GUEST COMMENTARY: Bipartisanship helps secure funds to improve Ellis Fischel, fight cancer

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 | 12:32 a.m. CDT; updated 10:38 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

People often ask me why I wanted to return to the Missouri House of Representatives, especially as a minority member. Sometimes the question is hard to answer. Sometimes we in the Missouri General Assembly fall below the reasonable expectations of our voters. Sometimes the politics and the challenges are frustrating in the extreme. But today was one of those days when the answer was bright and clear. Today we did the people’s work.

House Bill 2016 came to the House floor today. It is the bill containing the appropriation for the new Ellis Fischel Cancer Hospital at the University of Missouri Health Center. The funds for Ellis Fischel, $31 million, were added to the bill by House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County. Allen and I had worked together much of the session to find the money and I was delighted that he chose to be its champion. After four years of frustrating defeat, Ellis Fischel was back on the table.  

Today, there was an amendment offered on the floor to again remove the funding for Ellis Fischel. I felt like a mother tiger with a threatened cub. I was defensive, frantic and just plain scared. Then I watched an amazing display of bi-partisan good government. 

Stephen Webber immediately rose to the floor to defend the hospital. At the same time Mary Still was convincing reluctant colleagues from St. Louis. Both Minority Leader Paul LeVota and Majority Leader Steve Tilley supported the hospital. 

On the Republican side, our mid-Missouri colleagues Mark Bruns and Bill Deeken from Jefferson City and Jeanie Riddle from Callaway pitched in. Steve Hobbs from Mexico was not immediately on the floor and his absence worried me. Hobbs came in the door and we exchanged nothing more than a nod. He went to work, turning some Republicans in our favor and then followed Webber to the floor. It was like watching a big forward on your basketball team take an offensive rebound and jam it back in the basket. Seeing our friends work together with such single-minded dedication was a joy to behold. I knew we were going to be OK.

Perhaps most important to me personally was the floor defense offered by Paul Quinn, who represents northern Boone County. Paul lost his wife to cancer and he articulated why the hospital is so important. Ellis Fischel is not some local pork project. It is the construction of a modern medical facility dedicated to research into the causes and cures of cancer and the detection and treatment of Missouri’s No. 2 killer. Paul seldom speaks on the floor, but today he spoke and it mattered.

We have a long way to go with Ellis Fischel. It still must pass the Senate, but I have tremendous confidence in Sen. Kurt Schaefer and Sen. Rob Mayer, both real champions of the University of Missouri. The MU community still has a difficult challenge convincing the governor to support Ellis Fischel, but between the administration, the curators, the medical faculty, the Alumni Association and the Flagship Council, I hope Gov. Nixon can be brought to understand its long-term benefit.

If that were not enough to make it a successful day, those of us who are on the various budget conference committees convened as soon as the House and Senate adjourned. One of the most important unresolved issues was Schaefer’s plan to fund smoking cessation as a Medicaid-eligible item. Schaefer’s idea has been a long time coming and has large financial benefits to the state as well as its self-evident medical advantages. The group most significantly affected is pregnant women who smoke. In states where the program is in use there is a significant decrease in the number of babies born with birth defects. I watched Democratic House members of the Conference Committee support a Republican senator’s successful effort to save money and improve the health of our state.

Today, my colleagues in both the House and Senate provided an eloquent answer to the question of why I returned to the Missouri General Assembly. Today we worked hard and we worked smartly on some really important public policy issues. Today, I was proud to again be a member of the Missouri House of Representatives.

Representative Kelly serves Boone County in the 24th Legislative District. His reflections refer to Monday, April 26.


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