In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is condemned to push a boulder up a steep hill. The boulder slides back down, and the poor guy has to start over.
Rep. Mary Still's self-imposed challenges make that legend look like a walk in the park.
She's pushing at least three legislative boulders up a hill that's been greased by the Republican majorities in both houses. Like Sisyphus, she's no quitter. Unlike him, she’s also running for the state Senate.
Mary's biggest metaphorical boulder is her proposal to increase Missouri's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax. In a rational world, this would be a no-brainer. The revenue — estimated at $396 million a year — would come close to eliminating the budget shortfall that has led Gov. Jay Nixon to slash funding for higher education by 15 percent. As a bonus, research shows that the extra cost of a pack would discourage smoking, especially among the young.
Of course, ideology trumps rationality. The Republican majority in the legislature and our Democratic governor are in agreement that no tax shall be raised on anything for any purpose. Neither is likely to be swayed by the fact that an increase of 72 cents a pack would leave Missouri below our neighboring states and far from the national average of $1.46.
The same ideology probably dooms her proposal that Missouri join an interstate compact to tax Internet sales. Mary's bill is called the Main Street Protection Act. Estimated revenue: $20 million per year. Estimated chance of passage: Slim.
That's also the likelihood that her proposed limit on payday loan interest will pass. You'll recall that in the last session, Mary's bill was assigned to a committee chaired by a former payday lender. To get past that obstacle, the Rev. Jim Bryan is heading an initiative campaign to cap interest at 36 percent. Maybe citizens can overcome this special interest. You can bet the legislature won't.
Mary put her journalism degree to work in an opinion piece that ran last month in the Columbia Daily Tribune. She made a strong argument for her tax proposals and took a swipe at Kurt Schaefer, whose Senate seat she seeks.
She even called out Chris Kelly, who was the only Democrat in the House to join the Republicans in passing a constitutional amendment limiting growth in the state budget. No doubt the Senate will follow suit. At least we voters will get a chance to weigh in on that one.
She accurately calls it a "shortsighted Hancock-like proposal."
As you can tell by now, I'm a fan. It was not always thus. When Mary ran the university's news bureau and I was in the Missourian newsroom, we had a few arguments. I don't recall ever winning one. She was relentless in protecting the institution's secrets.
That stubbornness has become a virtue in the legislature.
I caught her on the way to a meeting last week and asked just what she really hopes to accomplish in the face of overpowering Republican opposition.
In her Arkansas drawl that sounds misleadingly soft, she made clear that she plans to persevere. These issues, she said, "are bipartisan everywhere in the state except Jefferson City."
Her Republican colleagues, she said, "are wrong on these issues, and they know it."
She admitted she may not prevail, but "I make it uncomfortable for them."
She's comfortable with that. I’m just glad we’re on the same side now.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.