WHAT OTHERS SAY: Jim Murphy gave public service a good name

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 | 6:58 p.m. CDT

Former state Rep. Jim Murphy, who died Thursday at 87, served 10 terms in the Missouri House before being forced out by term limits in 2002.

Mr. Murphy was a Republican in the days when Democrats controlled the House, a man with a low tolerance for flimflammery and a strong belief that the public ought to get a dollar's worth of effort for every dollar invested in government. Once, in opposing a local property tax increase, he stated his political philosophy like this: "I don't mind high taxes if there's a good reason for them, but in this case, there's not."

When he called on the phone, he would refer to himself as “the other Jim Murphy,” to distinguish himself from the Democratic St. Louis city sheriff.

He was a good-natured gadfly, a critic of the Bi-State transit system (before it became Metro), the property tax assessment process and the work habits of St. Louis County Circuit Court judges. He proposed that the public ought to get equity in the St. Louis Cardinals in return for investing in a new ballpark, which was a very good idea that didn't go very far.

Mr. Murphy was in the fast-food business before entering politics, and one of his favorite causes was the shoddy operation of state license offices by political appointees. Mr. Murphy insisted that getting a driver's license or license plates should be as simple and pleasant as buying a hamburger.

Under Republican governors in the 1980s, his wife operated the Bridgeton fee office. When Gov. Jay Nixon put the fee offices up for bid in 2010, Mr. Murphy and his family were low bidders on two South County offices. They cleaned them up, initiated customer-friendly hours and services and put the fast-food model to work.

A better way to run a fee office isn't a big deal, and in the grand scale of politics, Jim Murphy wasn't a big player. He served on his local school board and on the Crestwood Board of Aldermen before entering the legislature. He just liked to serve. He believed in public service, and he gave it a good name.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.