Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Day 1: Pass the Spritzer, Hold the Beef

JEFFERSON CITY - Opening day of the legislative session is much like the first day of school.

But you probably even learn a tad more in school. And there's probably less joking around in class.

There's the bottled up energy from time off, the pomp and ceremony, and the clusters of the cool, more senior "back-slapping, easy-ridin" crowd versus the nervous, reserved, wide-eyed but all-aware group of freshmen.

And there are the jokes. "You don't need to worry about the carpet," joked one State Senator on the floor during the swearing in ceremony. "She's already House trained."

It's not that lawmakers don't fully realize the complex challenges ahead of them. It's just that opening day isn't really the time to seriously address them. It would kind of be a buzz kill.

The praise was effusive in all directions. One of the smartest. One of the nicest. A man of the deepest integrity. A woman with unflappable courage. You can see why it's sometimes referred to as a "clubby atmosphere."

Keeping with my analogy, the media might be the parents in all of this. Happy to be there with cameras a-flashing, yet leaving with less answers than we wanted. And maybe even scratching our heads a bit about what exactly to expect this semester.

Day 1 isn't for us though, it's for them. And that's probably the way it should be. For this is a day designed for hope, optimism and grand promises. It may be made for TV, but it's less reality show and more a mediocre midday soap.

Hot Rod has been replaced with Cool Ron. And Republicans might be thinking, "soon you won't have Big Bad Blunt to kick around anymore." But even the absence of those factors wouldn't have shaked the mood.

Beaming with the best intentions, freshly-minted Senate head Charlie Shields reached to capture the gravity of the situation at hand. But ended up labeling this turbulent economic era as merely "interesting times."

You can predict "legislative priorities" in almost any state, at any time with almost either party. The economy, health care, education. Energy is newer but no longer fresh. These will be priorities in the 2010 session as well as the 2028 session and beyond.

Finding the meat in these topics is difficult on opening day, and that's frustrating yet understandable.

The legislature is an unpredictable body. There will certainly be a topic that sprouts up and sparks a debate that few saw coming. I.E: The village law?

But on this first day, we are left with sweeping, feel-good, substance-free phrases.

"Attracting new businesses."

"Increasing access to health care."

"Enhancing an affordable education."

The soft language is meant to convey bipartisanship and leave options open.

There were no ultimatums. Everything is on the table, because of -- or despite, a gloomy economic climate.

When the Associated Press' David Lieb writes his first draft of day 1 and you learn little more than you did before you got up in the morning, you know it is a day slow on details.

At least late in the day, the Governor-elect's office signaled to Lieb that 150 employees would be fired. That's a harsh but real and specific example of a decision that was made. But it wouldn't have been possible to dwell on that news in the buzz-happy rotunda.

Back at the Capitol, the light-hearted backslapping kept coming.

"Representative LeVota, do you think it was a good idea to give the Kansas City Chiefs that big tax credit?"

"I'm a Chiefs fan," he replied with a smile and a chuckle, before quickly moving on to another question.

It was back to talking about "enhancing Missouri's economic climate" and "securing more good paying jobs."

And, of course, laughs all around.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

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