My State Fair Lady

Allison Blood is one of our new reporters at the Missourinet. We decided our resident city girl needed to broaden her cultural horizons by visiting Missouri’s biggest agricultural exposition, the state fair. She ventured to Sedalia twice, once for herself and once to cover politicians at the traditional ham breakfast. She’s not yet ready to start wearing a seed corn cap and to escort her favorite bull into the show ring. But she is excited about what she experienced and wants to do it again. –Bob Priddy

They call me “City Girl” sometimes here at the newsroom. But truthfully, I’m not. I’m from the most suburban area of St. Louis I could possibly be from. Chesterfield, which is 30 minutes away from downtown St. Louis, and, not for lack of trying, is not a city itself. But nonetheless, the assignment to cover the State Fair was to be something of a culture shock. I grew up in Chesterfield aware of the rest of the state as a largely rural place. I had been to carnivals before with rides and food stands and I have seen farm animals before. But not like this. I had never seen a pig race, and certainly never eaten a Ham Breakfast. I had no idea how big tractors are. I was so surprised at the talent some small children in our state have at raising animals. When I was their age, I had a beta fish, and my Dad fed it. These kids raised cows and pigs. I was impressed.

But my assignment was not to be slapped in the face by rural America, but rather to cover the fair. This includes but was not limited to talking to politicians at the Governor’s Ham Breakfast. I will admit I was a bit distracted by the auctioning of a ham that went for $3,000, and then was donated to charity, but I found my way around a tent packed with a thousand ham and biscuit eating people to some legislators. Some wanted to chat about anything, others had protective entourages surrounding them, so reporters had no chance of getting near.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was especially hostile. When asked about her plans for 2012, she curtly responded that she had made an annoucement about that months ago. When asked how the campaigning was going, she dodged the question by saying she was enjoying a day at the fair with fellow Missourians. Granted, she had just gotten her plate of ham, but there’s no reason to be rude.

Liutennant Governor Peter Kinder showed up with a few friends to the Ham Breakfast, and these friends had no interest in reporters getting anywhere near him. His tatooed muscular entourage rarely broke from his side, and when they did, they quickly returned as a reporter approached. So I talked to one when he did break away, asking for an interview. Kinder had already told my fellow press corps members he would not be commenting on the allegations of his relationship with a stripper, so I told the handler I would stay away from the topic; I really wanted to know what he was going to do in the 2012 election. I had done stories previously about his frundraising and touring the state, so even if the more interesting topic was off limits, I had to follow up. And to my surprise, he agreed. I pulled him aside outside the Ham Breakfast tent as the crowd dispersed back to the fairgrounds, and we chatted. As he asnwered questions about his state-wide jobs tour, a group of about seven men surrounded us, tightly. My photographer could hardly get a picture through the wall of entourage members, and he’s 6 foot 3. After about two minutes of criticizing the Governor and outlining his plans for Missouri’s future, he shook my hand and walked away.

But overall the Fair met my expectations as a “city girl” venturing out West to the fairgrounds. The food was good. There’s nothing that I love more than Missouri corn on the cob, which was in no short supply at the fair. Pork was also popular, I photographed a line out the door and around the building of The Pork Place. I saw little pigs racing for an Oreo cookie, and big hogs lounging in the petting zoo, and even candy pigs. I had some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had at the Dairy Council building. Everyone else was going crazy for this dessert called pineapple whip, which looked to me like pineapple flavored soft serve ice cream, but I didn’t try any, but I had a chocolate covered banana. I really do love fair food. I brought kettle corn and saltwater taffy to the newsroom. My coworkers love fair food too.

I will say I underestimated what a good time I would have at the fair. I people-watched, ate until I nearly burst, and the Ham Breakfast was a who’s who of Missouri’s political world. Next year I will plan to take in a concert and perhaps enter in the First Lady’s Pie Contest. Heck, I might even bet on the pig races.

Then and now

The Springfield News-Leader has posted some astonishing photographs from Joplin on its webpage this morning.

It has sent photographers back to the area devastated by the May 22nd tornado and had them take pictures of what is left ninety days later (next Monday is the three-month anniversary of the event)

The photographs in May showed destruction beyond imagination. But the photographs of the same areas now tell an incredible story. While the May pictures show damage and debris, the photographs of the areas now might in their own way give a better understanding of the totality of the destruction. Now that the debris has been hauled away, it is almost a shock to see what was obvious but concealed in May:

There is nothing left.

Senate Showdown

A note to Joe and Josephine Missouri, who will probably go on with their lives this week as they do most weeks, paying attention to their own lives and whatever dramas there might be in them:

While you are living detached from the political tumult that is the Missouri legislative session, those whose entire lives are focused on deciding how you are touched by government are girding for a fierce two-week period that could touch you in many ways. It’s okay if you go about your jobs, you hobbies, and your lives. It’s called having a normal existence. But there is a place that will be distinctly apart from that kind of life for the next two weeks. It is your capitol and this is the time of year when 197 men and women, more or less, can find themselves consumed by a far different world. Those of us who are the capitol press corps will be consumed along with them in covering the process of government. We will see men and women at times locked in political and philosophical battles that seem to those caught up in them as only slightly short of the angels versus Lucifer.

Well, maybe not quite that serious. But in the heat of the issues and the pressure of approaching adjournment, the confrontations assume increasing gravity and urgency.

We have our first such situation right out of the box this week. It’s Senator Jim Lembke and his handful of allies fortified with a promise from the senate leadership versus the chairman of the senate’s appropriations committee and the rest of the senate. This is the confrontational week over a nearly-$600 million re-appropriations bill that promises to be the first battle in the week the entire state operations budget must be approved. The constitution requires it. Let’s see if we can identify the players.

There’s Lembke, of course, and his small band of vocal and silent supporters who believes Congress will find it significant that they keep Missouri from accepting $250 million in federal funds because they think the federal government is giving the states money it doesn’t have or has to borrow from foreign governments. Last week when Lembke tried to reject federal money in various bills that make up the operational budget, he never had more than six votes. He needs 18 to prevail.

There’s Senate President pro tem Rob Mayer, who broke the Lembke band’s month-long holdup of federal funds for extended unemployment benefits a couple of weeks ago. The highlight of the deal was that Lembke could cut $250 million out of a re-appropriations bill, House Bill 18, if he and his friends quit blocking state acceptance of about 100 million federal dollars for jobless benefits.. House Bill 18 was approved by the House last week. It contains money for the next fiscal year for projects previously approved by the legislature but continuing or starting in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

There’s the senate appropriations chairman, Kurt Schaefer, who tersely told us last week that he was not part of any deal between Mayer and Lembke. Schaefer will handle HB 18 during Senate debate. Last week the Senate approved the operational budget as recommended by Schaefer’s committee with little debate-other than some efforts by Lembke and friends to remove ninety-some million dollars in federal funds. The score in the votes on those bills and amendments was generally Senate 28, Lembke 6, give or take, depending on the issue and the number of senators in the chamber.

Lembke told us Friday he hopes Schaefer will introduce a substitute to HB 18 that will include Lembke’s $250 million cuts When we told Lembke what Schaefer had told us, Lembke paused for about one quarter of a beat and suggested there might have to be extended discussion about the bill if that was the case.

Then there are at least two supporting characters in our drama.

There’s rookie Senator John Lamping of Clayton who basically told Lembke last week he’s tilting at windmills because his proposals mean nothing to Washington; that the solution Lembke thinks he can help bring about won’t occur until there is a federal bankruptcy.

And there’s Chuck Purgason. You remember him as the conductor of an overnight filibuster in last summer’s special session on tax credits. Although he has voted with Lembke, he also has told Lembke his gesture lacks any clout in Washington.

So the stage is set.

Can the Lembke faction jawbone the senate into agreement? Will the senate, in effect, say to its President pro Tem that he can’t commit the entire senate to a course of action? What strategy and tactics will unfold as this situation works itself out? Would Republicans take action to end a filibuster by one of their own members, especially one who is fighting for something the leader of the Senate indicated he could have?

That last question assumes significance in these last two weeks. Every hour that a filibuster continues in these closing days of a session, somebody else’s legislation on the verge of passage dies for lack of floor time. Some group’s hope for favorable legislation winks out. Agendas diminish and fall apart.

Two weeks left. They won’t be dull.