The headline on the Missourian’s account Thursday of the legislative veto session said “Gun, tax bills put to rest.” That was true enough and cause for at least muted celebration. It’s pretty clear, though, that they’re only resting. They’re not dead.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, where 15 of his fellow Republicans had a belated attack of good judgment and switched their votes to support Gov. Nixon’s veto of the tax cut bill, called the outcome only a “temporary setback.”
Given the Republicans’ fervent commitment to lifting the tax burden from the backs of the state’s wealthiest residents, we can be confident that House Bill 253 or something similar will return next year. Rex Sinquefield, who has largely financed the anti-tax campaign so far, won’t want to walk away from his investment in legislators.
Caleb Rowden and Caleb Jones, the two Republicans whose House districts include corners of Boone County, were not among those who changed their minds, or at least their votes. Both voted to override. The three Democrats who represent the core of the county were also consistent in their opposition to the bill. (Because the bill originated in the House, the first vote on overriding the veto was held there. When the override failed, there was no vote taken in the Senate.)
As Missourian readers know, this was a bill – and an idea – that deserved to die. Not only was the legislation so poorly written that it inadvertently would have increased taxes on prescription drugs and textbooks, its main beneficiaries would have been the wealthy and its likely victims our already underfunded schools and social services.
My colleague Phill Brooks noted Thursday that most of the 15 Republicans who switched their votes come from rural areas. A website calling itself "the conservative alternative" already has posted the contact information for all 15 and invited readers to rebuke them.
The gun bill would have been a bad joke if its proponents hadn’t taken it so seriously. It would have, among other things, purported to nullify federal gun control laws, criminalized any attempts to enforce those laws and even made it a crime for newspapers to publish the names of gun owners.
The mere fact that it was unconstitutional on its face did not dissuade Reps. Rowden and Jones from continuing to support it. Even more strangely, our Republican senator, Kurt Schaefer, a lawyer, also voted to override the governor’s veto. The two Republican leaders of the Senate, by contrast, recognized the unconstitutionality and voted to sustain the veto.
The front page of Wednesday’s Columbia Daily Tribune illustrated that bill’s triumph of ideology over reality. A photograph of gun supporters outside the Capitol showed a man carrying a placard with the words “Guns save lives.” Next to that picture was the story about the Ashland High School student who shot himself to death earlier this week.
In fact, the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” as it was called, was so extreme that its sponsor, a Republican from St. Peters, was forced to admit that the NRA was “neutral” on it.
The overwhelming Republican majority in both houses of the Legislature managed to override a record number of the Democratic governor’s vetoes. Among the bills vetoed but now revived is one that will provide more profit to payday lenders and another that will protect the Doe Run mining corporation from paying fully for the consequences of its waste disposal practices. To his credit, Rep. Rowden voted with our Democratic delegation to sustain the Doe Run veto.
Gov. Nixon held a news conference to celebrate the defeat of the tax cut, but his comments reported by the Missourian applied more broadly. “My sense is there has been a shift to more of a political discourse than a governing discourse,” he said. The evidence for that assertion was being provided even as he spoke.
Finally, the 97th General Assembly has adjourned for the year. A fair summary would be, I think, that it could have been worse. If worse is yet to come, at least it won’t come before January, when the legislature reconvenes.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.