On the Trail | St. Louis Public Radio

On the Trail

A committee hearing on right to work brought proponents and opponents flocking to the Capitol.
Tim Bommel I House Communications

When it comes to “right to work,” there’s widespread disagreement about the policy’s potential effects on Missouri’s economy. But there’s no question that Missouri’s unions are about to experience seismic change.

Right to work is a form of shorthand that proponents use to describe laws that bar employers and unions from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment. Missouri lawmakers are expected to pass right to work legislation shortly, which Gov. Eric Greitens plans to sign.

File Photo |Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

If you spent enough time around Eric Greitens during his successful bid for governor, you probably heard the former Navy SEAL say, “If you want different, do different.”

That was one of the many slogans that echoed throughout Missouri over the last few months. And it’s fair to say that the Republican chief executive is going to bring some stylistic and policy changes to Missouri’s highest office. His first variation may have been at his own inauguration, when he scrapped the traditional parade to turn the spotlight instead on the state’s veterans, teachers and first responders. 

Reny Alfonso, 7, carries American flag pinwheels at the "Forward Together" bus tour kickoff event outside the Missouri History Museum Sunday afternoon.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Out of the seemingly infinite adjectives to describe politics in 2016, the one that came to mind is exhausting.

This year featured enough twists, turns, surprises, setbacks, revelations, triumphs and defeats to fill a set of encyclopedias. From competitive presidential and statewide primaries to epic general election battles, 2016 will clearly be remembered as a watershed year in the Show Me State's political history.

This collage includes pictures of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon from every year of his tenure.
Provided by Gov. Nixon's office and Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

As Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s tenure in the executive branch ends, he's leaving something of a paradoxical legacy.

The Democratic statewide official achieved nearly unprecedented political success for himself, even as his party lost huge areas of support in rural Missouri. After his promises to expand the state’s Medicaid program ran into intractable opposition, Nixon spent a sizable part of his tenure paring back state governmental agencies.

Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens hugs Rev. Ken McKoy, a pastor with Progressive Zion A.M.E. Church. Greitens walked with McKoy as part of NightLIFE, a group that seeks to curb violence in north St. Louis neighborhoods.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The bone-chilling streets of north St. Louis were largely empty last Friday night. An icy mist brought both automobile and foot traffic on Kingshighway to a halt, with the exception of a few cars and trucks – and a governor-elect.

On pavement that at times resembled an ice skating rink, Gov.-elect Eric Greitens walked methodically through the sidewalks and on the streets with a medium-sized scrum. The Republican chief executive-to-be was out with NightLIFE, a group seeking to curb violence in Fountain Park and Lewis Place neighborhoods.

St. Louis Alderman Scott Ogilvie speaks in favor of his bill exempting sheltered workshops from the city's minimum wage law.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Before voting against an incentive package for expanding Ballpark Village, St. Louis Alderman Scott Ogilvie delivered one of the more unusual opposition speeches in recent memory.

In an address that could only be described as dripping with sarcasm, the 24th Ward Democrat claimed he was in support of the tax inducements for the development around Busch Stadium. After expressing his concern that aldermen had “taken our eye off the ball on the essential functions of local government,” Ogilvie said he was relieved that those aforementioned issues "must not be problems that the city faces.”

Rep. Stephen Webber
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

You could say that state Rep. Stephen Webber is used to getting questions about how his age parlays with his ability to succeed in politics.

While working at the Columbia Daily Tribune in 2008, I was the first reporter to call Webber when he announced his candidacy for a Columbia-based state House seat. He was 24 when he jumped into the race, the youngest possible age someone could be to run for the Missouri House.

Attendees watch early election results come in at the Koster campaign's election night watch party at the Chase Park Plaza.
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

I know what you’re thinking. You just saw a headline that contains the word “post-election” in it and are curling into a ball. You’re wagging your extended finger at this bespectacled reporter, preparing to declare “enough!”

As exhausted as you are, politics has a lot in common with Semisonic lyrics: “Every new beginning comes with some other’s beginning’s end.” That’s the type of sentiment that will soon take hold in Missouri, as political types look past this year’s wild cycle and gaze forward to 2017 and 2018.

Gov.-elect Eric Greitens shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, last week.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On the Thursday after his resounding victory in the Missouri governor’s race, Eric Greitens spent the morning at the Missouri Capitol meeting with Gov. Jay Nixon and huddling up with the Senate Republican supermajority. Greitens ended up shaking lots of hands of fellow Republicans who could help make his campaign agenda into the laws of the land. 

When he stepped into the Capitol hallways, Greitens could hardly contain his enthusiasm about the months ahead.

Eric and Sheena Greitens hold their sons, Joshua and Jacob, while speaking to reporters after casting their ballots the St. Louis Public Library in the Central West End on Tuesday.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Republicans Tuesday night experienced their greatest triumph in the Show Me State’s modern history. And Missouri Democrats had arguably their worst night ever.

Those two declarative statements may seem like hyperbole, but it’s pretty close to the truth. Tuesday marked the first time ever Republicans won seven statewide elections in a single night. And with commanding majorities in the Missouri General Assembly, Gov.-elect Eric Greitens will be in a profoundly powerful position to enact his agenda – and to sign longstanding GOP priorities into law.

St. Louis resident Jonathan Pulphus votes at Patrick Henry Elementary School on Sept. 16, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s long, weird, sad, contentious, explosive and unpredictable election cycle is almost over.

In roughly 24 hours, Missourians from Tarkio to New Madrid will head to the polls. Beyond registering their presidential preferences, the good people of our state will decide on pivotal U.S. Senate and governor’s races. They’ll also choose who fills out practically and politically important statewide offices and figure out how large the GOP majorities in the Missouri General Assembly will be after January.

Missouri Speaker of the House Todd Richardson listens to representatives speak on the last day of the legislative session.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Next Tuesday’s election could showcase whether the House Republican supermajority is wave-proof.

After the House GOP shot way past the 109-member supermajority threshold in 2014, Missouri Republicans may be in their strongest legislative position ever in the General Assembly’s lower chamber. And since Republicans represent some Democratic-leaning seats, it stands to reason that the party will face a challenge this year to retain the status quo – especially if GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump underperforms in the Show Me State.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, listens as fellow senators thank each other for their work.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

State Sen. Scott Sifton knows a thing or two about high-stakes elections.

The Affton Democrat took part four years ago in the most competitive legislative race in the state against incumbent Sen. Jim Lembke. A lot more was on the line than just flipping the 1st District Senatorial seat: Lembke and Sifton were divided on a host of key issues, and Sifton’s victory gave the smallish Democratic caucus more firepower to achieve their agenda.

As he runs for re-election in a district that’s been historically close, Sifton sees similarly high stakes in his contest against Republican Randy Jotte. But it’s over an issue in which he and Lembke found agreement: “right to work.”

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander at state Democrats' annual Truman Dinner. Campaign aide Chris Hayden is to his right.
File photo by Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In the humble opinions of national pundits that monitor congressional races, Jason Kander pretty much came out nowhere to get on their national radar.

The Washington Post, Roll Call and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball recently declared that Missouri’s U.S. Senate race was a “toss-up.” And these prognosticators, in general, are very surprised that Kander made the race close. For instance: When Roll Call ranked Kander as the best Senate challenger of the 2016 cycle, the publication called the development “remarkable” for a race “that most analysts considered a second-tier contest when the summer began.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks with reporters before the start of the presidential debate at Washington University. (Oct. 9, 2016)
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent a lot of time during their Sunday night debate dwelling on vulgar comments, leaked speeches, personal income tax payments and tweets of days past.

But one thing the two didn’t talk about at all during their Washington University showdown was Ferguson.

Workers construct the stage on Friday for the second presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After a little bit of time away, the national spotlight is back on St. Louis.

Hordes of reporters and political types will venture here this weekend for the second presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

This area has a lot in common with what’s forming the national political discourse. Our racial, social and economic divisions were broadcast to the world after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson. And finding tangible solutions to these longstanding gaps has been a slow and frustrating process.

State Rep. Paul Curtman is a Donald Trump supporter. But the Union Republicand didn't like how the GOP presidential nominee embraced "stop and risk."
File photo by Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

Make no mistake about it: State Rep. Paul Curtman is supporting Donald Trump in the presidential race. Even though the Republican from Union supported Ted Cruz in the GOP primaries, Curtman isn’t joining the so-called “Never Trump” movement by withholding his support or backing Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But as he watched Monday’s presidential, Curtman said he was dismayed by what he saw as a lack of respect from both candidates to the U.S. Constitution. He was especially critical of how Trump embraced “stop and frisk” policing, a policy that was used extensively in New York City.

Bruce Franks Jr. poses with a cape given to him by a supporter.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Bruce Franks looked a political machine straight in the eye. He didn’t back down. He didn’t give up. And last Friday, he won.

Big.

Franks’ landslide victory over state Rep. Penny Hubbard could resonate far beyond last Friday’s unusual special election. In beating Hubbard, a three-term representative, by more than 50 percentage points, Franks sent a thunderbolt of sorts through the St. Louis political community.

State Rep. Justin Alferman speaks at the microphone during Wednesday's veto session. Lawmakers overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of Alferman's photo idenitifcation bill.
Provided | Tim Bommel I House Communications

If you judge a successful veto session by how many bills are overturned, then Wednesday’s gathering was like a college football blowout.

That’s because the GOP majority was able to outflank Gov. Jay Nixon and his Democratic compatriots in the legislature on more than a dozen measures, including a bill that would implement a photo identification requirement to vote should a proposed constitutional amendment pass and another that makes it easier to conceal and carry a weapon. Unlike previous years, there was little drama – or much apprehension about squelching Democratic filibusters.

State representatives get ready to wrap up the legislative session.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Welcome, one and all, to the fifth anniversary of this reporter’s “five things to look for veto session” stories. Plenty of things happened since the first iteration of this listicle hit the World Wide Web: Donald Trump became a serious presidential contender, Macklemore curiously won a bunch of Grammys, and “five things to look for” stories gradually aroused the ire of cranky tricenarians living in St. Charles County. 

Pages