JEFFERSON CITY — Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians on Monday during a secretive ceremony in the state Capitol as police stood guard to keep out any uninvited political opponents of the sometimes divisive radio show host.
Limbaugh, a native of Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri, addressed a crowd of more than 100 Republicans during a closed-door event in the Missouri House chamber. Speaking from the chamber's dais, he thanked his family for their support throughout his career, denounced liberals and Democrats as "deranged," then helped lift a black curtain off a bronze bust of himself, which he hugged — head to head — for photographs.
The timing of the ceremony was kept secret until shortly before it occurred, and then only Republican lawmakers, other invited guests and the media were allowed into the chamber to watch — an attempt to avoid any public disruption after Limbaugh's selection was criticized by Democrats, some women's groups and other political foes.
Limbaugh, 61, arranged for a guest host to handle his radio show Monday so he could be at the Missouri Capitol. He repeatedly declared how humbled he was by the honor.
"I'm stunned. I'm not speechless, but close to it," Limbaugh said to the laughter of the friendly crowd. "I'm literally quite unable to comprehend what's happening to me today."
The talk show host was selected for the Hall of Famous Missourians by term-limited House Speaker Steven Tilley, a Republican who like Limbaugh is from southeast Missouri. Tilley wants to display Limbaugh's bust in the Capitol alongside other members of the Hall of Famous Missourians, including President Harry Truman, Mark Twain and Walt Disney — but that plan has already faced controversy.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration released a memo Monday indicating that a state board — not the House speaker — has the authority to determine what items are displayed in the third floor Capitol Rotunda where the busts are located. House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, also asserted that Tilley has no legal authority to order Limbaugh's bust to be placed in the Capitol Rotunda.
"The secrecy and exclusion of the public demonstrates that even Republicans are embarrassed at honoring someone who recently called a female college student with whom he disagreed a 'slut' and a 'prostitute,'" Talboy said.
Limbaugh's selection for the Missouri honor was made public in early March, shortly after he made those comments about a female law school student after she testified before Democrats in Congress about health insurance for contraception. Limbaugh later apologized for his language, telling his radio listeners: "It was wrong."
Although Limbaugh did not reference the incident Monday, Tilley alluded to Limbaugh's controversial comments while introducing him during the Capitol ceremony. In the past couple months, protesters have wheeled 600 rolls of toilet paper into the middle of Tilley's Capitol office encouraging him to "Flush Rush!" and have delivered about 35,000 petition signatures against Limbaugh's induction.
"He may say things that strike a nerve," Tilley said. "But that doesn't undo everything he's accomplished in his career, and it doesn't provide a reasonable excuse why he shouldn't be honored by his home state for his many accomplishments."
Limbaugh nearly let the occasion pass by without delivering a fresh political shot at his opponents.
After Limbaugh again expressed thanks for the honor, the Republican crowd applauded and he appeared to be done speaking. But then he praised Tilley — whom he said had "been under assault for wanting to do this" — and said of his critics: "They're deranged. They're literally deranged."