On the Trail

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley has claimed in recent weeks that he never proposed shutting down county parks in 2011. But now, as the issue begins to heat up again, Dooley is, in his own words, "walking back" from his comments.

Dooley told St. Louis Public Radio that he “never proposed shutting down anything,” adding that “people will be saying things every election cycle about Charlie Dooley. Just because they say it doesn’t make it so.”

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis area leaders squelched any doubts last week about how they want to spend money from a transportation sales tax. 

Sure, some of the regional projects funded with the .75 percent sales tax increase would bolster mass transit service or bike trails. But that's the exception rather than the rule: Most of the roughly $1.5 billion worth of requested projects would go toward roads, highways and bridges.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews)

If you had $1.49 billion for transportation projects, how would you spend it? Would you repair highways? Bolster mass transit service? Enhance bike lanes?

This isn’t some academic exercise. The St. Louis region’s political leaders are considering how to divide the potential proceeds from a 0.75 percent sales tax increase for transportation. These decisions could have a transformative impact on how St. Louis area residents get around.

But here’s the twist: You have to make this decision very, very quickly.

Gov. Jay Nixon speaks to a class at Rockwood Summit High School in Fenton.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

When it comes to a proposal to raise the state’s sales tax to pay for transportation projects, two of Missouri’s top Democratic officials appear to be on opposing sides of the fence.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill favors the proposal, which – if approved by voters in August – would enact a 10-year, 0.75 percent sales tax for transportation projects. And even though he’s sent signals that he opposes the proposal, Gov. Jay Nixon is withholding statements about the tax increase for now.

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

Few could accuse the Missouri General Assembly of languishing during its last few days of session.

In fact, the legislature’s last dash was something of a whirlwind: It featured fierce debates over bills about student transfers and abortion restrictions. Lawmakers also sent proposals on a transportation tax and early voting procedures to the November ballot. Other efforts fizzled out, including last-minute pushes to expand and reconfigure the state’s Medicaid system.

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul is no stranger to fighting city hall.

At this point last year, Paul was clawing his way back into office after a high-profile – and at-times bizarre – impeachment saga. Despite an intense and expensive effort from his political adversaries to remove him, Paul eventually kept his job as mayor. His town has generally been out of the headlines ever since.

Tim Bommel, House Communications

Rod Jetton was once the most powerful lawmaker in Missouri.

As speaker of the Missouri House, he had the power to exalt or kill any bill that flowed through the General Assembly. From all appearances, he had a bright political future.

Behind the scenes, however, Jetton was on a course for self-destruction. 

By the time he left office, the FBI was investigating him for bribery. He was facing serious jail time after being accused of felony assault. Just months after being one of the most powerful men in Missouri politics, Jetton was broke and without a job.

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

Greendale is home to about 700 people in north St. Louis County. The primarily residential community features stately brick houses along seven, well-maintained streets. The town’s city hall consists of two rooms inside an office building. It contracts with nearby Normandy for police service. Its big-ticket expenditures include cleaning streets and trimming trees.

Charlie Giraud found a lot to like. He’s lived in bigger St. Louis County municipalities like Ballwin and University City. He appreciated Greendale’s friendly neighbors, racial diversity and close-knit community.

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

With roughly a month left to go before adjournment, many of the Missouri General Assembly’s big issues remain unresolved.  

That’s not too surprising. Big-ticket legislation often passes — or dies — in the last weeks of the session. With about a month to go before the final gavel falls, legislation dealing with tax cuts, the state’s criminal code and the student transfer situation are all still up in the air.

The resolution of some conflicts could hinge on unity from Republicans, who control the legislature, while others may fall along less predictable fault lines. 

Courtesy of Jay Ashcroft

While Jay Ashcroft, the son of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, was always interested in politics, he also said he didn’t consider it “the highest calling.”

“My highest calling in life is to be a good husband to my wife and to be a good father for my kids," said the attorney and engineer from unincorporated St. Louis County. “In the last couple of years when I’ve seen how government has been working at the state level and unfortunately not always working, I kept coming around to the conclusion that I need to be part of the solution.”

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

For all intents and purposes, the 2014 election season looks to be a great, big bust.

Nobody should be surprised, as 2014 was always a way station to 2016. But hardly anybody expected that the only statewide race on the ballot would feature state Auditor Tom Schweich facing off against a Libertarian or Constitution Party candidate -- but not even a token Democrat. And some previously heated state Senate contests completely fizzled out.

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

(Updated 3/17 at 10:30 a.m.)

State Sen. John Lamping learned two important lessons during his relatively short tenure in the Missouri General Assembly: It’s hard to pass new laws; and it’s easy to stop changes to existing ones. 

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

State Sen. Rob Schaaf is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to health-care policy. But some believe that this staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion holds the key to ending the legislative impasse over it.

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

In some strange, alternate universe, St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman would be running for a third term on the St. Louis County Council. 

Back in the mid-2000s, the Olivette Democrat seemed to be on a collision course with Barbara Fraser, a fellow Democrat, for the 5th District council seat. But the two agreed on a deal: Fraser would run for county council while Zimmerman would run for Fraser's spot in the Missouri House.

Erin Williams / St. Louis Public Radio

President Barack Obama sent a message during his State of the Union address to every mayor, governor and state legislator who want to increase the minimum wage: Don't wait on Congress, Americans will support more local government initiatives.

Flickr/MoDOTNews

Wes Shoemyer was content to ride off into the political sunset. 

The former Democratic state senator lost his re-election bid decisively in 2010. Afterward he told people in Jefferson City that he had a great “consolation prize” – going back to his farm near Monroe County.

But Shoemyer is leaping back into the fray to fight an amendment making it more difficult to regulate agriculture. And he’s taking on familiar adversaries – some the state’s largest agricultural organizations.

photo of Thomas Schweich
Provided by the auditor's office

Democrats may be deciding between "fight or flight" when it comes to taking on state Auditor Tom Schweich in November.

Last week, state Rep. Jay Swearingen, D-North Kansas City, bowed out of the state auditor's contest. He told the Associated Press that he wanted to step aside for another Democrat who's better able to raise money for the race.

File photo

When it comes to campaign financing, one name stands out: Rex Sinquefield. 

In 2013, an off year politically, the retired financier gave millions in campaign contributions — primarily to ballot initiatives and political action committees. Most of Sinquefield's money went toward an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of tax cut legislation. Sinquefield also gave hundreds of thousands of dollars for ballot initiatives, including one to curtail teacher tenure.

(via Flickr/401K)

For most intents and purposes, it was all quiet on Missouri's electoral front in 2013. But that didn’t stop the money from flowing to candidates and campaigns. 

Throughout last year, a diverse group of donors gave well over $21 million worth of donations of $5,000 or more. That money flowed to candidates, political party committees, ballot initiatives and political action committees in all corners of the state.

It make take longer than expected to fill Ryan McKenna's void in the Missouri Senate.

When the Jefferson County Democrat resigned in December to become director of the state labor department, he left open the possibility that his Senate seat may remain vacant throughout 2014. If that occurs, the Missouri Senate would not be at full membership for an entire calendar year.

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