Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL160.PRB - The Need for Audacity«MDNM»
Missouri's legislature left for its spring break with little progress on some of the state's biggest issues -- Ferguson, highway budget shortfalls and school-funding equity.
While the Republican-dominated legislature has made substantial progress on GOP agenda items such as restricting welfare, right to work and limiting liability lawsuit awards, the more difficult issues have languished.
Neither chamber has passed anything to address a funding shortfall for Missouri highways that led the Transportation Department to announce earlier this year it was abandoning major upgrades for the vast majority of the state's highways and bridges -- allowing them to slowly fall into a state of disrepair.
For the last several years, the legislature has been unable to meet the minimum level of funding for education that the General Assembly itself defined ten years ago as necessary to provide funding equity for Missouri public school students.
There has been some movement on a few issues related to Ferguson. Just before the legislature's spring break, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure to restrict when police officers can use lethal force.
But many of the over-arching issues of Ferguson that brought international attention to Missouri have languished including race relations, police training, law enforcement use of military equipment and outside investigations of fatal police shootings.
There are obvious reasons for limited progress on these issues. Solutions to the problems with school funding equity and highways likely would require politically unpopular tax increases or budget cuts in other programs.
As for Ferguson, the legislative session began with passionate statements from legislative leaders.
But it turns out there is far from a consensus within the legislature about what exactly should be done. Many of the proposals pushed by black legislators simply do not have strong support among Republicans.
It has been my experience that these kind of divisions and politically uncomfortable issues require leadership from the executive branch as well as political leaders outside the legislature to put pressure on lawmakers to get something done.
But so far, there has been no such clarion call for action from the Nixon administration on these issues.
There have been no major legislative packages proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon about Ferguson, highways or education funding equity for children.
In past administrations, members of the governor's cabinet had been policy initiators with the legislature. Some actively rallied public support to put pressure on the legislature and helped forge compromises among competing factions in the General Assembly.
But under Nixon, department directors have been silenced -- rarely seen or heard.
The silence is not limited to Nixon's administration. The other statewide-elected officials have proposed little on these issues.
Nor have political candidates spoken out like Mel Carnahan did during his first campaign for governor when he called for a major tax increase to boost funding for public schools.
It was a politically dangerous position to take, but Carnahan's subsequent election helped lay the groundwork for legislative passage of his plan.
In today's era, however, there have been no such bold, courageous proposals for Ferguson, highways or schools from Missouri's two leading candidates for governor.
Instead, there seems to be almost a total absence in Missouri's current governmental and political climate of audacity -- the boldness and willingness to take on politically dangerous challenges.
That word "audacity" has a long history among political and military leaders going back centuries, well before Barack Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope."
Two centuries ago, the Prussian military leader Carl von Clausewitz wrote that "no military leader has become great without audacity."
A few decades later, the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli called success "the child of audacity."
One of the most famous quotes about audacity came from a subsequent British prime minister, Winston Churchill -- "The first quality that is needed is audacity."
Churchill was writing about how to be successful in his hobby of painting, but the word "audacity" best describes what made him a signature leader for his country and the world.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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