Senator Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, just finished her seventeenth session in the legislature (ten in the House) and will be termed out of the Senate in 2010. Tuesday night she offered the Bonhomme Township Democrats her take on the just completed session.
She called this one unique because having a Democratic governor “made life much more bearable”; because there was new leadership in the House and Senate; and because in the Senate, where more time is allotted for an individual to talk and even filibuster, the Republicans have begun fighting among themselves.
The infighting is a natural evolution once a party has been in power for a few years. Republicans, in their sixth or seventh year in the majority, she said, have gotten the hardline policies enacted (changes to tort law and workmen’s compensation, cutting people off of Medicaid, and increased abortion barriers). Now they’re down to their third tier issues, so they start disagreeing.
Where I spent my first six years in the Senate filibustering a lot, this year, they were filibustering their own bills. And Senator Days and I remarked one day that we actually got to–when they brought in supper for us because we were staying late–we actually got to go into the lounge and have supper with everybody else because we weren’t out on the floor having to keep the conversation going for fear something bad would happen.
In these very, very acrimonious debates, some of the worst moments on the Senate floor since I’ve been there took place this year of Republicans against Republicans.
As Bray’s time in the Senate has gone on, she increasingly notices the deleterious effects of term limits. In the relatively short time legislators have there, they’re focused on pushing through their agendas and see little advantage in investing in relationships. Furthermore, next year when Bray is termed out of the Senate, she says that institutional memory will be gone in that body. True, the average stay of senators was only seven or eight years in the past, but there were always a few senators who stayed longer. Without their knowledge, both in the House and the Senate, of how legislation should be handled, the process doesn’t work as well. They just don’t know the rules:
A transcript is below the fold, but don’t depend on that alone. When Bray gets started on the House Budget Committee, it’s almost like watching a cross between a preacher and a standup comedian.
My observation of, of, of … that the processes just don’t work as well. People don’t know the rules. And there’s reasons for all those rules, for doing things the way they’re done. And because there’s nobody left in the House who has, you know, a long, in depth knowledge and experience of working [garbled], knowing how things should get done, it’s gotten very sloppy. And when they come to the Senate from the House, they have a real hard time adapting to the different ways of the Senate, and it’s just … right before we went on spring break, like the night before we went on spring break, I just … said, you know, we’re a mess. I mean, we were just a mess. People didn’t know how to make a motion, they didn’t know how to talk, they’d be laughing and talking with each other on the floor when …. None of this is allowed when you’re trying to [garbled].
Anyway, the Secretary did some remedial classes with the folks, [laughter] trying to get things back on, you know, the way things should be done. But I, you know, I, when someone like me and my class are going out [inaudible].
Uh, let me talk a little bit about the budget. I spend most of time working on the budget. I’m the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee. And we’re organized a little differently from the House [inaudible]. The House has several appropriations committees and then the Budget Committee. And they do their work, and they send it over to the Senate Appropriations Committee. We’ve gone through the budget all along, and we go through it another time and go through it another time and then go off to conference and get it done.
This year was a huge different environment because of, first of all, the state shortfall in general revenue. Which I’ve experienced before. I was here in the early part of this decade when we spent night after night after night trying to figure out where we could squeeze a few dollars out here, there, wherever, and foresaw that was gonna be the case this year, but then that great, you know, fairy godmother called Washington D.C. sent down this stabilization money and stimulus money. And, uh, that was real interesting exercise.
Uh, thank goodness the nut cases in the, in the Republican party didn’t prevail, so we did … take … the money. [Laughter] You know some states didn’t. And I thought we did a fairly good job of [inaudible] the budget. I will, not to disparage my sister’s [puts a hand on Rep. Jill Schupp sitting next to her] uh, uh, body, but the House, well, I want to tell you, it’s been a real trip watching the House budget the last six, seven years. Omigosh, I’ve had, I mean… ‘How shall we do it this year? [waving hands in the air] How shall we do it…? You know, what’s a [inaudible] We recreate the wheel every time we do this. It’s just crazy.
There is a good [inaudible]. The Senate did a, the Senate Appropriations Committee did a really good job crafting a budget. We tried to, with the general revenue we had, we tried to fill the gaps in services, using stabilization money from the feds, and, uh, you know, tried to do it real thoughtfully and carefully, and I think came out with a really good budget. But then we had to go to conference, and the Senate can’t win on everything. The House, with its crazy budget, had to win on something. And as a result, they won on things that were just heartbreaking, that did not have to happen.
Like, we did not have to cut 500 people off alcohol and drug services. We didn’t have to cut 600 people out of mental health services and close eleven community health centers. We didn’t have to do that. But because they had to win on some things, guess where they cut. You know, they went on with the cuts in mental health and alcohol and drug treatment. So that was really discouraging.
But by and large, the Senate prevailed on the budget. We did use the stabilization money properly.
I can see why Bray got elected. She’s a live one, who–as it just so happens–also takes her job seriously.
(By the way, I’ll have a couple of other tidbits from Tuesday night’s talk in upcoming postings.)