Commentary: Jefferson City Highway-Naming Blues | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: Jefferson City Highway-Naming Blues

Apr 18, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Last week, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, had a chance to achieve one of his top legislative priorities this session. The senator, who faces a tough re-election, was pushing for Missouri to rename Route WW as “Carl Edwards Drive.” Edwards grew up in Columbia and is now a star on the NASCAR racing circuit.  

Graham’s bill, SB 1099, was called to the floor for perfection. Perfection is the most critical part of a bill’s journey to become law. Once a bill has been perfected, it can no longer be amended and often wins final passage.

The majority leader, Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joe, spoke first, explaining to Graham that he would vote against it. He referred to the renaming of Highway 70 for Mark McGwire as evidence that it’s imprudent to honor folks until their legacy is final.  

No problem for Graham. One vote. Votes aren’t the currency of the Senate. 

Then Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson, stood up and said that he recalled from a news clip that Edwards seemed to have a temper. Might this be another embarrassing renaming? He joined Shields in declaring he would also vote against it.  

That, too, was okay for Graham. Two votes; no problem. 

Then Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, stood up. Loudon would be a problem. He didn’t simply state his objection and sit down; he started asking questions of Graham, and then he offered an amendment. 

That’s a problem. Amendments take time. Amendments get debated. They get amended also, even their amendments get amended. Time, time, time. And time is the true currency of the Senate. 

There’s about a month left in Missouri’s legislative session. Within that month, there are probably 100 hours of floor time left. 

As the majority leader, Shields’ job is to keep the legislation flowing. As a result there’s a question mark that hangs over every bill: How much time will be devoted to it? 

It’s a zero-sum game. While one bill is being debated, there are scores of other bills that are waiting. There isn’t enough time for them all. As a result when someone holds up a single bill, they are, in a real sense, holding up every bill.  

Every day is precious between now and May 16 when the senate adjourns. So when a bill gets snagged (unless it’s a majority party priority), it is “laid over” and the senate moves on to another bill.  

When Loudon stood up, Graham knew there’d be trouble. The two senators have warred over Loudon’s public policy object of passion: midwifery. Graham has staunchly sided with the doctors to prevent midwifery legal sanction. 

Last week that war spilled over into Graham’s renaming efforts. Loudon won the battle as Graham’s bill was laid over and may not make it back to the floor this year. 

Loudon’s amendment, by the way, proposed to change the name of Route WW to… Homebirth Highway.