Nick Berry is a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major and History and English minors at the University of Missouri. He has lived in Chicago, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Jackson, Mississippi, and Los Angeles. He currently resides in Columbia, Missouri. In addition to working for Missouri Digital News as a State Capitol Correspondent during the 2010 Legislative Session, he has worked in broadcasting since High School. He is currently the News Director for the University of Missouri's student-run television station, MUTV. He is also a Live Truck Operator for KOMU 8 News in Columbia. This summer he will be working for CNBC Europe in London.
As the both the session and the school year are winding down, more bills are being voted on and more kids are roaming the Capitol. There are some days where it's even hard to get across the hallway because there are hundreds of kids on field trips.
During session, both Representatives and Senators take a moment out of their day to recognize special guests. And seeing no objection (there's never any objection), they have a chance to introduce the boy scout troop or school class or whoever decides to visit for the day.
My favorite person to introduce special guests is Senator Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, because he recylces his material. He says the exact same schtick whenever he's introducing anyone under the age of about 12 years old. He always says "so-and-so group is enjoying their day at the Capitol, and they're getting ready to go down to the cafeteria for some liver and onions, lima bean pizza, and for dessert some broccoli flavored ice cream." He says it so much, you can set your watch to it. Don't get me wrong, the kids and teacher love it, but after hearing the same thing about 5 times during this session, maybe Senator Crowell should hire a writer.
Today when I went to the Towne Grill (my favorite local hotspot) and ordered the usual, I noticed someone ordered liver and onions. I looked around hoping to see a 2nd Grade Class from Cape Girardeau, but unfortunately they didn't.
But it always turns out this way.
The senators discussed eliminating and adding state holidays today. Apparently Lincoln and Truman's Birthdays are no good anymore and costing this state money, but Girl Scout Day on March 12th and Organ Donor Awareness Day on September 14th are essential for Missouri's future. The process of what entails a state holiday seems arbitrary to me and I wonder how much sway lobbyist groups have in determining what gets its own month. It makes me wonder why, as we inch closer and closer to the end of the session with a lot of unresolved important issues still on the table, our legislators continue to discuss issues like these.
It also struck me as odd that when the Senate received these bills, they added on a few amendments to saying that Governor Nixon didn't have to do anything. I'm sure it means that Governor Nixon doesn't need to announce the start of "Ride Your Bicycle to Work Month" ever year and it got me thinking, what if the bill had written into it that Governor Nixon had to observe every state holiday. That means for the entire month of May, Nixon would have to ride his bicycle from the Governor's Mansion to the Capitol or wherever his business might take him that month. He would also have to spend months and months being aware of whatever diseases or causes the legislators felt like.
It was also a bit troubling that when they were discussing cutting state holidays, Senator Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, couldn't remember what holidays were on the third Monday of January (Martin Luther King Day) or November 11th (Veteran's Day) and asked why don't we cut those. Ouch. It always helps to look things up even when you're just coming up with things off the top of your head. I felt as though Senator Ridgeway's point was lost a little bit by those comments.
It's noon in Jefferson City, and I've already been here and back from Columbia three, that's right, three times. Sorry about that carbon footprint. I should probably plant a tree to make up for it.
Today's been all about broadcasting. I've already filmed a live shot, a package for Broadcast I class, and I'm gearing up to produce some radio stories all in Jefferson City. All of them are more or less government-based stories, which made me think of just how big of a stake the government has in the economy and lives of the people in Jeff City and Mid-Missouri in general.
It might just be that I'm keeping a closer eye on the government, but I feel like every story idea that I come up with ties in with something that happens at the Capitol. It could also be that what happens in this building really impacts the rest of the state. That's not to say that local and regional news isn't as important, but these are issues that affect 6 million people.
The more that I cover the Missouri Senate, the more I get to learn about the Senators and their personalities. As a third party observer, you tend to notice the little habits people get into.
For example, during a roll call, Senator Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, never votes with a "yay" or a "nay." Instead, he always votes either by saying "yes" or "no." Meanwhile everyone else in the Senate votes by saying "yay" almost exclusively.
Thursdays in the Senate don't seem to be taken too seriously by Senators. The agenda is usually non-controversial and a good deal of joking around happens on the floor. Last Thursday when I was covering the Senate, Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, pointed out that every time Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, stands up to speak, he always buttons up his jacket and unbuttons it when he sits down. Since that point, I've noticed it every time. When acting as President, Bartle said Lembke could speak "as soon as he's finished buttoning up his jacket."
Today, Senator Brad Lager, R-Maryville, used a third reading of a bill to take a jab at Lembke.
Today was a big day for Senator Joseph Keaveny, as he had the honor of having his first peice of legislation, SB920, be third read. He confidently stood up after Senator Schaefer's bill passed unanimously. Much to my surprise, the entire Senate floor jumped up as quickly as he did asking for a Standing Division.Most of the Senators, Democrat and Republican, stood and appealed to Mr. President.
At this point in time, I had no idea what was going on, but Sen. Keaveny blushed bright red. They took a vote as to whether or not to proceed with the third reading and everyone except for Senator Green and Senator McKenna voted no. They then did roll call, and all but a few voted "nay." Then, after roll, the Senators one by one changed their votes to a "yes." Well, except for Senator McKenna who changed his yes to a no... then back to a yes. I felt sorry for the secretary having to write it down. At this point I realized that they were playing a prank on Sen. Keaveny. This otherwise average bill about property transfer was going through this funny process. Eventually, his bill was passed unanimously and the Senate gave Keaveny a round of applause for passing his first legislation.
Every once in a while you will hear a politcian come out against hazing in things like Fraternities or High School sports teams, the tradition of teasing the new guy is still alive and kicking in Missouri politics.
Well this week is Spring Break and the Capitol is a emptier than Missouri's general revenue fund. Only a sparse few reporters, disappointed tourists, and confused lobbyists are left roaming the halls of the building. There's definitely a change of pace from the usual action going on.
It's also been more and more difficult to get a hold of sources. We're spoiled here since we have access to every state politician, but when you go out into the real world people are much more hesitant to talk to you. I have made all kinds of calls across the state to businesses in hope that someone would talk to me. It's hard to talk to people about their health benefit plans. People tend to be unknowledgable or completely off base when it comes to the coverage of their company. Sure, it's not something people have to think about every day, but I would hope that the owners who subscribe to these plans have a little more base knowledge about how much money they spend. Small business owners themselves tend to be rather elusive as well. When they're not "out of the office for the day" they are "in meetings for the rest of the afternoon." I'm not sure if it was really people just not being around or if they just didn't want to talk to the media.
It's a bit of a roadblock to work through. I haven't been able to talk to many people, but from those who I have, I've gotten an underwhelming response. Even though health insurance is a hot national debate, on the local level people are hesitant to talk about it. People don't know how they feel about things they don't fully understand and with something a little more complex and personal, it's hard to make that connection. Hopefully new sources will be a bit more fruitful.
Finally, we were able to track down a few sources and gathered much more information then we were expecting. We went in thinking the budget was going to be cut by an additional 300 million dollars, but the numbers we were given were closer to half a billion dollars. This was huge and we were able to get the story out. We also found out when and where Governor Nixon's closed-door meeting with the Democratic Caucus was going to take place. Probing multiple sources for information definitely pays off for you.
It's easy to get discouraged when you've walked around the capital 20 times in an hour and a half and don't have any answers, but eventually your persistence will pay off.
It really makes you realize that when you're a public official, it is a full time job. Someone is always watching you when you're in the public eye, so you can't afford to make bad impressions. With new media putting cameras, audio recorders, and the ability to publish something in everyone's hands, public officials have to work that much harder to stay consistant. Politics doesn't end when session does. Politics therefore has to be a way of life for a lot of people who feel the public pressure.
So all of a sudden, I'm sitting in the Governor's Mansion, surrounded by media from around the state, about to ask the Governor about the biggest news story in St. Louis! It was a great experience and I'm glad that's where my day led to.
The Governor's mansion is a really nice place inside. It's entirely set up for events like this, so the Governor can entertain guests and be a good host. It's important for a politican to be a good host and make people feel at home, because it really takes a lot of tension out of the atmosphere. If you keep your critics and stakeholders well fed, they might not be as hostile when it comes to questiontime. A Governor definitely needs to know how to throw a party.
Today while I was at the House Utility Committee hearing, one of the witnesses did not know why Missouri was called the Show-Me state. The audience all laughed and the representatives did too. I have lived across the country but I had no idea why it was the Show-Me state until I lived here. Then Representative Zimmerman gave a fantastic definition.
"In the words of congressman Willard Vandiver in 1899 who said, 'I come from a state that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I come from Missouri, you've got to show me.'"
I think that is a great quote and it really sums up the state pretty well in my experience. It seems very fitting to me that the first school of journalism came from a state dedicated to getting proof. I think it's a very good motto to live by and we all have the right to demand proof before making decisions.
I went to my first Senate assembly today after only previously going to the House. I was confronted with just how different the two branches of the legislature are. The House is a loud place, with people all over, and more fast paced action. The Senate on the other hand, is much more elegant, slower paced, with a dead silence echos across the room at times. The house always had at least 60 or so people on the floor and at one time, keeping most of the members engaged in what was going on. However, during the filibuster today, there were moments where there were only 5 senators on the floor.
The very rooms that they operate in are quite different as well. The Senate room is very classic, with its giant mural and columns giving it a historic feeling. Meanwhile the house is much more high-tech, with a giant scoreboard with the names of the Representatitves and the bill being discussed. It's not as classic, but it's very helpful to have everything laid right out.
It also just has a different feeling when you're put at eye level with all of the Senators, as opposed to looking down on the Representatives from the press box. I'm sure psychologists could determine how it changes our perceptions of the legislators, but I think it humanizes the entire process a little bit more when you can look a Senator in the eye as they pitch their bills.