WWET: What would Earl think?

Senator John Lamping is proposing a state constitutional change that would take away the public’s right to choose a Lieutenant Governor, ending a practice that has existed in Missouri since statehood 192 years ago.  He wants to let each party’s Gubernatorial primary winner select his or her running mate and have them run as a team in November. Missourians no longer would be able to vote for a Lieutenant Governor candidate in the August primary or in the November general election.

Thus would end one of the more interesting quirks of Missouri’s voting record–the election of a Governor and a Lieutenant Governor of different parties (think Nixon-Kinder, Ashcroft-Carnahan, Teasdale-Phelps).  The committee chairman says the proposal is “something worth talking about.”

But Sen. Lamping thinks we should have two people representing the executive branch who would be “extensions of each other.” Here is the reasoning behind his proposal that has us wondering what Earl would think.

“We all very often hear from the second floor when the things we are doing are not pleasing them and there are a lot of times when we don’t hear from the second floor and we’d like to have that relationship be a little bit closer,” Lamping told a Senate committee the other day.  He continued, “With the two parties being represented in each of those two offices, each have access to a podium. Each has an access to be heard.  But more often than not they’re going to conflict in their messaging.  So what I’m hoping would happen if these two offices were held with members of the same party is that whatever it is the administration is trying to propose and push forward, that they would be heard more consistently and that ordinary people who don’t often understand what’s going on down here might better have an opportunity to hear what’s going on down here.”

Earl, in his prime, would eat Senator Lamping alive for that kind of thinking.

Earl Blackwell was a Senator from Hillsboro.  He was a Democratic Senate President pro tem  when Democrats controlled every statewide elected office except Attorney General.  He was describe in his time as “colorful.”  Others called him a bully.  Some saw him as a hero. He was Governor Hearnes’ worst enemy in the Capitol . Having a closer relationship with the second floor (that’s legislative lingo for the Governor, whose office is one floor below the third, or the legislative floor) was the LAST thing Earl Blackwell wanted to have.

Blackwell wanted a Senate completely independent of the Executive Branch. He considered the House under the control of Hearnes, and so did many others who had seen three-time Speaker Tom Graham replaced by Jim Godfrey, a Hearnes ally.
The issue was more than a purist’s view of the separation of powers in government. Blackwell also held a grudge.  He thought that he was going to get Hearnes’ backing for Lieutenant Governor in 1968.  But Hearnes supported William S. Morris of Kansas City and Morris won, replacing Tom Eagleton.

Remember that the legislature convenes several days before statewide officers are sworn in.  When Eagleton resigned to take the Senatorial seat of Ed Long in Washington, after Long stepped aside so Eagleton could have a few days of seniority, Hearnes appointed Morris to fill the vacancy.

Blackwell refused to recognize Morris as a legitimate Lieutenant Governor. He said the appointment was illegal.  And he said that if Morris showed up to preside over the Senate on opening day, 1969–one of the constitutional duties of a Lieutenant Governor as Senate President–he, Blackwell, would throw him out of the chamber.  Morris decided not to push things and didn’t try to enter the Senate. Blackwell was formally elected pro tem that day.

After Morris, Hearnes, and others were sworn in, Morris was allowed to preside. But that didn’t last long.  The day Morris presided, the Senate adopted rules that effectively removed his abilities to preside, assign bills to committees, or sign bills passed by both Houses and transferred those responsibilities to the President pro tem, Blackwell.   Blackwell thus had the power to decide whether Morris could preside.  Morris said he would not preside again as long as his presence depended on the whim of Blackwell.  He did not want the embarrassment of going in to preside only to be kicked out by the pro tem.

Then the confrontation in 1969 escalated.  This was back in the days when patronage politics was far more prevalent than it is today, although it would be incorrect to say our system has been purified of political patronage.  We all know that’s not so.  When Blackwell got power to throw the Lieutenant Governor out of the chamber whenever he wanted to do so, Hearnes ordered that any Senator who wanted a constituent to get a job in state government had to clear the deal with Morris. And Morris said he would look carefully at those requests in light of what the Senate had done.

The Senate reminded Hearnes that it had advice and consent power over any appointments he might want to make.  Hearnes reminded the Senate that Morris had to approve any payment vouchers the Senate issued for its expenses before the state comptroller would issue checks and Morris wasn’t going to sign any vouchers until the mess was cleaned up.

The confrontation between Senate President pro tem and Lieutenant Governor festered until Republican Bill Phelps was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1972 and ran into Democrat Senate President pro tem Bill Cason of Clinton.  The Supreme Court settled that confrontation by ruling that the Lieutenant Governor could preside over the Senate any time he wanted to do so because the state constitution says he can. Otherwise, said the court, the senate has the power to make its own rules. That is why to this day, the pro tem, not the Lieutenant Governor, assigns bills to committees.  To this day, it is the pro tem, not the Lieutenant Governor, who signs bills passed by the Senate and the House before they are sent to the governor for a decision.

Blackwell’s heavy-handedness eventually caught up with him and on January 19, 1970, just a few days more than a year after he had put Morris in his place, the senate voted to remove Blackwell as pro tem.  But his war with Hearnes was not over.

The legislature had approved a tax increase Hearnes wanted in 1969.  But Blackwell, who once complained in language that sounds completely contemporary these forty-some years later, “We have too much government, too much taxation, too much unnecessary spending, and too much waste of taxpayers’ money,” circulated a petition to overturn that tax increase. And in April, 1970, voters did that.

Blackwell left after four terms in the Senate.  He finished fourth in the 1972 Democratic primary for Governor and called it a career as a Senator in ’74.   He died a little more than three years ago. He was 85.

Senator Lamping needs to give thanks that he’ll never know Earl Blackwell, who chewed up and spat out a Lieutenant Governor of his own party because the last thing he thought state government needed was a Senate that had a close relationship with the second floor.

Starving Arts

“…The nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having ‘nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

–President John F. Kennedy, Amherst College, October 26, 1963

Legislative committee meetings are often places where the real people speak. Their voices often are lost or drowned out in the often partisan or narrow agenda-drive floor debates. That’s why the Missourinet staff tries to cover dozens of committee hearings each year, especially early in the legislative session when bills are molded to at least some degree by committees and the voice of the citizen sometimes is raised.

Appropriations, or budget, committees–the House and Senate differ on what to call them–are holding a lot of hearings now. It’s time for agencies, organizations, and individuals to make a case for their share of the state’s estimated $24 billion spending plan. The governor will announce Monday night his recommendations for cutting the fiscal pie. The legislature will spend the next three months writing its version.

Arts organizations appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee this week told committee members the legislature and the Nixon administration have put them on a starvation diet and have reduced the Missouri Arts Council to skin and bones, and not much skin at that. Arts Council chairman Nola Ruth pleaded with the committee for three million dollars “so that we can survive.”

Here’s a key thing that Missouri’s tight-fisted taxpayers might want to remember about funding for MAC and its related organizations. Out-of-staters pay the taxes that are supposed to support the council’s work. The next time Albert Pujols of the California Angels and the other millionaire athletes of whatever sports play games in Missouri or the next time a big time popular singer comes to Missouri to perform, the part of their salary that they earn while performing in Missouri stays in Missouri. It’s the Athletes and Entertainers Income tax and 60% of it is supposed to go into the Missouri Cultural Trust Fund under a law passed twenty years ago. That money is then split up among library networking, public broadcasting, historic preservation, the state humanities council, and MAC.

But backers of the arts programs those millions of dollars are supposed to fund say some sleight of hand is taking that money away from them.

The President of Missouri Citizens for the Arts, Carol Gregg, notes MAC was “zeroed out” in the state budgets for FY 2011 and 2012. It got about one-fifth of what it should have gotten this fiscal year. Nola Ruth says MAC has had to use its reserves, mostly privately-raised, to continue its programs. Now, she says, there is so little left that the council can provide an average of only 15% of the costs of arts programs at the local level.

Even in its reduced circumstances the arts council supported 15,000 events that drew 8.2 million people last year. Ruth says the council continues to “make sure the citizens of the state of Missouri receive the benefits of the arts, which are massive.”

But here’s what has been happening to the money the law says must go into that trust fund–as Carol Gregg and some legislative budget-writers have explained it to us and to each other. The governor has in the past withheld money appropriated by the legislature to keep the state budget in balance (the state constitution forbids deficit spending) or to meet an emergency. But the governor does not need to return that money to its source when he decides the state can afford to spend it. The best example is the $172 million he withheld from various state programs and used for disaster relief after the Joplin tornado of 2011. State auditor Tom Schweich filed a lawsuit in October, 2011 challenging the constitutionality of the governor’s actions. We’ve been told that case is headed to oral arguments before the Supreme Court in March.

Arts advocates say that’s what has happened to the money that state law specifically says should go to them. And the legislators we have talked to agree but they say this is not the hill they want to die on in their fights with the governor; there are more important fights to pick.

Some would argue that the arts are not essential at a time when our state has failed to meet its promises for funding public schools by about $450 million, when other programs critical to thousands of Missourians have curtailed services to the state’s citizens, when roads continue to deteriorate and state colleges and universities keep jacking up tuitions because the state no longer adequately supports its higher education system. What good is a concert, an art exhibit, a quilt show, a storytelling festival at times like this?

Fifty years ago this year, less than a month before he was murdered in Dallas, President Kennedy went to Amherst College to speak in honor of the great poet Robert Frost, who had died earlier that year. He answered the question that day.

“I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future. I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.”

And that’s what’s behind people such as Nola Ruth and Carol Gregg telling the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee this week that, surely, the state can find three million dollars in a $24 Billion budget for the arts in Missouri.

“Where were you?” Days

September 11 is one of those “where were you when you heard…” days.

As one progresses through life, one accumulates a series of those days.  They mark the progression of our years as well as the biggest news events of our times.  We experience them in personal ways in varying degrees of intimacy.  While some remember days such as this with corporate observances, others observe them in the quiet of their own thoughts and memories.

Reporters often remember some of those “where were you” days as participants -of-a-sort more than we remember them as observers.  While many citizens remember watching or listening to  events unfold, often with some level of disbelief, the reporter often cannot pause to watch.  The reporter becomes a participant by being the link between the event and the people who are trying to understand what is happening and what it means.

It has been observed that journalists write the first page of history.  Certainly we do that most obviously on the “where were you” days.  Or we try to.  But even reporters find themselves enveloped in the things that are unfolding around them.  It is in those times that our critics sometimes think we are cold and uncaring, non-sympathetic to suffering of others.  It is a perception we are aware of.  But it is usually inaccurate.

Reporters are not immune to the tragedies we cover no more than we are immune to the joyous events we relay to our audiences.  But we have to delay our reactions as much as possible to meet the responsibilities we have to those who turn to us for as much orderly information as we can give them.

In those times, when the public wonders how something like this could happen, the reporter is the one who has to retain the composure to ask that question to those most connected to the event.  It’s not unusual that we don’t get an answer —because in the midst of chaos there are no answers.  But we have to ask the questions so many people are asking if for no other reason to give those people a response.

All of us search for meaning in these events.  The reporter is at the front and doing the same thing and through his or her efforts might be able to provide context to those who search for that meaning.

Make a list someday of the “where were you” days in your life.  Write down how you began to understand what was happening and the issues that went with it.  Chances are it was a reporter  whose work led you to that.

We don’t do things perfectly under those circumstances and there is little time for expressions of wisdom.  But the first seeds of understanding are sown in our minds by those  on the scene and often in harm’s way.

And reporters want to try to meet that responsibility.

Eleven years ago today, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, where the Radio-Television News Directors Association was preparing for its national convention that was to begin on September 12th.  Association officers and directors, news directors and editors from radio and television stations throughout America, were preparing to start our board meeting when the first plane went into the first tower.  We knew our convention would not be held the second the second plane hit the second tower.  A variety of reactions set in.  Even as we flocked to television sets in the executive suite to watch what millions of others were watching, were calling our newsrooms to discuss how these events would be covered from our local angles.

One of our association staff members was the wife of the ABC White House correspondent who was traveling that day with President Bush.  Where was he?  What was happening with him.  Another staff member was the sister of a Pentagon employee.  Another was the mother of a person who worked on Wall Street, not far from the World Trade Center.  Where were they?

We were reporters far from our newsrooms, trapped in the city because the airlines almost immediately stopped flying.  But we had to get home to cover this story.

A few of us had driven to Nashville.  Our cars became long-distance taxis for our colleagues as we bolted for home as soon as possible.  Some local rental cars ended up far, far from Nashville as the journalists rushed home. We knew that events that massive touched everybody, no matter how far our cities were from New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.  We had to cover the story in whatever way it played out in our cities.  We could not wait in Nashville for things to calm down enough for us to return in traditional ways.

Reporters must cover the “where were you” story however it plays out in our communities.  We are the  link between the event and those wanting to understand it.  We cannot ignore that responsibility.

We might fulfill it imperfectly but reporters innately know that we must be participants-of-a-kind in these events because people turn to us for answers.  And we have to try to provide them. We will suffer, we will mourn, in our own quiet times later.