JEFFERSON CITY — No love was lost in the Missouri Senate this Valentine’s Day.
A long-awaited debate over changing the name of Southwest Missouri State University to Missouri State University stretched late into the night Monday. Columbia Sen. Chuck Graham and other Democrats stalled a vote by holding the floor with a filibuster.
Graham, whose district includes the home of the University of Missouri System, argues that SMSU doesn’t deserve the new name. He and other critics said it would lead to demands for more funding.
Supporters of the change, a group that includes Gov. Matt Blunt, a Springfield native, said the school is ready for the step up.
“We firmly believe that we are a state university in every sense of the word,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield. She said the new name would help SMSU attract out-of-state students.
Graham entered the chamber for its afternoon session with a large stack of books and said he was ready to do whatever he had to do to prevent a vote.
He said he remained open to compromise and complained that none had been offered.
“I have not been contacted by Sen. Champion,” Graham said. “She’s just trying to ram this down my throat, and that’s not what we’re about in the Senate.”
Graham’s fellow Democrats did most of the work early on. St. Louis senators Tim Green, Maida Coleman, Rita Days and Joan Bray held up proceedings by debating a series of amendments. The Democrats filled the time by complaining about the cuts to social services, such as Medicaid, proposed in Gov. Blunt’s budget.
Coleman is a co-sponsor of the name-change bill. Graham did not take the floor to begin his filibuster until after 9 p.m. While the St. Louis senators froze action on the floor, he spent much of his time behind closed doors in his office.
Republicans hold 22 of the 32 Senate seats. It only takes 18 votes to override a filibuster and force a vote. By not voting to cut off debate, they allowed floor action to continue on through the night. As of press time, no resolution had been reached.
“It could go until the morning light,” said Sen. Dan Clemens, R-Marshfield.
Besides reforging SMSU as Missouri State University, it would grant the title of university to Missouri Western State College and Harris-Stowe State College. The word “Joplin” would be dropped from Missouri Southern State-Joplin.
This is the second straight year the name change has been filibustered on the Senate floor. Last year, former Columbia Sen. Ken Jacob held up proceedings for four days before the measure ultimately passed. The bill, however, died in the House.
A filibuster is when a legislator delays proceedings by delivering an extended speech. In the past, senators have resorted to reading from the telephone book to pass the time.