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Capitol Perspectives: Deadly, Devious and Disabling Details

by Phill Brooks

In the weeks before the 2015 legislative session, two issues have emerged as dominant — Ferguson and government ethics. Yet, I wonder whether conflicts over details will be fatal.

For years, I’ve seen well-intentioned efforts by Missouri public officials crash on the shores of details. Think back to last year when legislative leaders expressed pride at pulling together a complex compromise on unaccredited school districts. There was

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Capitol Perspectives: Nixon’s Misguided Intent

To protect the public from journalists

by Phill Brooks

The day after the November elections, Gov. Jay Nixon provided the most detailed explanation yet as to why his administration blocks reporters from talking with agency directors and experts. His explanation ultimately came down to the argument that it was too harmful to the public for journalists to have that kind of access.

The explanation came at a news conference where

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Capitol Perspectives: Political Transformations

by Phill Brooks

During my professional career, I have experienced two major political transformations that fundamentally changed our society. Recent developments in Missouri make me wonder if we’re experiencing a similar transformation today involving gay rights — or, at least, gay marriages in Missouri.

The two political transformations in my time involved the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. I’ve been thinking about those two changes as I’ve watched

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Capitol Perspectives: The Lion of the Lobbyists

by Phill Brooks

This past summer, Missouri lost the undisputed lion of our state’s lobbyists – John Britton.

In his prime, Britton was one of the state’s most powerful figures. But there was much more to Britton. He also was a mentor, teacher, friend and adviser to generations of Missouri public leaders.

His funeral was a demonstration of that depth, bringing together past and present government leaders from across decades.

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Capitol Perspectives: He’s No Cato the Younger

by Phill Brooks

Unless he chooses to run for the state Senate in two years, the legislature’s recent veto session may mark the statehouse conclusion for one of the most politically collaborative lawmakers I’ve covered.

He’s Chris Kelly, Columbia’s long-term House Democrat and the legislature’s senior member. His impending departure has led me to think about the stark contrast between Kelly and ancient Rome’s Cato the Younger.

Kelly’s legislative career

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Capitol Perspectives: Ferguson, Police and Reporters

by Phill Brooks

Cops lobbing tear gas at reporters. Journalists handcuffed and arrested while trying to do their jobs. Reporters threatened while covering a story of international significance. A TV news crew having its camera shut down by police.

Those scenes from Ferguson portrayed an animosity to journalists by police that does not reflect my reporting experience in more than four decades working with law enforcement officials. Just the opposite.

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Capitol Perspectives: Mixed Legislative Record for Missouri’s Governor

Much of the attention of this legislative session has focused on Gov. Jay Nixon’s failed efforts for Medicaid expansion. But there is another side to the story. Despite an overwhelming Republican majority in both the House and Senate, Nixon has scored some major victories.

On the last day of the session, the legislature sent him a bill to establish an early childhood program in public schools that would start before

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Capitol Perspectives: Civilizing the Legislature

by Phill Brooks

Every year about this time as the legislature enters its closing days, I think about the near carnival atmosphere in past decades when Missouri’s General Assembly entered the final rush. Back when the legislature went to midnight on the last day, it was party time for many — literally.

Some legislators set up bars in the hallways outside their Capitol offices offering free drinks. Jefferson City high

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Capitol Perspectives: Tax Cut Tactics

by Phill Brooks

The history of the tax-cut fight between the governor and the legislature has caused me to wonder if there are not some hidden tactics at play. By nature, journalists are skeptical about coincidences. And what’s happened this year is almost an identical repeat of last year.

Like last year, soon after the tax-cut bill came to the governor’s desk, Jay Nixon proclaimed his administration had found a

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