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After the opening of the legislative session on Wednesday the House Democratic caucus held a press conference in the House Lounge in the capitol following the earlier republican press conference.

Previous coverage:

The Missouri General Assembly opens the 2010 legislative session

The Missouri General Assembly opens the 2010 legislative session, part 2

The Missouri General Assembly opens the 2010 legislative session, part 3

The House Democratic Minority Floor Leader, Representative Paul LeVota, at the podium in the House Lounge.

Representative Paul LeVota: Thank you very much for, uh, the time today with you guys as the House Democrat [inaudible] prepare for this next session. Um, I’ll be very brief and I’d be interested in your questions and, uh, what we think is the priorities for this session. Um, as I stated on the floor I do agree with the Speaker about some of the priorities that he outlined. And I’m proud to say the House Democrats have been championing these things for many years. First, when it comes to creating jobs, we need to get our economy going again, we need to do those tangible things that make sense for small businesses and the growth and expansion of, of new businesses, uh, in the State of Missouri. We should be focused on that, what we can, to create jobs. That’s challenging. And a separate point that we’re gonna focus on is the budget. As revenue is, has been a downturn we’re gonna have a very challenging session. We look forward to working very closely with the majority and with the administration to really identify what are the top priorities in this budget cycle. We’ve always, we’ve always done that. Uh, third, ethics reform. House Democrats, for seven years, have introduced ethics reform measures and those ethics reform measures now have the attention of the majority. The things that we’ll be pushing for are, are things that’ve been outlined. But number one on that list is the reinstating of campaign finance limits. We believe that comprehensive ethics reform has to include the reinstation of campaign finance limits. You look about what the people of Missouri wanted, in nineties they voted, about seventy-five percent, that they wanted the limits. Now in the State of Missouri it’s perfectly okay to give a candidate for state representative a hundred thousand dollar donation where you can’t give a candidate for President of the United States. That has [inaudible] limits. We think the money that comes through needs to be stopped, it needs to go back to what the people of Missouri think, and that has to be included in anything that was gonna be called comprehensive ethics reform. And finally, we’re gonna be very well aware of this, the Federal government and Congress is working on a health care reform bill. We have been the champions of increasing access to health care for years. We will be waiting for Congress with that bill and we will be prepared to do what we need to do to implement it in Missouri. My fear is that we’re gonna have a idea that the federal government’s gonna do something [inaudible] pass a bill and all the work is done. We know to really make sure that we’re helping people in the area of health care, helping small businesses reduce their, um, costs on that, that we need to make sure that we’re doing, um, our part to implement the Federal program. I don’t know what the Federal program will be, but I’m pretty confident that there will be something. So, with that, I agree with the Speaker, I’m glad that he’s picked up on some of the priorities that we’ve been pushing for years. It’s gratifying when years ago we’ve been pushing some of these things and, with no response, but, uh, persistence, persistence, persistence. So with that I’ll, um, be glad to answer your questions, or any of my members of my caucus….

….[crosstalk]

Question:…this caucus is a no vote on any ethics bill that does not contain campaign finance reform [inaudible]?

Representative LeVota: We’re gonna look at all the ethics reform, uh, in fact the Governor came out last week with four pillars. Um, you know, I , I had a bill, we’ve had champions in this caucus who have had all these different bills. We’ll look at each one of those measures and decide and vote. But, we are convinced that it’s not gonna be called, it can’t be called comprehensive ethics reform unless you do have this, those campaign limits. Uh, we can pass a bill, but if it doesn’t include that we’re missing out on the really important part of it.

[crosstalk]

Question: What are your thoughts about, on the Special Standing Committee rather than funneling it [inaudible] some other committee?

Representative LeVota: What are my thoughts on that? Interesting. I found out about this late last night. Uh, uh, a few months ago, uh, the Speaker’s quoted, I think in the Joplin paper, that nah, they didn’t really have any thoughts on, on ethics. As we continue to push it and the Governor’s continued to push it all of a sudden there’s a, there’s a need for this, a committee. Whatever gets a bill passed that helps renew the accountability of this government, we’re for. Uh, I appointed some members and I think they’re gonna be outstanding and, and it’s a, it’s a, uh, good arena. I’m not sure why he decided to do a different committee, but, there you go.

Question: To follow up on what…was asking, it, Charlie Shields is just all but said campaign finance limits is dead in the Senate. Do you believe that you can reach agreement first in the House and then get it through the General Assembly [inaudible]?

Representative LeVota: That’ that’s very good question. I think we can reach agreement in the House. Um, the question I have is, will, um, the Republican leadership allow us to vote on that on the floor? ‘Cause, if you remember in two thousand and eight the limits were off, were picked off, the last hour of the last day of session by one vote. Since that time, you know, I’ve, I’ve had a bill for two years, I have, uh, a handful of Republicans who have, uh, co-sponsored that bill. I think there’ll be other ones. I think some, some Republican members are even in the press saying the wish they would have voted differently. So, I think we can get to eighty-two that way. Um, will the question come up? As far as the Senate though, I think we need to do what’s right, [inaudible] we need to go after real comprehensive reform. And, and again, I’m, this caucus is stickin’ to the fact that that is, has to be included on comprehensive reform so let’s try and get it out of the House and hopefully the Senate will say the same thing.

Question: But you, you base the count, a lot [inaudible]…There are twenty-five Senators who voted to rescind limits, including Senator [inaudible] nor either, Victor Callahan. {representative LeVota: “Uh, huh.”] Aren’t you just setting yourself up to fail by [inaudible] pass that now?

Representative LeVota: Well, you know, I mean, that’s interesting question. I think what we, what the people of Missouri want us to do is have comprehensive ethics. And they want us to have those limits. So we have to continue to do that. Ethics in any form, lobbying ban on the revolving door, gifts from lobbyists, was never brought up at all by Republicans and we’ve introduced it for years. So finally they, they’ve come around to that. So, my point is, we’re gonna continue to fight for the things that we think improve accountability and, uh, hopefully we can get through.

Question: Are you convinced the Republicans sincerely want [inaudible]?

Representative LeVota: You know, I, I  don’t [crosstalk], yeah, I, I don’t question, I don’t question their sincerity. I, I do question their method in, um, I, I just think that the fact, uh, unlimited campaign donation, up to a hundred thousand dollars is, is one I saw, it just is the wrong message to send to the people of Missouri who want limits. And I think if we’re really gonna be, uh, saying that we want comprehensive reform we have to include that.

Question: [inaudible]…Does that create additional urgency in [inaudible]?

Representative LeVota: That’s a very good question. Um, the, the former members who are having legal troubles today, uh, they heightened the awareness. I do want to say again that House Democrats have [inaudible] proposing these ethics reforms long ago. Um, and with that said I, I am simply embarrassed by members of my caucus who betrayed the trust of, of the public. It sends the wrong message and that’s why I think we need to be even more vigilant, to renew that accountability and continue to push for these things that bring comprehensive ethics reform. That’s why [inaudible] we need to do it. Now those things had nothing to do with the, uh, with the capitol but, perception is there and, and we care about what the people of Missouri think.

Question: The, uh, House GOP plans to actively, um, oppose the cap and trade legislation in Washington. Uh, does the House Democrats have a position on that or will they be doing anything in response to the House GOP’s actions?

Representative LeVota: Our position is clear that, um, the, we’ll let the Congress do what their, their bailiwick and we’ll do with ours.

Question: There are a number of people both in the Republican and Democratic caucus who are term limited, they’re either leaving state politics altogether, or in the case of the House they’re running for, uh, higher office or state senate. I asked this of the Speaker and I [inaudible]…What effect do you think that this has on the ebb and flow of the House and do you perceive that causes disruption of, of how things are done?

Representative LeVota: Well I, I guess I’ll start with my optimistic answer. As, as many people are term limited out it’s a, it’s a real opportunity to define our legacy here and to do the things that are beyond, uh, partisan bickering and do the right thing and move Missouri forward.  My hope is that, uh, everyone rises that level. Um, it is interesting that, that you have the majority caucus who has been lock step behind rep, er, Speaker Richard and Speaker Jetton, um, for all these years vote exactly in line as, as the party goes. Well that’ll be interesting when you have two of those guys running against each other for senate. Will that break down? Um, I hope it does. I, um, to my chagrin sometimes, members of the Democrat Party in the House are very independent and they vote their district. And I would like to see some of the Republicans do more of that and maybe their competition will help them do that.

Question: Did you, uh, make Representative Lampe the, uh, ranking member on budget to provide a more strident counterpoint to the Republican, uh, view of the budget or what, what was your thinking?

Representative LeVota: Well we, we just kind of juggled around some things. I asked Representative Kelly to be on the Judiciary Committee. Some of the issues and, and there’s no, there’s no greater expert in, in some of the things that will be happening. And, uh, if I could I would duplicate Chris Kelly so we had a whole bunch of him around here ’cause of his knowledge, but we can’t, so they’re so different responsibilities. We asked, I asked Representative Lampe to be the ranking member to help educate our caucus to this difficult budget cycle, make sure that we’re informed and, uh, lead that. As far as strident I think that, um, is she here? [inaudible][laughter] You’re not gonna, you’re not gonna find anyone in the legislature more dedicated to reaching out, doing the right thing, being very educated and I think, um, her leadership on that budget committee will be, will be great. And we’ll be working cross aisles, um, to make sure that we have the right priorities for the State of Missouri.

Anyone else? All right. Stay warm. Thank you.

There was a visible reaction and an audible gasp from members of the Democratic caucus on the media question characterizing Representative Lampe as “strident.”

The Democratic caucus press conference was much less subdued (at least on the part of the representatives in attendance) than the earlier republican press conference.

The state budget looms large on everyone’s horizon.

Unlike their republican counterparts, the Democrats in the Missouri House are not intent on stepping in on Congressional business in Washington.