This past week, the future of Missouri's Senate became a topic of discussion in the statehouse.
Continued filibusters, an inability to reach agreement on major issues facing the state and now the threat of an historic open floor fight on the state budget challenging the Appropriations Committee have marked the last few weeks.
A couple of senior legislative sources have voiced concern that the Senate is facing a transformational period with the apparent inability of senators to compromise.
What's happened to the Senate? Some tie it to term limits.
"People that think, people that deliberate, people that actually read the bills and read the amendments that go forward -- those people are gone," Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, complained to his colleagues in a recent debate. "And then all of a sudden, we can pass through the stuff that certain special interests wanted."
But others say there's more to it.
Jefferson County Democratic Sen. Ryan McKenna voiced frustration about an increasingly partisan atmosphere in the Senate similar to the highly partisan House where he had served.
"I hated all six years I served in the House, I don't like the partisanship of it. I thought it was not representative of the people that we all represent, because we represent people of both parties," McKenna said in a recent Senate debate.
"This is the place where common sense dominates, where compromise dominates and I have seen in my short six years that this...in a small way is being chipped away a little bit."
McKenna spoke from a unique perspective. His father, Bill McKenna, had been president pro tem of the Senate. He was praised by both Republicans and Democrats for his statesmanship and his work in bringing factions of the Senate together. McKenna was the first victim of term limits, forced out of office because he had served the maximum time allowed in the Senate for the rest of his life.
The difficulty in reaching compromises, about which the younger McKenna spoke, is not just a fight between the two parties in the Senate. Rather, on some issues, it's divisions among the Republicans themselves that have blocked action. Three key education issues have stalled from filibusters in which Republicans participated and led.
The divisions among Republican senators became obvious back in 2010 when it took a drawing to pick their top leader. The GOP caucus was evenly split and neither side would budge -- maybe an omen.
The continuing internal party squabbles have led to suggestions for more House-like party discipline. House Speaker Steve Tilley endorses the idea that the Senate adopt the House practice of nearly weekly closed-door party caucuses to formulate unified party positions before public debate in the chamber.
"I would encourage them to do it," Tilley said. "It's very valuable in the House before you bring up an issue to try and vet through it with your members...I think you've seen that type of discussion since probably the beginning of our formation of government."
Tilley, speculated that the new wave of House members in the Senate from term limits -- including his predecessor as speaker, Ron Richard -- will change the Senate. "I think that they... are going to wield a little more stick, so to speak, in how that place operates."
The idea that the Senate will become a smaller version of the House, with party discipline, horrifies traditionalists.
With a smaller body than the House -- 34 members compared to 163 in the House -- Senate traditionalists argue there's an advantage to a smaller group spending time exploring issues in extended discussions.
"It's a lot harder to spit in the eye of a colleague that you sit across from for hours during debate," said former Senate GOP Leader Franc Flotron, now a lobbyist. "The House is designed to be efficient, rather than deliberative."
But don't get the impression that the Senate of past years always was a chamber of harmony and thoughtful debate.
As now, some filibusters of the past involved just rants with little meaningful deliberation. I still can remember the times of years past when a filibuster amounted to no more than a member reading from a book to kill time.
Like this year, there have been deep divisions within the majority party. It almost has seemed that the bigger the majority, the deeper and more emotional were the divisions.
When Democrats had a super majority in 1970, a split within their own party led to the ouster of the Senate's top leader, Earl Blackwell. That fight left a bitterness in the Senate that lasted for years. To this day, the Senate's hallway photo galleries of past sessions fail to recognize Blackwell as having been a Senate leader.
Despite that background, however, I do sense that something fundamentally different is evolving in Missouri's Senate this year.
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