Trip to Capitol is full of legislative lessons

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I just returned from the State Capitol in Jefferson City having spent a couple of days mingling with fellow newspaper folk and rubbing elbows with politicians.

As always seems to be the case, you can't help but stand in awe as you gaze at the majestic Capitol and Governor's Mansion perched high above the Missouri River.

I've had the pleasure of visiting our State Capitol several times.

My first trip was in the early '70s for Kit Bond's inauguration as governor.

When my friend Dennis Ziegenhorn served this district as state representative, I also had opportunities to walk the halls of the Capitol and watch the sausage-making that we call legislation. It's an eye-opener if you haven't had a chance to witness the process.

That's what is missing for the public.

Some Missourians may have a fleeting knowledge of the bills that come before the Missouri Legislature. But for most of us, we know only the highlights.

The process of legislation is fascinating to watch.

Here's what I learned although, quite frankly, it should have been abundantly obvious.

A legislator - any legislator for the most part - can have a bill with great merit and value to Missourians. But believe me, the merits of the bill seem far less important than the legislator's ability to convince the leadership of its value.

Translated that means that the power structure of these elected officials is the central most important lesson to be learned.

The leadership has the singular power to ignore or promote legislation purely at their discretion.

One St. Louis senator gave us an example of how small actions by the leadership can doom a bill. By delaying some legislation for just one day, that bill may get bogged down in the paperwork and never see the light of day.

Forget the Hollywood version of politics. The little man taking on the power structure is no more than a creation of Hollywood.

In the real world, it's who you know and how your legislation can benefit someone - and not always the public.

I was impressed by the respect given to our State Representative Holly Rehder. Her bill on prescription drugs is honestly one of the top priorities this year and that message came loud and clear from the powerful House Speaker.

I learned many years ago from Rep. Ziegenhorn of the distinct pecking order that engulfs the state legislature and that lesson was reinforced this week.

The world of politics on any level is not for everyone. I personally could never endure the tedium and slow pace of that political culture.

But to be fair, I was also impressed at the sincerity and true concern for Missourians that is held by some of our elected officials.

That, of course, is balanced by the self-interests held by others.

The bottom line is fairly simple. We, as Missouri voters, get what we deserve. If we elect officials for some self interest, we're likely to get little in return. If, on the other hand, we elect someone who has an interest in truly serving both the constituents and the residents of Missouri, we get quality in return.

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