It is also the closing day of Missouri’s 95th General Assembly’s first regular session.
Needless to say, this session and reporting on it have been quite a ride.
My editor Phill Brooks has been reporting in this statehouse for about four decades, and he’s said several times that he has never seen a legislative session quite like this one.
Every statewide elected official is a Democrat, the exception being Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, and the legislative majority is Republican in both chambers. The session opened with everyone talking about bipartisanship and how that’s what the voters wanted. But promises of working across the aisle seemed to stop there on legislation varying from abortion to AmerenUE to the budget.
Reporting on this session has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever taken on. As I wrote back in January, I began covering the legislature with only a very basic understanding of the process and the faces who propel the motions. But I flew back two weeks early from Texas to report on the start of the session, and now I am here for the end of it. It’s been a tremendously difficult, exciting, energizing five months, and I’m glad I did it and glad it’s over.
Lessons I learned, highlights I experienced and low points from which I learned even more:
- Wear comfortable shoes.
I learned this very quickly during a 14-hour House Budget Committee hearing, at the end of which the committee passed the 13 operating budget bills. When I arrived, it was standing-room-only in the hearing room, so I had to stand in heels and on a bum ankle for about eight hours. I was walking in my stocking feet the rest of the time.
- I asked my first question at a press conference! …in May.
Uproar ensued after Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt announced on the floor allegations of bribery by Gov. Jay Nixon’s office. Two Republican representatives later identified themselves to the press, saying Nixon’s staff offered career advancements in exchange for votes for the health care bill in question.
The Democratic caucus held a press conference upon adjournment, where reporters questioned them about the health care bill. That’s where I asked the first question I’ve ever asked at a press conference: “What is your response to the Republicans’ claims of bribery by Nixon’s office?”
You can view Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota’s response at 2:11 in the below video:
- Don’t be afraid to ask basic questions.
I became pretty comfortable with just going to Budget Director Linda Luebbering’s office and asking her if she could clarify a few budget-related issues for me. The same applies to a few other legislators, and I am very grateful that they didn’t mind explaining the basics to a student reporter.
- Persistence is key.
It took me about seven weeks to get a certain interview, and another three weeks to get a certain photo. But they both happened, and you’ll get to see the published result on May 27.
Now, it’s 5:30 p.m. and I am still in the House press gallery. The session is to close in 30 minutes, at which time the representatives will throw all their papers in the air. Then it’s on to press conferences, furious article-writing and then — I’ll be done.