- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Kansas City Star, May 24

More intern troubles in Missouri call for tighter rules:

Fresh allegations that college interns may have been mistreated while working in the Missouri Capitol demand a reassessment of the legislative internship program and the conduct of people representing the Missouri General Assembly.

The latest reports involve the office of Sen. Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence. They follow by just days the resignation of House Speaker John Diehl after he admitted to an inappropriate texting relationship with a 19-year-old female intern from Missouri Southern State University.

Two interns from the University of Central Missouri who were assigned to LeVota’s office ended their internships after six weeks.

LeVota said in a statement he was told the interns, a man and a woman, were needed for a different assignment, and he was never notified of any problems.

But the university began an investigation, according to news reports. The Missouri Senate is also investigating.

It is unclear what is being reviewed, and which of a few people who are frequently in LeVota’s office might have been involved.

Legislative leaders must work with universities to set clear rules for making internships safe and professional.

For some lawmakers, that should involve an assessment of who is permitted to use their offices and for what purposes.

It’s unfortunate such steps are necessary. Elected officials should know what sort of behavior is appropriate when dealing with young adults. But obviously the rules need to be more clear.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 25

Nebraska’s enlightened conservatives abolish death penalty:

Last Wednesday, the same day the Missouri Supreme Court set a July 14 execution date for convicted murderer David Zink, Nebraska’s single-house Legislature voted to abolish capital punishment.

Go figure.

The two states share a border, though admittedly a short one. They share Midwestern values, though admittedly Missouri’s have turned pretty Deep South in recent years. They share conservative-dominated politics. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both houses of the Missouri Legislature. Nebraska’s Legislature officially is nonpartisan, but those who keep track say the 49-member “uni-cam” has 35 Republicans, 13 Democrats and one independent.

And yet the unicam voted 30-13, with 17 Republican “ayes,” to abolish the death penalty. It is largely a theoretical issue because the state hasn’t executed anyone since 1997. There are 11 inmates on its death row.

Missouri has executed 56 men since 1997, including 10 in 2014 alone. That tied Missouri with Texas, which has 20 million more people, for the year’s most. Two more execution dates have been set: June 9 for Richard Strong, 48, convicted of the stabbing deaths in St. Ann in 2000 of Eva Washington and her 2-year-old daughter, Zandrea Thomas. Zink’s date comes up five weeks later. He was convicted of the 2001 abduction and strangulation of Amanda Morton, 19, of Strafford.

Clearly Nebraska’s conservatives are a more enlightened breed than Missouri’s.

Their case for opposing the death penalty is steeped in classical conservative theory about limiting the role of government. In floor debate, Sen. Colby Coash, R-Lincoln, said, “If any other system in our government was as ineffective and inefficient as is our death penalty, we conservatives would have gotten rid of it a long, long time ago.”

“The death penalty fails to live up to a lot of conservative ideals,” Marc Hyden, a coordinator with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s not pro-life, it’s not limited-government, and it doesn’t deter crime.”

There’s also the question of cost. A death penalty case carries about $1 million more in long-term costs than a non-capital case.

None of this persuades Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has vowed to veto the bill, even though there appears to be more than enough votes to override him.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Ricketts announced that the state had stocked up on the execution drugs it needed for the three-drug lethal-injection protocol that the state has never employed. In 1997, when Nebraska last executed anyone, it still used the electric chair.

Many states, including Missouri, have abandoned the three-drug process because no U.S. or European manufacturer will sell the drugs for use in capital punishment. Mr. Ricketts got his supply from India. He may have to eat the $51,000 cost if the unicam overrides his veto, or if federal courts block the use of Indian-made drugs, as has happened in other states.

There is simply no argument, from any place on the political spectrum, that capital punishment serves any purpose but satisfying an urge for revenge. That is not nothing, but neither is it justice. Missouri one day will realize that. The sooner the better.


Columbia Daily Tribune, May 26

Central cities:

A favorite refrain of conservative Republicans in discussing the mélange of troubles afflicting America’s urban areas is reference to the undeniable fact these areas have been managed “for 50 years” by Democratic administrations. Republicans ask blacks and Latinos why they continue to vote for Democrats while things keep getting worse.

It’s an interesting question but doesn’t seem to change the political equation among needy populations. Maybe they sense another undeniable truth: If Republicans had been in charge, conditions probably would be no better.

This is not an indictment of Republicans. It’s recognition of the persistent malaise that afflicts the lower rungs of society. That blacks, Latinos and poor people in general persistently live lives of despair is beyond effective correction in political party platforms. The partisan argument goes something like this:

Republican: What these people need are jobs. Republican policies are designed to boost the economy and create more jobs. Get government out of the way, and the blooming economy will lift all boats.

Democrat: For reasons beyond their control, disadvantaged populations need society’s help. Government is the only agency for this. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, we saw the fruits of abandonment. Welfare is no long-term answer to individual problems but is an essential stopgap while other government programs help people upgrade skills necessary to move up the ladder.

Neither of these arguments provides a solution, which depends in large part on personal efforts beyond the scope of government. Both parties will agree but quickly revert to form, picking at each other over ethereal “solutions.”

That said, we must keep digging, trying to improve education, relations between police and neighbors, voter involvement and all the rest. As our population becomes ever more diverse, challenges become more difficult. Frustration will continue in distraught populations where too many members fail to learn the wholesome lessons of life necessary for escape.

No matter which party holds office, governance in low-income jurisdictions will be hard and frustrating. Much as provider classes might deplore the prospect, we will have to share the wealth even though beneficiaries sometimes fail to respond as they should. If trouble tears up the ghetto, we aren’t immune simply by moving behind the gates.


Jefferson City News-Tribune, May 20

Heal division between Legislature, Conservation Department:

When powerful forces collide, the repercussions can be perilous.

Such is the case concerning the clash between the Missouri Legislature and state Department of Conservation, detailed in a story published in Tuesday’s (May 19) News Tribune.

Conservation is one of the few state agencies - Transportation is another - governed by its own appointed commission and largely financed by tax revenues not controlled by the Legislature.

Conflict between the two bodies boiled over last year when Conservation proposed strict rules to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, which can decimate the population of wild deer.

Lawmakers responded with a proposal to reclassify captive deer as “livestock” and transfer oversight of captive deer from Conservation to Agriculture.

Charges of arrogance and overreach have been exchanged.

Legislators allege Conservation officials are not forthcoming with information and are not accountable to the people, through their elected representatives.

Conservation supporters argue Missouri voters endorsed and approved the concept of an agency independent of political pressures. The arrogance label, some say, applies to lawmakers who insist their imprimatur must extend to every rule and policy.

Lawmakers flexed their muscles by proposing a range of laws and constitutional amendments to curb Conservation’s budget and the power of both the commission and department.

We have opposed many of these measures because we believe they largely are motivated by the wrong reasons and would be detrimental to Missouri’s conservation efforts.

None of those proposals was advanced during the legislative session that ended Friday, in part because improved communication between the Legislature and Conservation has de-escalated the conflict.

“I’m starting to get answers. They’re slowly coming in,” said state Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, “and they’re in my office on a regular basis.”

Conservation supporter Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, said agency officials “are doing a better job, and the waters are starting to really calm down. I think both sides are making some concessions and people are starting to really work together.”

We’re encouraged. Continued conflict threatens to dismantle Missouri’s vital conservation programs. Communication and cooperation will help them thrive.

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