The best blog post in the universe!

We, the Missourinet staff, have heard…literally heard…our fair share of legislative hyperbole. We listen to so much legislative debate; sift through so much audio to produce our stories, we fight the feeling that we have heard it all before. That is a fatal flaw for any reporter. There is always something new; a state representative bringing a fresh perspective on an old subject or a state senator hammering home a new point.
 
And, yes, sometimes we hear over-the-top rhetoric. We normally laugh among colleagues and move on. Yet, the statement of House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, a Republican from Blue Springs, dubbing the “ethics” legislation Republicans rammed through the House late in the session took on a life of its own.
 
Prior to the vote, Pratt proclaimed, “We’re going to take a vote today on the most comprehensive and sweeping ethics reform bill in the universe.”
 

[We interrupt the best blog post in the universe…to make it better! A friend suggested that the blog could be made better by combining the audio cuts into one piece of audio that would be easy to download. So, Brent Martin narrates the remainder of this post…sort of an audio blog if you will. Now, Jessica claims she made that suggestion prior to us making the post, but we must have been so focused on producing the best blog post in the universe that we failed to heed her wise counsel. For the purists among you, you can continue reading and download the cuts individually.]

 Brent Martin narrates the ‘Best blog post in the universe!’ [6:10 MP3]

We used Pratt’s entire floor speech in an earlier blog post. Here it is in context, yet in a bit shorter version. 
 
 
It struck a chord immediately, becoming the universal joke of the remainder of the session.
 

Sen. Charlie Shields, a Republican from St. Joseph, couldn’t resist poking a little fun of Pratt’s statement when reviewing what the House had done to his bill during a speech from the Senate floor.

 Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields makes motion on ethics bill [1:42 MP3]

 
When the Senate requested the House negotiate a compromise, Rep. John Burnett, a Democrat from Kansas City, couldn’t resist a little kidding in his inquiry of Rep. Tim Jones, a Republican from Eureka.
 

 Rep. John Burnett questions Rep. Tim Jones on ethics bill [:31 MP3]

Burnett made the comment with full knowledge that Speaker Pro Tem Pratt was presiding. Pratt took it in good humor, gaveled Burnett, laughed then asked him to continue.

It seemed the “universe” jokes would continue forever. Just listen to Sen. Shields explain to the full Senate how the Senate-House conference committee was able to find common ground and reach a consensus on ethics.

Sen. Shields tells Senators they’re going ‘back to the future’ [:41 MP3]

Even the governor couldn’t resist. Governor Nixon opened his post-session news conference with this statement.

Gov. Nixon gets into the act at post-session news conference [:08 MP3]

The butt of the joke, Speaker Pro Tem Pratt, seemed to take it in stride, reconciling himself to a special place in legislative lore. On the last day of the session, when Pratt praised his staff, many in the House chamber believed his praise fell short. To chants of “universe, universe” Pratt amended his remarks.

 Rep. Pratt praises staff [:33 MP3]

Some comments pass like a cool, summer breeze. Some carry great weight. Perhaps the “universe” comment served a purpose no one could foresee when uttered. It became a joke, not a nasty, belittling, degrading joke, but a real source of fun that somehow defused a politically emotional issue that threatened to rip apart the session in its final week.

I’ll see your discharge petition and raise you one massive, unconstitutional bill

Ethics reform has sparked an all out political war in the Missouri House, no small achievement for a measure that stood on the doorstep of passage after clearing a House committee on a unanimous vote.

Debate Thursday on the House floor had nothing to do with ethics. It had everything to do with raw, political power. House Speaker Ron Richard, a Republican from Joplin, appointed a special committee this session to review the various ethics reform measures promoted after several former legislators embarrassed the General Assembly, some now serving prison terms. That committee, saddled with the unwieldy title of Special Committee on Governmental Accountability and Ethics, worked throughout the session to draft a bill supported by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee.

It had one problem. It had to meet the approval of the House Rules Committee, the gatekeeper to the House floor. The bill might have met the approval of the special committee. It didn’t meet the approval of the Rules Committee, which sent it back to committee demanding that campaign finance contribution limits be removed from it.

Call it the spark that lit the fire.

House Democrats declared that any measure without campaign contribution limits was not true ethics reform. They filed a discharge petition, stripping the bill from the special committee and forcing it on the House calendar. Discharge petitions are a constitutional tool lawmakers can use to move legislation. Rarely are they effective, except to generate publicity.

The tactic angered House Republican leadership, an anger that smoldered for a week, then ignited into a full-fledged conflagration Thursday.

Not only did House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, refuse to go to the ethics legislation Democrats moved through the discharge petition, he placed it on the informal calendar, where bills go to die. Then, Speaker Richard set in motion work on another ethics bill. Ironically, Richard took the bill from his own special ethics committee and gave it to the Special Committee on General Laws. It met Thursday morning, approved the new bill in ten minutes, rules were suspended to rush the bill to the floor, setting up the possibility of great political theatre.

The theatre fell flat. The politics were sharp edged.

Republicans seemingly loaded down the bill with as many provisions Democrats hate that they could think of. There was something for everyone: voter photo ID, secret ballot union elections, even giving the Lt. Governor, the Senate President Pro Tem and the House Speaker…all Republicans…the power to sue to uphold the constitutional rights of Missourians, a thinly veiled nod to Lt. Governor Peter Kinder’s desire to file a lawsuit to prevent Missourians from having to comply with mandates in federal healthcare legislation, approved by the Democratic majority in Congress. The bill even takes a slap at Democrat Robin Carnahan, the Secretary of State, taking away responsibility to write ballot language for initiative petitions and giving it to a newly created committee.

The bill appears unconstitutional on its face, too many unrelated subjects and a provision calling for all lawmakers to undergo drug testing, which has been thrown out by the courts as an unconstitutional infringement on lawmakers’ rights.

Republicans insist it passes constitutional muster.

The House talked about the measure for a little more than an hour and a half, talked about, because no debate was allowed. Speaker Richard refused to recognize any Democrats to offer amendments. Democrats only spoke when Republicans inquired of them. Republican leadership spared little in their remarks.

Republican whip, Rep. Brian Nieves of Washington, mocked Democrats after inquiring of Minority House Leader Paul LeVota.

AUDIO: 15 min

House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt of Blue Springs only topped his criticism of Democrats with his praise of the bill after inquiring of Democrat Jason Kander of Kansas City.

AUDIO: 8 min

State government seldom resembles the statesman-like ideal outlined in high school civics classes. Often, it more closely resembles a high-stakes poker game. Democrats, being in the minority in the House, have fewer cards to play. They made the best play they could; a discharge petition. Republicans, in effect, responded by stating, “I’ll see your discharge petition and raise you one massive, unconstitutional bill.”

We’ll see how the game plays out the last week of the session

Bob Priddy honored by RTDNA

Missourinet News Director Bob Priddy has distinguished himself over the years as an award-winning journalist and state historian. He is known statewide for his daily broadcasts on the Missourinet and his historical vignettes, Across Our Wide Missouri, which also have been published in book form.

What many Missourians don’t know is how well respected Bob is nationally in our industry. Bob has served in a number of capacities with the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) as well as with the foundation associated with it.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybua9eNXv-8

Bob was honored with two awards at the opening reception of the RTDNA@NAB 2010 convention in Las Vegas. RTDNA officials have recognized Bob’s 27 years of service to the board with the John Hogan Award, named for the founder of the association. RTDNA has also announced the creation of a new award, the Bob Priddy Award, which will be awarded to board members who exemplify distinguished and consistent service to RTDNA.

Everyone at The Missourinet and Learfield Communications is very proud of Bob and offer sincere congratulations to a distinguished colleague.