Posted December 1, 2008: The dust has settled following the Nov. 4 general election, and a new makeup in the Missouri executive and legislative branches is set to govern in Jefferson City come January.
While I have been content covering 2008 statewide elections this semester in the state Capitol, I have to say I'm anxious for the 2009 legislative session to begin.
Missouri's electoral outcome was an anomaly of sorts. Voters added three Republicans to the state Senate, giving the GOP a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in Missouri's upper chamber. And while Democrats netted three seats in the state's House of Representatives, Republicans will once again enjoy a majority in both bodies of the Missouri Legislature.
On the executive side, however, Democrats had greater success, wresting away the governor's office from Republican hands in the form of governor-elect Jay Nixon. Democrats Chris Koster, of Raymore, Robin Carnahan, of St. Louis, and Clint Zweifel, of Florrisant, were also elected as Missouri's next attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer respectively.
Of particular interest to me was the Missouri Lieutenant Governor's race between incumbent Republican Peter Kinder and challenger Sam Page, a Democratic state representative from Creve Coeur. The race, which I have been following since September, ended up being the tightest of all statewide contests, with Kinder narrowly edging the well-funded Page by just more than 70,000 votes out of approximately 2.7 million votes cast. Kinder was particularly successful in attracting voters in the urban, predominantly Democratic strongholds of St. Louis County to the east and Jackson County to the west, locations where he focused a good amount of his campaign efforts.
So as it remains Kinder will be, in effect, the titular head of the Missouri Republican Party and the lone Republican in a predominantly Democratic administration.
Kinder said of working with a Democrat governor -- Nixon -- during his second term: "He will need help governing this state with a majority of the other party controlling both the House and Senate ... I will work with him if he is willing to work with me."
But, he added, "Where devotion to principle or constitution demands it, I will oppose him."
It is yet to be seen exactly how Kinder can "help" bridge the gap between a Republican Legislature and a Democratic executive branch as president of the Missouri Senate. Certainly he could exert significant influence as a figurehead for conservatives and in promoting Republican initiatives. But without a direct vote in the senate, Kinder's power may end there. I'll have to wait until Jan. 7, when Missouri's 95th General Assembly convenes for the first time.
Posted October 10, 2008: Thursday was one of the most exciting days I've had to date as a government reporter.
I won't necessarily say fulfilling -- but exciting? Definitely.
When Missourian editor Scott Swafford asked Wednesday if I'd like the chance to interview Sen. Joe Biden, I was taken aback.
Are you kidding me?
In my two years of reporting, I've interviewed such 'high-profile' sources as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen and former Sprint Nextel Corp. CEO Gary Forsee, but neither was a one-on-one encounter -- the opportunities both came while alongside other members of the press.
After setting up the interview with a member of the Obama campaign, with Scott's help I jotted down a list of potential questions to ask the vice presidential candidate. We wanted to ask Missouri-specific questions; Scott wanted to get as far away from canned "kitchen table" responses as possible, and he told me this was probably the only one-source story he'd ever let me get away with.
Our list included: how important the state is to the Democratic campaign; what an Obama/Biden administration could do to bring manufacturing and high-tech jobs to Mid-Missouri; how to reduce health care premiums; how to lower gas prices; and how to bridge the state's urban-rural divide.
I left the newsroom on a high, replaying what I would ask and how I would ask it.
Two thoughts kept creeping into my head: "don't screw this up" and "wait until I tell my friends and family."
But as much as I kept blabbing about it to my girlfriend, I tried to suppress those thoughts as much as possible. I'd wait until after the work was done to spread the word about my big day.
I made a conscious effort to tell myself, "This isn't about you." Heck, for all intents and purposes, this wasn't about Joe Biden. This was about the readers of Missouri Digital News and the Columbia Missourian and all the residents of this state and others who would relish the opportunity to ask potentially the next national second-in-command just one question.
I keep thinking, "What would someone without my unique opportunity ask if they were in my shoes?"
I can't say I completely succeeded.
Originally I thought I'd have 30 minutes. But when I got to Jefferson City Thursday morning, I was told I'd have seven. Biden would call on the road between campaign stops in Liberty and Jefferson City.
My list of questions quickly dwindled to seven, then six and by the time the interview was over, I'd only gotten in three (for audio excerpts from that interview, click here).
I covered three issues -- health care, energy policy and interstate funding -- three areas I thought would be present in the minds of Missouri voters and that Biden's administration might actually have some control over if elected.
What was he like?
I guess I can't really say. I only spoke to the man for seven minutes.
He began the conversation with, and I paraphrase, "How 'bout Mizzou and those Tigers -- number two in the country. You guys gotta win, and we've got to win this state."
I gave an obligatory laugh and jumped right in. I was on the clock, and it was my duty to get as much information as possible.
I ended the conversation by saying -- and again, I'm paraphrasing -- "next time you're in Missouri look me up and I'll take you to the Heidelberg." (Not the most professional thing to say, but, hey, the interview was over)
This time it was Biden who gave the required chuckle and said something along the lines of, "You better be careful. I'm like a poor relative; I might just take you up on that. Those rich guys, they won't call you back."
After typing up a question-and-answer-format article based on the interview, I had an interview with a candidate for state office -- cheap plug, look for that story to come -- and then it was off to Biden's actual campaign event, held at Memorial Park in Jeff City.
At the event I spoke to a handful people who had procured tickets before going in. It was interesting to note that, no matter who I talked to -- Republicans or Democrats -- everyone seemed pretty much decided on how they would vote. I think I remember asking every single person I talked to whether anything that was said at Thursday night's event would change who they voted for in November, and no one said that it would.
It seemed this event was more of a rallying cry for the party faithful and, I began to realize, for members of the press. These were carefully crafted messages that Biden was sending out.
While reporting for a news story (which you can find here), I tried to take into account as much how Biden presented himself as what he actually said. With secret servicemen positioned around the outdoor shelter and flashbulbs firing away, Biden delivered a 50-minute address.
I couldn't help but notice the ways in which he framed his speech, one of three that he gave in America's heartland Thursday.
Behind him sat 40 observers -- apparently picked at random from the event's guests -- on hay bales. Corn husks hung from the wood-paneled wall.
As Biden read from a nearly invisible teleprompter, his speech was filled with colloquialisms. He addressed the audience again and again as "folks;" he said at several different points -- and I'm not sure of the exact quotes -- "Like my mother said," "Like my father said," or "Like my brother said;" within the first five minutes of his speech he mentioned his son Beau's service in the U.S. military; he gave Missouri an "Ah" rather than "ee" sound at the end.
Who am I to say whether these inflections and euphemisms were specifically targeted to a Midwest audience?
I tried asking campaign advisor Sam Myers what Biden's message needed to be after the event but was told he wasn't the one to officially comment.
So instead I asked members of the audience what they thought.
The result was clearly one-sided.
"It just made me totally motivated," Nancy Rahner, a special education teacher from Columbia said.
"I'm just so impressed," Don Ruthenberg, of Holts Summit added.
For Linda Eisinger, of Jefferson City, "It was exciting -- I really like the energy."
And energy there was. At points, Biden yelled into the microphone.
He castigated his Republican opponents, while at the same time chastising them for running a negative campaign.
"Don't lecture me on patriotism," Biden roared in regard to a comment from Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that he saw paying taxes as patriotic.
"We will end this war responsibly," he said, pounding the lectern with each word for emphasis.
His sharp witticisms drew laughs from the crowd.
In talking about his party's perceived result in the three previous (presidential and vice presidential) debates, Biden said "Now if this were the playoffs in a baseball series, and it was the best out of five, this would be over by now."
Biden said that on Sept. 15 at 9 a.m. Sen. John McCain stated the fundamentals of the American economy were "sound" but at 11 a.m. he called the situation a "crisis."
"That's what we Catholics call an epiphany," he quipped.
But for all the rhetoric and one-sidedness, I can't help but look back, initially, on Thursday with a sense of excitement, without a sense of being part of -- for better or worse -- a historic moment. That excitement, I feel, would have been just as palpable had Palin, or McCain come to speak. But I can't say that for sure. I'll have to wait until they visit Mid-Missouri themselves.
Posted September 16, 2008: I want to offer a few additions to a story I wrote about Friday's lieutenant governor debate in Columbia.
For the sake of the reader, I limited my story to three issues that I felt carried the most weight in the debate Ô014 health care/senior citizens, state-subsidized economic incentives and open records requests.
It should be noted that I omitted the three candidates' (Republican Peter Kinder, Democrat Sam Page and Libertarian Teddy Fleck) responses to the question I personally posed: "As chairman of the Missouri Tourism Commission, what would you do as lieutenant governor to bring dollars and tourism dollars to the state?"
Sam Page answered first. He said that tourism, as an "economic engine" second only to agriculture in the state, "The tourism commission is one of the most important jobs the lieutenant governor has." He said he was looking forward to seeing the economic effects of last week's Tour of Missouri, a seven-day cycling event from St. Joseph to St. Louis that featured approximately 120 riders and thousands of onlookers. Page said, "I've heard some criticisms from conservative groups that in a down economy, this is not the best use of job-creation money, but I'll have to wait and learn more about this."
Current Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder began by saying that under his watch the Missouri tourism industry has flourished to the largest budget ever in the state Ô014 more than $20 million in 2007. The Republican, who has been a vocal advocate for the Tour of Missouri while in office, said the event has been "enourmously positive departure in the tourism-hospitality industry." He added that with around 368,000 spectators it is the "largest sporting event ever held in our state."
"We have live, streaming video on the World Wide Web, and we've have hits from 100 countries around the world, the first four days of this race this week alone," Kinder said. "That means a worldwide audience is learning about Missouri's brand, and we're rebranding ourselves to a worldwide audience in Sweden, in China, in France, who may never have heard of Missouri Ô014 or maybe they've only heard of Mark Twain and the Mississippi River. Now they're seeing our beautiful Ozark highways and byways, our small towns, and we're uniting our small towns and two big cities in a world-class sporting event."
Teddy Fleck, an over-the-road truck driver and U.S. Army veteran from Springfield, said the aim of the tourism commission should be "to showcase our state lakes and state parks but it does not need to showcase private businesses."
Other issues broached by reporters in what moderator David Lieb called an "audience participation debate" were tax increases for veterans programs and the possibility of the governor and lieutenant governor running on a combined ticket rather than individually .
In regard to potential tax increases, Kinder said he has not voiced support of a 1/8-cent sales tax being "mindful that it is regressive on low-income people." Fleck said he would like to make sure any statewide program would not overlap with any programs the federal government is also offering. Page stood in support of the increase, saying he co-sponsored legislation in the Missouri House of Representatives that would take the issue to a vote of Missouri residents. He noted 1,000 veterans on a waiting list for services and said, "It's our obligation to take care of those who have fought our foreign wars and are coming back to Missouri. It's our obligation that their health needs are taken care of and they can transition into a good job with good benefits. I have a track record of opposing many, many sales taxes, many, many new taxes in this Legislature, but this is one tax issue Ô014 because veterans are so important Ô014 the people in Missouri deserve to have the oppotunity to vote on."
All three candidates, in some form, voiced sentiments similar to Teddy Fleck, that the idea of a single governor/lieutenant governor ticket along party lines would have to be "up to the people of Missouri."