JEFFERSON CITY — With less than a week left in the session, a majority of Gov. Bob Holden’s legislative agenda has been left on the sideline.
Only a fraction of the measures Holden proposed in January made it past their initial reading — even fewer are still being discussed.
Some Democrats cite Republican control as the cause for the governor’s legislative shortcomings. But members of both parties also point to Holden’s lack of interaction with the General Assembly this year.
“What I think has been the biggest problem with the governor’s office is that they just have not been really engaged with the legislative process,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.
“I think Gov. Holden certainly has the ability to get to know and work with legislators of both parties, to spend time with them, to explain his positions, to work the halls and that sort of thing—which previous governors have done as recent as Gov. Carnahan—but that’s not been the direction they’ve taken and I think that makes it difficult.”
A few Democrats also complain about Holden’s contact with the legislature.
“I haven’t seen him for probably two months,” said Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, with the exception of a roast for Democratic senators earlier this week.
Mathewson is handling Holden’s Jobs Now Initiative proposal, a cornerstone of the governor’s legislative agenda. The initiative is intended to boost Missouri’s economy and create new jobs. By redirecting existing revenue used by tax credit programs, the state could borrow money to create revenue for public infrastructure projects.
“I don’t talk to the governor about that bill at all,” Mathewson said.
A senior St. Louis-area Democrat said he had not met with the governor since February. Another said he could not remember his last meeting with Holden.
Even though much of Holden’s legislative agenda has been left by the wayside, progress has been made in some areas.
Senior prescription drug benefits and stronger oversight of business tax credits both have had significant floor time — in bills handled by Republicans.
Other measures proposed by Holden and handled by Republicans include a couple of business tax measures, life sciences funding, requiring parity for mental health coverage in health insurance, increased regulation on bail bondsmen, and a ban on cross burning.
And while the bills may achieve the same goal, it doesn’t mean there has been bipartisan cooperation, according to Republican leaders. They hold that they’ve been willing to work with Holden all along but haven’t been approached.
“He throws a proposal out there, and you never hear him call you in and lobby you,” said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. “We get called down to the second floor a couple, three times a session and that’s about it.”
Kinder is handling a measure that would expand the Missouri Senior Rx Program to fill the gap created by the enactment of last year’s federal elderly prescription drug program — similar to the governor’s recommendation.
According to Kinder, he has had no personal interaction with Holden this session regarding the bill.
Gibbons, who is sponsoring a bill for tax credit accountability, said that while the measures coincide with Holden’s proposal, a joint effort this session has not been made.
“My door has always been open to them, and I’ve made sure they’ve understood that,” Gibbons said. “But the contact I have with his office as far as his agenda or where he’s going or what he wants to do is almost nonexistent.”
Holden sent a letter to Gibbons’ office in December 2003 calling for legislation for tax credit accountability.
Holden’s reluctance to engage in cross-party communication exists in both chambers.
“The only message that I received this session from the governor was the State of the State,” said House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.
Holden’s State of the State address in January was marked by a partisan assault on the General Assembly. The governor used the speech as an opportunity to publicly slam the morality and courage of the Republican majority for cutting funding to public education.
“There is nothing moral in raising standards and expectations at a struggling school, only to deny the necessary funding,” Holden said in the speech. “That’s not bravado. That’s just cruel.”
The attacks punctuated Holden’s renewed call for tax increases to help increase state revenue — a plan almost identical to his plan last year that died in the legislature.
Despite criticism, Holden has Democratic leaders in his corner to defend his level of involvement with the legislature.
According to Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, approaching legislators isn’t the best way for Holden to get his proposals passed.
“If the governor wants something passed, he’s not going to come to the legislators, he’s going to the constituents,” Jacob said.
House Minority Leader Rick Johnson, D-High Ridge, and Jacob said Holden does meet with Democratic leadership on a weekly basis.
“I know that I meet with him pretty regularly,” Johnson said.