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Tilley's going ahead with Limbaugh bust, calls critics 'intolerant'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 6, 2012 - State House Speaker Steve Tilley says he’s sticking by his decision to commission a bust of radio commentator Rush Limbaugh for the state Capitol’s Hall of Famous Missourians, and he contends that Democratic critics are displaying their intolerance.

“It’s almost laughable,” Tilley, R-Perryville, said in a telephone interview Monday night. “The party that wants to preach tolerance to people is not tolerant of people with different viewpoints. It’s hypocritical of them.”

“If it wasn’t last week, it would have been some other comment,” Tilley continued, referring to the furor over Limbaugh calling a woman law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she supported mandated insurance coverage of contraceptives.

The speaker noted that Limbaugh is “on the radio for three hours at a time” and often has said “provocative things.”

“We’ve never let that prevent people from being inducted in the Hall of Fame in Missouri,&requo; Tilley said, citing previous honorees such as author Mark Twain, former Gov. Warren Hearnes and John Ashcroft, a former senator, governor and attorney general.

And, of course, there’s also former President Harry S Truman.

Many of the honorees, Tilley said, are “people who in their time said controversial things or took controversial actions.”

Limbaugh, a native of Cape Girardeau, is among three famous Missourians selected by Tilley months ago to join the crowd. The other two are slave Dred Scott, who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom in the 1850s, and Buck O’Neil, the first African-American baseball coach in the American League.

The three would join the busts of 39 famous Missourians already displayed in the state Capitol. All were selected by various House speakers, who financed the costs of the artwork with money raised from private donors or activities, notably the annual Speaker’s Golf Tournament. No tax money or public funding is used.

Each bust currently costs about $10,000, Tilley said. He added that he plans to make sure that enough money is raised to cover the costs for the three people he has selected for the honor – even if he needs to raise money after this session, Tilley’s last as House speaker.

Tilley said with a chuckle that his three choices spanned the political spectrum -– “I do have a reputation of being open-minded on individual issues and people” -- and that he had predicted that Democrats would be upset about Limbaugh. 

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is conducting a petition drive to collect signatures of people who object to Limbaugh's bust and has asked on Twitter if there should be a public vote before the bust is displayed in the state Capitol, a public building.

Last weekend, the senator had blasted the commentator for his remarks during her speech at Democrat Days in Hannibal. She also highlighted Limbaugh’s comments in a weekend fundraising email, noting that he has called her a “commie babe liberal.”

Tilley replied, “Claire ought to focus on doing a good job as senator, and a little less focus on the state. … She needs to focus on the national debt, unemployment, Obamacare, things where she hasn’t developed a really good record.”

That said, Tilley sought to practice what he had been preaching. “I appreciate her advice,” he added. “It’s duly noted.”

But don’t expect Tilley to change his mind. 

Limbaugh “certainly fits the criteria in my mind for a famous Missourian,” the speaker said. “I think he’s a great choice. I’m honored and proud of his career and the fact that he’s from southeast Missouri. And I’m looking forward to his induction.”

Democrats ask Tilley to reconsider

Start of update: On Tuesday, 48 members of the state House Democratic Caucus sent a letter to Tilley asking him to reconsider. Referring to the furor over a law student, the caucus asserted, “Honoring Mr. Limbaugh in the wake of this incident would be seen as a tacit endorsement of his misogynistic attitudes.”

“Fame alone has never been considered sufficient to eam someone a place in the Hall of Famous Missourians,” the Democrats asserted. “lf it were, outlaws Frank and Jesse James -- two of the most famous Missourians of all time -- would have been inducted.

“To date, inductees have been limited to those widely recognized for making positive contributions in their given field or who have otherwise achieved acclaim. Mr. Limbaugh’s brand of fame is best described as notoriety and the value of his contributions to the field of broadcasting are debatable. He would by far be the most divisive and controversial inductee to the hall, and his inclusion would not bring honor to the state of Missouri." End update

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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