Missouri legislature shows signs of ‘idiocracy’

Sunday, March 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:41 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

I ran across a new word the other day in The New York Times. It’s “idiocracy.”

The unknown genius who coined it apparently meant to describe the current sorry state of our democracy and the sadly deficient knowledge level of voters.

That’s all very well, but I saw “idiocracy” and immediately thought of the Missouri legislature. The tangled mess the state Senate has made of the boy governor’s misbegotten MOHELA plan is matched in the House by Speaker Rod Jetton’s metastasizing tax cut bill.

I’ve written several times before about how the prospect of MOHELA money blinded our university’s leaders to such niceties as academic freedom. Senators, with the notable and principled exception of Chuck Graham, have sought in vain to placate Missouri Right to Life by violating the voter-approved constitutional amendment allowing stem cell research. They would also unconstitutionally intrude on the university’s autonomy in tuition setting. Now the whole deal seems about to collapse.

Meanwhile, a tax cut proposal that was bad enough to start with has gottenso bad, and so expensive, that even some Republicans are balking. Rep. Jetton proposed exempting Social Security payments from the state income tax. Of course, nearly three-quarters of Social Security recipients are already exempt, so his idea would — like so many Republican relief plans — have helped only those at the upper end of the income scale. Then his colleagues rushed to the trough, adding exemptions for other pensions and for investment income, thus tilting the benefits even further to the well-to-do.

At last count, this one bill had eaten up nearly all of the projected $300 million budget surplus, which experts have warned is a one-time gift. This, without restoring last year’s cuts to benefits to Medicaid recipients and without addressing any of the state’s truly pressing needs for service.

Sadly, Columbia’s own Jeff Harris, the Democratic leader in the House, did a John Kerry imitation by arguing against the tax-cut bill and then voting for it.

Idiocracy isn’t limited to the big-ticket items, of course.

You probably remember the report of the House Special Committee on Immigration, which concluded that abortion is to blame for the shortage of American workers that creates a need for illegal immigrants. The author of that report, Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, occupies the seat previously graced by the legendary Bubs Hohulin.

In the spirit of Bubs, who once cut the university’s budget to punish insufficient flag waving by KOMU, comes Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, who thinks the state’s institutions of higher education aren’t welcoming enough to conservative ideas. Terry Ganey of the Columbia Daily Tribune reported last month on Cunningham’s bill to require universities to report on the intellectual diversity of invited speakers.

Hey, maybe she’s onto something. We do teach the liberal arts, after all.

A wise man once wrote that nobody is secure in either life or property while the legislature is in session. This session ends in May.

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