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Is new House Speaker, Republican Ron Richard, less partisan than Rod Jetton? Hell, yeah. A raging bull would probably be less partisan than Jetton. Less devious, for starters.

Take the “special committee” issue, for example. The difference between standing committees and special committees is that standing committees work on issues that need attention every year, whereas special committees deal with one-time topics. Usually, a House Speaker appoints one or two special committees per session. For example, a special committee was formed in 2005 when the school funding formula had to be decided.

And the rules specify that the Speaker appoints all the members to a special committee. Standing committees are different: each party decides which of its own members will serve on them. When it came to creating special committees, Jetton was a sailor on a drunken spree. He had 26, almost all of them converted from standing committees. Those moves allowed him to shuffle Democrats off of any committees where he thought they might prove inconvenient.  

Ron Richard has reduced those 26 to 8. Much better, don’t you know. But even so, six of those used to be standing committees. Democrats tried to get those six changed back, to no avail. But Richard did allow Minority Leader Paul LeVota to choose his own appointments to the special committees, subject to Richard’s approval. And in “subject to his approval” lay the rub. He ousted Democratic members off five of what used to be standing committees and substituted other Dems.

For example, one low profile committee regulates professional registration. It deals with licensure for doctors, lawyers, anybody that needs to be licensed. Big deal, you might say. But actually it is, because the members get to know a lot of professional people around the state and that makes it easier for them to raise campaign money. Jason Kander and Vicki Englund, both freshman legislators who are on the House Democratic Campaign Committee, were blocked from the professional licensing and registration committee. They were replaced by Democrats Charlie Norr and Michael Spreng, who is term limited out in 2010. Finish Richard’s line of reasoning for yourself, then: Kander and Englund will work to raise money for House Democrats, therefore ….

Richard also knocked LeVota’s choice off The Special Standing Committee on Emerging Issues in Agriculture (read: Committee on CAFOs). Tom Shively, who opposes CAFOs, was replaced with Rachel Bringer, who supports them.

The Special Standing Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety (formerly the Labor Committee) lost its union Democrat, Mike Frame, in favor of Democrat Terry Swinger from Caruthersville. Not exactly a hotbed of union sentiment, Caruthersville.

Richard took T.D. El-Amin, from the city of St. Louis, off the Special Standing Committee on Urban Issues and replaced him with Vicki Englund from South St. Louis County.

And finally, Jeanette Mott Oxford, of St. Louis City, was removed from the Children and Families Committee. Oxford has twenty years experience addressing childhood poverty and public health issues. She is being replaced by Belinda Harris, who doesn’t want to be on the committee, because it’s not her area of interest and her plate is full already. In fact none of the other Democrats on the committee have served there before, so institutional memory will be sacrificed.

Oxford is appealing that decision. We’ll see. But let me just ask, what is the point of keeping someone with experience and interest in children’s issues off that committee?

Look, Ron Richard and Charlie Shields got bent out of shape–like the press–about Nixon banning cell phones in his office.

Richard told reporters he doesn’t like Nixon’s rule but will respect it — for now.

“But I didn’t stage a walkout like the press” was going to do [when asked to leave their cell phones outside], Richard said. “I’ll stand by this. I’ll work with anybody until I can’t work anymore, and then I can be a pretty bad actor. But I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m still pretty open-minded.”

Could we have a little perspective here? Speaker Richard, if you’re going to profess your interest in bipartisanship, then quit already with the power plays on special committees that shouldn’t be special. Or if you won’t go that far, at least ease up on the tough talk over cell phones. It’s a non-issue.