legislature.
Fatigue. Pressure. Unresolved major issues. Unresolved personal agendas. The looming end of a unique life experience for many. They’re all factors in these lasts days. If you like to watch people, the capitol in these last two weeks is crawling with case studies.
The House and Senate met for only a few minutes this morning. Senator Crowell has bludgeoned the senate to a standstill by promising to keep any bill brought up for debate from getting to a vote until he gets Speaker Tilley’s money for Southeast Missouri State thrown out of the budget. Both are Republicans. But at this time of year, and in Missouri’s present political climate, cohesiveness is not one of the finer qualities of the Republican Party. Democrats are small in numbers but waiting to find ways to take advantage of the majority’s situation or to just sit back and watch Republicans scrap among themselves.
This is the time for a lot of negotiations, a lot of bargaining, a lot of arguing, a lot of threatening, some rhetorical fist-shaking, and sometimes some regrettable words — Crowell apologized early this morning on the senate floor to any fellow senators he might have upset with remarks that charged senate leaders with backstabbing and lying — although not in those specific words.
It’s that time of year. Amok has entered the building and is running in the halls. Most of the time a sort of order eventually is restored although on days like these it is hard to realize that it will be.
The political science textbooks and the college public policy courses don’t describe this all-too-human part of the process.
Usually at times like this somebody blinks. Somebody caves in. Somebody figures out a way to accommodate both angry sides so things can move ahead. Usually. But this year? Well, it just seems as if half of the cards in the deck are wild.
If the legislature doesn’t pass a budget by 6 p.m. Friday, the governor can call it back for a special budget session. In a campaign year, it would not be a good thing for incumbents to face opponents who charge their inability to find middle ground on state spending has forced the state to spend another $25,000 a day on a special session at a time when the state is so short of money that pensions for the blind might be eliminated and schools again go under-funded.
How lucky capitol reporters are to have front row seats for all of this.
We have to keep telling ourselves that on days when the Senate adjourns at 3:40 a.m. and we get home with the sun well above the horizon.