Jason Kander’s "10 Lessons I Learned in March"

When I enthusiastically supported Jason Kander in last year’s race for the 44th District, I did so because I knew he would be an energetic, creative and effective voice in a legislature that was likely to remain in Republican hands. My expectations are being met – he’s constantly communicating with his constituents and actually achieving things in a republican-controlled atmosphere. Jefferson City is a viciously partisan city, but Jason has managed to win health care for kids with cancer, defend soldier’s rights, and balance his sense of humor and moral indignation.

Keep up the great work, Mr. Kander!

Here’s the March Top Ten List:

1. You have to be crafty with the budget.

The Democrats tried several strategies to restore healthcare for about 20,000 children. Because the Republicans control the House, each attempt failed on a party-line vote after Republican speeches called it “welfare.” I’m told that no Democrat has successfully restored any funding to healthcare since the 2005 cuts. So I decided to come up with proposals that would be politically impossible to oppose.

First, I proposed giving healthcare to children who would have been covered by the Governor’s plan and have been diagnosed with cancer. I paid for it by cutting funds for legislators’ healthcare. Representatives had to choose between their own low premiums and helping kids with cancer. Thankfully, the amendment passed unamimously.

Next, I proposed a similar measure for children with autism. This time, I funded it by eliminating several perks provided to legislators (free coffee, special member lapel pins, and cuts to our personal expense accounts). At first, the Republicans were voting “no” but when they realized the political implications of choosing their own perks over children with autism, those in “swing districts” changed their votes and the measure passed. The Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader, and several other top Republicans actually voted to keep their coffee and lapel pins!

The next morning my desk was covered in half empty coffee cups under a “Save Us” sign. A pretty decent little prank from my colleagues.

2. Ideology is a nearly immovable force in Jefferson City.

A key point of contention during the budget debate revolved around a plan by Gov. Nixon and the Missouri Hospital Association to restore healthcare coverage to about 35,000 people at no cost to state taxpayers. The plan, which calls for the hospitals to voluntarily pay a higher tax to leverage more federal dollars, was roundly rejected by Republicans as “welfare.”

The plan would not have increased taxes on a single Missourian, but that didn’t stop Rep. Rob Schaaf (R – St. Joseph) from comparing government-subsidized healthcare to slavery.

3. Get to know the Committee Chair.

Last week, my bill to protect the parental rights of servicemembers passed out of the House. Though it would have been tough to get the bill passed as a stand-alone measure, the Chairman of the Veterans Committee, Rep. David Day (R – Waynesville), was a supporter and he included my legislation in an omnibus bill. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will find its way to the Governor’s desk.

A hat tip on this one to Chris Vedder, a 44th District constituent and Army National Guard soldier who came to Jefferson City to testify on the bill. In the picture on the left, you can see Chris and me making our case to the Veterans Committee.

4. Pay attention to the testimony.

During budget hearings, the Attorney General’s Office pointed out the expiration of federal funding for an important domestic violence program. By working with Republicans on the committee, I was able to move funds from the Office of Administration to keep the program going for another year.

Keeping the program is important in order to train state prosecutors about changes I hope to make in domestic violence law this year. Next week, I’m filing a bill to equip prosecutors with a new tool to gain short jail stints for abusers that violate protection orders.

5. Thank goodness for all the emails.

Advocates across the state did a great job letting us in the House know about the danger of the proposed cuts to Children’s Treatment Services. Rep. Rachel Storch (D – St. Louis) successfully restored the enormous cuts to these programs made by House Republicans.

6. I really don’t understand the priorities of House Republicans.

Though the federal stimulus funds are meant to help states keep budgets stable, Republicans are leaving $1.1 billion locked in a “magic box” for purposes unknown. We could easily have avoided cuts to vital services, restored important healthcare programs, and done more to stimulate the state’s economy – but instead we again put ideology first.

I participated in a press conference at Operation Breakthrough to highlight the “magic box” problem. Coverage from KMBC 9 is available here (click on the video in the upper right corner).

7. We are going backward in education policy.

Republicans eliminated teacher professional development, the state gifted program, fine arts education, and Parents as Teachers. Every Democratic attempt to restore the funding was shot down.

8. We haven’t learned from our mistakes.

Republicans rejected a Democratic effort to force lawmakers to keep a promise to Missouri voters and require that new casino gambling revenue generated by a recently approved statewide ballot measure results in additional funding for the state’s public school districts and doesn’t simply replace existing funding.

As Republican leaders structured the budget, the estimated $108 million in Proposition A funds is being used to free up general revenue for other purposes. State Rep. Rachel Bringer (D-Palmyra) attempted to undo the gambling money shell game, but her efforts failed on a largely party-line 70-89 vote.

Voters endorsed Proposition A in November with 56.2 percent support. The measure lifted Missouri’s casino loss limit, slightly increased taxes on casino operators and contained a provision prohibiting the new revenues from replacing general revenue set aside for education.

9. There is such a thing as political arson.

I sit on the budget committee with Rep. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg). During committee Rep. Hoskins voted to eliminate the “Meals on Wheels” program. I voted to keep it, but my side lost. When the bill reached the floor of the House, Rep. Hoskins had several amendments to put funding into the program. With each amendment, he got the funding by eliminating the funding for several members of Gov. Nixon’s administration.

Many of the people he attempted to cut just happened to have been supportive of the Governor’s campaign. Hoskins then took credit for saving “Meals on Wheels” and portrayed people like me, who voted against this scheme, as opponents of “Meals on Wheels.”

To me, this is a classic case of burning down the building so that you can rebuild it with the wrong bricks.

10. Beware of misleading titles.

Chairman of the Budget Committee, Rep. Allen Icet (R-Wildwood), proposed the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” Every Democrat and four Republicans voted against it, but it did just barely pass. Also known as TABOR, the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” would keep the state government from ever spending 1% more than they did the year before. Colorado adopted a similar measure a few years ago and immediately regretted it.

All that the bill does for taxpayers is rob them of representation, decrease the flexibility of state government, and de-fund valuable state services. As covered in this Associated Press story, I argued that the policy reflected a wrongheaded lack of faith in government.

That’s the list. Thanks for reading!

P.S. If you just can’t get enough of this stuff and you’d like to view a video about the disagreement over changes in the state budget, click here.

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