While researching a story, I found myself combing through House roll call votes, having given up narrowing my search with ctrl + F after 76 instances were found. One of the bills voted on caught my eye. Legislation to designate a statewide Girl Scout Day passed the House 149 to 1. Naturually, I was a little curious. Who was the one person who voted against it, and why?
A little research led me to Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-St. Louis. Turns out Zimmerman also voted against Colon Cancer Awareness Day, Adenoid Cystic Carcinona Awareness Day, and Walk/Bike to School Day. I went from a little curious, to really curious. So I emailed him and asked.
Rep. Zimmerman responded promptly. He wrote, "I have voted against those bills (and others like them) because I think the legislature has better things to do with its time and resources, particularly during these difficult times for our state. It costs real money (potentially thousands of dollars each) to pass these things, print the relevant documents, add them to the statute books, and so forth." Zimmerman also suggested that "perhaps less time should be spent on Bike to School Day and more time should be spent on substantive legislation to help get our citizens back to work."
Sometimes, even journalists need to eat. Since greasy keyboards are strictly forbidden, when it comes time for lunch, the newsroom goes ghost town. I'm usually more of a granola bar girl myself, so today I took my mid-day meal in the Missouri State Museum, conveniently located within the Capitol, thirty steps from MDN's door. I had to weave my way through a series of matching neon tee shirts, but considering the height advantage I have on the average fourth grade social studies class, it wasn't too much trouble to view the exhibits.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in the Chicago suburbs, and despite the past four semesters as a Mizzou student, I have yet to brush up on my Missouri history. So with a relatively slow news day and 45 minutes to burn, I let the "Show-Me" state show me. Here's what I've learned so far:
1. Many Missouri pioneers were well-rounded citizens. For example, Daniel Morgan Boone had more careers than your average Barbie doll, serving as a land surveyor, a fur trapper, and a frontier spy, eventually launching a salt-making business with his brother Nathan in 1805. Daniel was also the proud father of at least 12 kids.
2. Had I grown up in Franklin, Missouri in 1825, I could have taken lessons from Mrs. Ann E. Washington in all the "ornamental branches of female education." I'm not quite sure what that entails, but a quick Google search has me leaning toward needlework, music and drawing. All three of which I could use some definite improvement in.
3. In 1820, Alexander McNair beat out William Clark (Meriwether Lewis' partner in crime) in Missouri's first gubernatorial election. His campaign slung a decent amount of mud at Clark's "excessive" $2000 annual salary. I did a little research, and using estimates endorsed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and my own Algebra II Honors math skills, Clark would be bringing home $31,028 with today's inflation rates. Not sure if that constitutes excessive, but McNair won none the less.
Just for comparison's sake, a University of Georgia survey reported the average starting salary for a journalism graduate in 2008 was $30,000. I can't help but wonder that if I had been born in 19th century Missouri, not only could I have gained sufficient background in the ornamental branches of female education, but a chance at making a very comparable salary in state government. Of course then I'd have to stick it out until the 19th amendment was ratified. One hundred years later. Perhaps I'll stick with my own era.
4.Rose O'Neill, who lived and worked in the Branson area, invented and popularized the Kewpie doll around 1912. And in the vein of noted Missouri women, Carry Nation was a hatchet-wielding Prohibition advocate known for her often violent expressions against alcoholic beverages, including "saloon smashing" crusades.
5.And finally, the collection of Civil War style dress-up clothes available in the Hands on History section enticed at least one group of suspected AP government students to don hoop skirts and suspenders. While the exhibit's bold font and basic vocabulary appeared geared toward a younger demographic, the facebook age range seemed just as excited at the promise of new profile pictures and casual flirting. However the group did manage to refrain from crawling into the child-sized war tent.
The Legislative Spring Break leaves the Capitol looking a little lonely. At least in the grown-up department. Although Missouri lawmakers are taking it easy this week, some younger citizens are taking advantage of an empty rotunda, as field trip groups roam the otherwise barren halls.
I caught up with a few fourth graders from St. Charles' Orchard Farm Elementary, as they inspected several of the museum style exhibits set up on the first floor. Social Studies worksheets in hand, the students and their chaperone let me in on some tour highlights. Their candid answers were a pleasant break from interviewing more measured speaking politicians.
Kiki: "So what's been the best part of your tour so far?"
Allison, age 9: "The House of Representatives. I really like how the boards light up with their names when they walk in."
K: "Oh, kinda like they're movie stars?"
A: "Yeah, kinda like that!"
Nate, age 10: "I liked that room with all the paintings. You know? What was it called?" a brief pause ensues while the classmates discuss. One suggests "the mural?" and their chaperone gently reminds them of Thomas Hart Benton's "The Social History of Missouri," located in the House lounge. Apparently Mr. Benton is also an answer to one of their worksheet questions and, elated at the discovery, they momentarily scramble to fill in their assignment. "Yeah, the Thomas Hart Benton mural is my favorite thing. So far."
Morgan, age 10: "Going up to the dome, like all the way at the top, and looking down at the people on the stairs is the coolest part. I haven't done it yet, but I just know it's gonna be cool."
K: "That does sound cool. So what are you guys studying in school right now?"
A: "We're learning about state representatives and senators and laws and just the whole government really."
K: "So do any of you want to be a representative or a senator when you grow up?"
M: "No, I want to be a cheerleading coach when I grow up. I'm already a cheerleader right now."
A: "Yeah, she cheers all the time."
M: "I'm really competitive."
K: "Oh got it. I was never a cheerleader, but in high school, I ran cross country. But I wasn't really competitive."
A: "My big sister runs cross country!"
K: "Oh, very cool! OK, so Morgan wants to be a competitive cheerleading coach. What does everyone else want to be when they grow up?"
Trent, age 9 1/2: "A farmer."
M: "He's already a farmer right now."
N: "And I want to be a football player. I play football right now too."
K: "Really? Which team do you want to play for?"
N: "The Eagles. Because I already played for the Eagles for two years."
A: "And our school mascot is the eagle!"
M: "Our teacher's name is Ms. Johnson. She's awesome. Can you write that? Can you say that I said it?"
K: "Of course. Well, thank you guys for helping me with my blog. I sort of have to go back to work now, and I don't want to keep you from your worksheet, but have a good day! Good luck getting up to the top of the dome!"
Sometimes, when the House floor discussion gets a little lengthy, or if the legislator's are still getting settled, I do a quick room scan. And nearly every time, the most exciting people to watch are the school groups. There's usually a cluster of hooded sweatershirts and tennis shoes and the most denim that rotunda has seen all week, supervised by teachers and parent chaperones, all sitting in the House gallery. Maybe this is a stretch, but I've always found it entertaining to see how the fifth grade spectors parallel the lawmakers working below them.
For example, some students sit up straight in their chairs, hands foldled neatly, and listen intently. They're usually seated adjacent to one of the group leaders. Likewise, there are some representatives that sit up equally straight, fold their hands just as neatly, and listen intently too. At the same time, there are kids who slouch in their seats, kick their feet up on the ledge in front of them, take out their cell phones and knock out a few BrickBreaker levels until it's time to for lunch. One particular day, I watched a boy toss tiny bits of loose leaf into the curly ponytail of an unfortunately seated classmate. His maroon Billabong sweatshirt and grown-out bowl cut put him in the 9-12 age range. And while I've never seen a legislator give a coworker the paper dandruff treatment, I have seen quite a few BlackBerry cameos on the floor. Closely related is the bored-yet-phoneless child, the kind that sort of slumps over and appears to nap with his or her eyes open. This conscious but seemingly disinterested behavior appears amongst lawmakers as well.
Finally, there are the chatty kids. The ones who lean over their neighbors to tell a really good story, which I can only assume relates to something like the latest Justin Bieber single or who's parents bought them a trampoline for Christmas. Sometimes an adult will attempt to silence them, but usually they merely lower their volume and talk away. Unsurprisingly, the House also hosts quite a few social butterflies, with members abandoning their desks to chat up their friends on a regular basis. They're probably not big Justin Bieber fans, but then, you never know.
In other news, Gov. Jay Nixon declared Thursday, February 25th, "Jamie McMurray Day." McMurray is a Missouri native, and won the Daytona 500 on February 14th. Jamie McMurray's large, orange, camo-print, Bass Pro Shop sponsored trailer occupied three parking spots in front of the Capitol steps.
Hopefully she has time this week to discuss nicknames. I wonder if people every call her Ki-squared?
Legislators are actually normal people. I went into this Jeff City beat with a few preconceived notions, and one of the biggest was the idea that lawmakers were sort of stuffy. That they wore a lot of navy. That they never had fun. That they only ate pizza with a fork and knife and never texted during hearings and were always diplomatic and never laughed or made jokes or talked with their mouths full. And then I sat in on a House Committee Meeting and realized that while some (Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho) did in fact break out plastic utensils before digging into their pizza, others, (Rep. Larry Wilson, R-Flemington) just ate with their hands. Enthusiastically. And honestly, I didn't blame them, because a 5:00 PM committee meeting held to discuss business liabilities was probably served best with pepperoni and cherry coke. I was hungry, at least.
Initially, I felt self-conscious carrying my cell around. I was worried my mild texting addiction would be perceived as rude or disrespectful in the capital. Thirty seconds later it occurred to me that anyone without a Blackberry in this place looks a little rudimentary. Sort of like a Neanderthal really. And from what I could tell, phones are often visible, if not in near-constant use, during committee meetings. Sometimes, if a legislator sees a friend outside of the hearing room, he (Rep. Michael Colona, D-St. Louis City) may pick up his iPhone, wave it back and forth casually, and mouth the words "text me!" And if his buddy is lacking in the lip-reading department, no worries, the representative can just get up, walk out of the meeting, and say hi.
Sometimes, legislators make jokes. Sometimes, they make jokes with fully uniformed highway patrolmen waiting to testify. It's even better when they make fun of each other. They usually do this by starting a sentence along the lines of "Well, with all due respect," or "I mean no disrespect." This is when I usually perk up.
Speaking of appearing dumb. If you get in the elevator on the first floor, after the pressing the down button, and smile politely at the important-looking, tie-wearing gentleman inside, it probably isn't necessary to exclaim, "Oh, I'm going to the basement too!" And then, even if you slip up and let that first statement slide, it really isn't necessary to follow it with, "that's probably because I pressed the down button on the first floor." There's a quote along the lines of, "It is wiser to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and confirm it," that when Googled is attributed most often to Mark Twain, but also Abraham Lincoln, and seems to apply here. The important-looking, tie-wearing gentleman merely nodded at me. I made a mental note to keep elevator conversations to a minimum for the time being. Too risky.
And finally, one legislator's (Walter Bivins, R-St. Louis County) assistant introduced me as "the little girl who wanted to talk to you," which makes me feel like I might need to force my voice down an octave. Possibly change my name? At the very least, I think I'll stop wearing headbands.