Branson Welcome Center for the Deaf Opens Today

A welcome center for the deaf is opening in downtown Branson today. Their headquarters will be two blocks away from the Branson entrance to the Taney County bridge.
The organization has been working hard over the past few months to encourage shows to enable deaf-friendly monitors. Business interests hope this will open up a market many Branson business haven't considered - or even heard about.

Southwest Missouri News - Morning Edition

Southwest Missouri News

The city of Branson got play from the Springfield press yesterday regarding the alcohol committee established last year. Exposure to Branson has been on the decline as Gannet's Springfield News-Leader closed its Branson Bureau late last year. KSPR covered city council issues two sessions in a row. KY3 aired the story about the alcohol committee as well

Presidential campaigns are invading Missouri. Chelsea Clinton stumped for mom Hillary who will be interviewed by David Catanese of KY3 later this morning. Mike Huckabee plans on issuing his response to the Florida primaries from Jefferson City this afternoon. Yesterday's John Edwards rally in Springfield was the top story for regional media. Barrack Obama will be in St. Louis for a speech late this afternoon.

Who will be the next Republican candidate for governor? Missouri's Lt. Governor Peter Kinder issued a video on YouTube today announcing his candidacy ....

Downtown Branson (Photos)




Winter time is pretty slow in Branson but a few businesses have stayed open for the few scattered tourists visiting on the off-season. (Photos by Darin Codon Winter 2008)
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Springfield News Leader - Blunted (Draft)

The legacy of Matt Blunt was outlined this weekend in-depth via the Springfield-News Leader.

Political Mixers with Matt Blunt pushed Governor Matt Blunt transfixed the regional newspaper to a catalyst for freedom of digital information.

Click-Send-Delete no longer works anymore. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon confirmed the digital power of the Sunshine law - a tradition future attorney general hopefuls are campaigning on.

Why? An 8 million dollar war-chest and the states top position regresses on the idea he should retain the honor of Governor. It's exceedingly hard to believe...or is it.......
"Count the former chief of staff for Gov. Matt Blunt among maybe a handful of people in the state who can say that after the governor turned the political world upside down by announcing he wasn't running for re-election.....During the days in 2006 when McClure was contemplating leaving, he already had suspicions that Blunt wouldn't run again in 2008. Before Blunt was even officially the governor, McClure, a well-respected policy wonk who had spent years working in the capital city, was busy leading the transition team. He and others helped put together a policy book that would guide the governor's staff during the first year of the administration. Blunt's goal-oriented, no-nonsense way — which was clearly influenced by his Navy background — made things fairly simple for staff, McClure said. Their job was to accomplish everything in that first policy book — McClure still has a copy at home with notes where various tasks were checked off."
Former Matt Blunt Chief of Staff McClure- Tony Messenger SNL

According to information provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, approved appropriations for elementary and secondary education rose from $4.8 billion in FY 2006 to $5.2 billion in FY 2008.

Tort reform. Check. Financial stability. Check. More money for K-12 education. Check. Name change for SMS. Check.

As the article points out, not everyone agrees with Blunt's strategy on education. Much of the school funding storyline played out in or near Branson, Missouri.

In Stone County,Mo. , Pete Herschend's financial interests successfully lobbied for the first TIF (Tax Increment Financed) bonds based solely on sales tax. Herschend, a Blunt appointment to the department of education, designed the proposal to the Stone County Commissioners in a form that wouldn't reduce education funds. The company he founded, Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) owns Silver Dollar which generates the majority of county income.

In the north side of the county, a school district in Crane Mo., spearheaded the school funding equity suit - which was shot down by a Cole County judge earlier this year.

In Eastern Taney County - District 143 Rep. Maynard Wallce (R) country. Wallace happens to be the only Missouri Republican endorsed unanimously by Education.


Branson Alderman Final Candidate List


Ward I
Stan Barker (Uncontested)

Ward II
Jack Purvis (Incumbent)
Cris Bohinc
Includes Historic Downtown Branson and Branson Landing

Ward III
Marc Williams
Rick Davis
Includes wealthiest residential housing in Branson. Both contenders live in Pointe Royal, the only gated community in Southwest Missouri whose charter denies "Registered Offenders" housing.

The post was edited after a correction sent by Mayor Presley. Each of the three districts have two representatives. Current alderman Stephen Marshall lives in Pointe Royal but neither of the two contenders for the open position live in the gated community.

Bill Clinton thanks Branson Native Jolie Justus in Independence, Missouri

Senator Hillary Clinton placed number 2 in South Carolina. In the video above Bill Clinton thanks Branson native Jolie Justus during a speech delivered in Independence, Missouri.

Matt Blunt's announcement leaves Missourians in shock

Matt Blunt's battle with Jay Nixon panned out well for democracy in Missouri. Scrutiny from two administrations regarding campaign financing and use of public office to further political careers provided great fodder for reporters throughout 2007.

Both politicians took hits and were forced to admit violations. For Jay Nixon it was a $50,000 refund to the state for using a state vehicle to campaign that represented the greatest hit. For Matt Blunt it was e-mails generated from state funds to rally pro-life troops that caused a ruckus and succeeding lawsuit from counselor Eckersley.

When Blunt issued his state of Missouri address, it was Jay Nixon's response that headlined in St. Louis making Missouri the only state that a political contender's response eclipsed the highest ranking officials. (We followed 15 of 50 Gubernatorial Addresses)

The race was close, Jay Nixon and Matt Blunt showed varying leadership positions in an extremely tight race. Who was poised to win changed on a weekly basis - far closer than the Obama/Clinton polling - but with similar form.

Still, it was the citizens that were winning as each candidate put his best foot forward battling for the hearts and minds of Missouri voters on every front. For example Blunt announed a harder stance on illegal immigration - Nixon announced a bounty for every illegal alien reported. The battle over who could be Mr. Sunshine bennifitted Missouri's citizenry the most. Blunt launched the accountability portal enabling residents to see every expense the state government made - stopping just short of revealing what school teachers eat for lunch. Nixon sourced every complaint made to his office.

Yes, the battle improved democracy and open government for all Missourians. Exiting what's truly best for Missourians and entering the realm of partisan politics - the announcement that Blunt won't run for a second term becomes a great tragedy. Not only did Blunt leave the table with millions of dollars for supporters, he never announced a replacement. Lt. Governor Peter Kinder announced he'll be announcing his candidacy in a few weeks but Governor Blunt hasn't announced that he'll be announcing support for any particular candidate. Even the religiously partisan opposition has to be a little upset not knowing how or who to launch their next hate fest against.

Everyone is left wanting. The first question people are wondering is, "Why?". Sure, the "I've accomplished everything I set out to do", line sounds good - but any writer in the state will tell you - it doesn't look good on paper. Something is up. What is it? Is Mitt Romney to announce boy blunt will be his VP running mate? Does Eckersley have a smoking gun to inspire a record-breaking settlement offer? Or is there another story/scandal/promotion we haven't seen yet.

Every father can relate to a desire to spend more time with his family, but no one is buying "downtime" as the only story. The timing is bad. We'll have to wait and see- but something is coming - something big - big enough to take a Blunt out of state politics and Missouri politico's haven't seen anything that large yet. We're waiting for the super shocker while we're still in shock over an announcement that hasn't fully set in.

Taneycomo Bridge

(Cartoon by John Logan) Civic leaders in Hollister and Branson placed a questionnaire at their respective city halls asking citizens how a temporary closing (up to a year) of the Taneycomo bridge connecting Hollister and Branson would affect them. Though lacking any scientific method, survey respondents overwhelming stated that closing the bridge would cause a substantial inconvenience.

Logan argues citizens have already voted on whether or not they want a tax to invest in a bridge - Proposition A - which voters rejected. Though the bridge wasn't the only project the proposed tax was to fund; the marketing effort by those promoting the tax dubbed proposition A - "The bridge tax." Some speculate the combined special interests behind the tax were the reason the legislation failed by vote of the people.

The Taney County Commissioners and both Branson and Hollister Alderman have been negotiating with Missouri's Department of Transportation (MODoT) over financing improved infrastructure to the route connecting Branson with Eastern Taney County. Logan argues, the bridge is the property of MoDot, infrastructure improvements are the financial responsibility of the state of Missouri and the citizens of Branson have already payed for the bridge through taxes paid to the state.

*******Jan,. 24 Update***
John Logan issued the following statement this morning.
Please understand, I realize we disparately need a bridge, HOWEVER, we also need to be very afraid of precedents being set on "double taxation".
This county paid $two million "plus" to bail out MoDOT on the expansion of
Hwy 65 to the Arkansas line! (Which is needed!)
Now we are paying $eight million "plus" to bail out MoDOT on a new Bridge
over Taneycomo. (Which is needed !)
Citizens of Taney County have already PAID MoDOT for roads and bridges thru state taxation.
Now the Citizens of Taney county will pay AGAIN for the bridge thru their local and county taxes. (The only source of revenue government has is taxes)
* Where is the Division of powers?
*What is wrong with MoDOT leadership ?
*Why aren't our LEADERS raising "billy heck" in Jeff City?
*Why the artificial 'deadline" set in February by MoDOT?
*Why add traffic to Branson Landing Blvd and ByPass downtown?
*Why are these millions of dollars being spent not by a vote of the people?
*Why is Taney County (a big tax provider to the state) being drained by MoDOT?
*Why does a Round-a-bout on 248 have priority over a needed bridge?
*What other counties build state owned bridges for MoDOT?
*Why don't our citizens NEGOTIATE harder?

I realize these are hard questions, and the Bridge is VITAL...but seems to me like the state owned bridge is getting is getting the GOLD...and the Land of Taney is getting the SHAFT.
It sure is nice that Americans can gripe...but, I have done my fair share of good things in community NOW I CAN FAIRLY GRIPE.
Thanks for Listening, John Logan

Marc Williams enters Branson Ward III Alderman Race

HCW partner Marc Williams submitted his bid for the Ward III Branson Alderman race yesterday at the 11th hour. According to documents obtained by the city of Branson Williams signed documents which make him a contender for a spot on Branson's board of alderman 11 minutes before the office closed.
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The Most Important Map of the Modern Age

The image you see above is the map that changed the world. It was the birth of the Internet, the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of an age of prosperity no one seems to be willing to talk about.
The technical hierarchy - the node map represents three universities participating in a Department of Defense Advanced Research Project (ARPNET) project. The four universities represented in the chart are nodes developed from , University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB),University of Utah (Utah). The nodes of the Internet were developed in that order.

The birth of the network promised Stalin's successors could not bomb us with a single nuclear weapon. It was and remains the perfect defense against totalitarianism . It is the ultimate network - a network without a central point of failure.
If even the Bay Area and Los Angeles simultaneously ceased to exist, Santa Barbara could communicate with Utah. The Russians could no longer destroy us, any two of us alive could reach each other on the network.

Massive Department of Defense funding throughout the Reagan Era kept Defense Advanced Research Projects alive with 150 billion dollars promising America security limited only by the imaginations of the scientific elite.

The prosperity of the 90's and the downward motion of the economy of recent years is directly related to how we handle the network. In some instances it's sent jobs overseas - something we're seeing more and more - beyond the sweatshop laborer to economies of third world countries with technocrats willing to work for a 10th of American skilled labor. This was a few years ago.
Today it's different, the payment ratio of a third world white collar laborer is nearing the same as an American - creating a dependence on overseas offices able to carry the economic burden of additional support staff. Today a stock broker preparing documents about an (Initial Public Offering) IPO, a medical doctor needing someone to look over an x-ray and a silicon valley tech firm are likely to have lackeys overseas doing much of the footwork.
For America, we face great danger. We have to ask ourselves, are we willing to accept the consequences of a worldwide democracy? Are we willing to participate in an international free-market and accept the consequences of the balancing affect it may cause. By balancing, I'm speaking of the economies of third world labor markets.
To be continued.....

Matt Blunt Backs out of Missouri's Governor's Race

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Matt Blunt today released a television address to Missourians announcing that having achieved virtually everything he set out to accomplish when he ran for governor he will not seek a second term.

In his address, Gov. Blunt cites among his accomplishments turning an inherited $1.1 billion deficit into three straight surpluses without a tax increase, cutting taxes, ending the education cuts of the past and providing budgets that will deliver $1.2 billion to universities, classrooms and students, rescuing the broken Medicaid system and transforming it into a network of care for vulnerable Missourians and helping turn record job-loss into nearly 90,000 new jobs.

The governor called a news conference tomorrow morning at 9:30 am where he is expected to discuss his announcement.

A video file of the governor’s television address is attached and is also available at

The following is a transcript of Gov. Blunt’s television address:

Fellow Missourians. Let me speak directly with you.

In 2004 I promised leadership, vision and change. It was more than a slogan, it defined a mission. You elected me to chart a new course.

And together we are creating a future of greater opportunity for all Missourians.

We inherited a budget that was $1.1 billion dollars in the red and turned it into three straight surpluses without increasing taxes. In fact, we cut taxes.

In contrast to the old education withholdings and cuts, my budgets will have delivered 1.2 billion new dollars to our universities, classrooms and students.

A broke and broken Medicaid system is being transformed into a network of care offering vulnerable Missourians healthier lives at a cost taxpayers can afford.

We have turned record job-loss into nearly 90,000 new jobs.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in waste has been eliminated and we reduced the size of government.

What we set-out to achieve four years ago has been accomplished.

Once when asked if he were running for re-election another governor responded, “Yes, I like being governor.” When I read that I thought at the time that I never wanted to run for any office just to hold it. I did not run for governor to have a title, but to bring change to state government.

The habit of politicians is to remain in office and the desire to prove oneself in the next election is strong. After a great deal of thought and prayer, and with the knowledge that we have achieved virtually everything I set out to accomplish, and more, I will not seek a second term in the upcoming election. Because I feel we have changed what I wanted to change in the first term there is not the same sense of mission for a second.

At the end of my term, I will have served twenty years in public service, ten years in the United States Navy followed by ten years in state government. Melanie and our son William Branch mean the world to me. I have spent more time away from them than I would like. We are ready for the next chapter in our lives and I am looking forward to spending more time with them.

Some will wrongly think that this is a retirement from the effort to improve the lives of Missourians. But they will have failed to understand that the greatest and wisest leadership of our state is not housed within the ornate offices of the Capitol. It springs from our citizens, communities, churches and institutions of private life.

There are new and important initiatives we can achieve this year.

Their success will help keep the change working for
Missouri families.

I will focus on these initiatives.

To serve as your governor is a great privilege. I will continue to work every day to be worthy of the faith and confidence you have placed in me.

Thank you for listening, and may God continue to bless our great state.

Fred Thompson not coming to Branson

The video and pictures above are being posted in honor of close friends in Branson who count themselves among the "Fred Heads".

Having met with presidential candidates earlier this month; I was neglectful in posting my interaction with Fred Thompson. Because of the passionate support for Thompson by many of our own, I waited until past the midnight hour on the 4th of January in Iowa for Thompson to make an appearance at a hotel in Downtown Des Moines.

Thompson took his hat out the ring today and resigned the Republican Presidential nomination to the remaining contenders without an endorsement to any of the other candidates.

Branson Alderman Dick Gass not seeking re-election

Branson's communication director Jerry Adams issued the following:

Alderman served during record growth, now wants to “stop and smell the roses”
After six years as a Branson alderman and serving through the biggest growth period of the city’s history, Ward 3 Alderman Dick Gass has decided against running for another two-year term in the April city election.

The following is a statement released by Alderman Gass.

“Because of my many friends and supporters who encouraged me to run again, I feel obligated to explain to them and to my constituents my reason for not running for a fourth term as city alderman from Ward 3 at this time.

I am very proud to have worked with a group of individuals over the years who had the foresight to envision the positive economic impact, which Branson Landing and the convention center; the Branson Hills commercial development; the RecPlex; the extension of Fall Creek Road and the future Branson Airport would have for the citizens of Branson and our tourists.

I especially thank former mayor Lou Schaefer, former city administrator Terry Dody, former economic development director Mike Rankin, city staff members and all the past and present aldermen and alderwomen who worked so diligently to bring these projects to fruition. And I wish all the best to Mayor Raeanne Presley and all future Board of Aldermen members.

After six years of commitment to the city of Branson as an alderman, I have decided to take some time off to ‘stop and smell the roses.’

However, I will continue to be available and to participate in whatever community service I can, because this community has been so good to my wife, my family and me.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to serve you.”
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Hooking up a free education

Last year I spent a great deal of time studying education. There was a lot of momentum at the state level spanning every branch on government.

Though much of the debate involving education surrounded financial equity Gov. Matt Blunt announced the roll-out of Missouri's first digital campus.

From the states viewpoint, Taney County is easy to appease. A focus on "workforce" development provides simple solutions far from the complexities of trying to understand or figure out what types of jobs will be needed in the future. Unfortunately, the world isn't slowing down and access to education is becoming available to all.

The practice of sending white collar jobs overseas is becoming commonplace and while unemployment rates rise, wages are rising overseas for skilled tech-labor.

While local control over schools has positive attributes, access to education is surpassing district and even international boundaries. The social value of interacting among local peers is the only variable that remains constant as we explore education in the future.

A few Online Courses:

- Entire Computer Science curriculum and materials.

Penn State - 36,000 Book Library

Carnegie Mellon University - Open Learning Center

Covenant Theological Seminary - Free Theology Courses

Foreign Language Education
- Swedish, Hungarian, Italian

Whatcom: Math

College of the Ozarks to induct two into CofO Sports Hall of Fame

By: Stephanie Bell
College of the Ozarks will induct two former student athletes into the C of O Sports Hall of Fame on February 2, 2008.  This year's honored inductees are Mitzi Wells Wynn, a former standout in basketball from 1991 to 1993, and Russell Smithey, a standout in baseball from 1996 to 1999.
 Mitzi Wells Wynn, a 1994 C of O graduate, was a starter for the Lady Cats Basketball Team for two seasons after playing two years at North Arkansas Junior College.  Wynn performed exceptional scoring and rebounds and gained NAIA All-District 16 honors both years.  She received the C of O Outstanding Female Student Athlete award as well as several other athletic and academic honors during her time at College of the Ozarks.
 Russell Smithey, a 2001 graduate, was a four-year starter on C of O's Baseball Team.  He was a versatile player as shortstop and pitcher with a solid batting average of .310.  He was twice named team MVP and received an NAIA Regional All-Tournament Team honor his senior year.  After graduation, Smithey played professionally for two years with the Ozark Mountain Ducks and scored the first-ever run at Price Cutter Park.
 The selection process for inductees entails nomination and popular vote.  Ballots are sent out to all past inductees, the alumni council, and certain individuals on campus.  The top two nominees with the most votes are then inducted.  The west hallway of the Keeter Gymnasium permanently displays the pictorial plaques of the inductees.  



Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama Say Race/Gender unimportant as they try to sway voters by race and gender

Last year, KY3's political reporter David Catanese caught flak for having a political sticker on his desk. As a joke, I decorated the back of my laptop with political stickers perfectly divided - Democrats to the left and Republicans to the right.
While in Iowa, as part of my research I stopped by the political headquarters of several presidential candidates on a daily basis.
Propaganda was collected at each location. During the last democratic lovefest/debate Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama traded pleasantries to convince the general public that race and gender weren't a factor. Of course, pundits estimate the lovefest will end soon as the political boiler begins to heat.
I thought that it was important to point out that both camps were generating race and gender based materials. If you click on the image above you'll notice and African Americans for Hillary and Women for Obama stickers created by their respective parties.
They were the only two candidates that generated race/gender specific marketing materials.

Branson Landing Liberalizes winter hours

Last year, KY3's political reporter David Catanese caught flak for having a political sticker on his desk. As a joke, I decorated the back of my laptop with political stickers perfectly divided - Democrats to the left and Republicans to the right.
While in Iowa, as part of my research I stopped by the political headquarters of several presidential candidates on a daily basis.
Propaganda was collected at each location. During the last democratic lovefest/debate Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama traded pleasantries to convince the general public that race and gender weren't a factor. Of course, pundits estimate the lovefest will end soon as the political boiler begins to heat.
I thought that it was important to point out that both camps were generating race and gender based materials. If you click on the image above you'll notice African Americans for Hillary and Women for Obama stickers created by their respective parties.
They were the only two candidates that generated race/gender specific marketing materials.
Last year the Branson Landing threatened to penalize kiosk vendors who closed during the ice storms. Branson Landing management charges fines to stores who don't keep hours consistent with Landing standards. This year the outdoor mall is void of kiosks, but apparently some businesses are now allowed to alter hours during the winter months.

The majority of shops are still open during the winter until 7p.m. providing a treat for those who hate long lines and the hustle and bustle the rush of peak season shoppers brings.

(The photo posted above was shot at Ernie Biggs during a photo tour by Darin Codon November 2007)

Matt Blunt State of the Union Address 2008

(Photo by Darin Codon taken November 2007 at Matt Blunt funraiser in Branson, Missouri)
Lt. Governor Kinder, Mr. President Pro Tem, Mr. Speaker, distinguished state officials, judges of the Supreme Court, members of the General Assembly, reverend clergy, fellow Missourians:

Tonight, I have the privilege of delivering my second state of the state address. Last year’s report was difficult news for me to deliver and for Missourians to hear. Missouri’s economy was on life support. The budget was more than a billion dollars in the red, a series of government programs were bankrupting the state and tens of millions of dollars in waste were scattered throughout state government.

Tonight I am able to deliver a very different message. Our economy is now creating jobs for Missouri’s families. We have moved from a massive budget shortfall to the first surplus in five years. Let me repeat that good news: because of the prudent decisions we made last year, we have balanced the books. We have taken an inherited deficit that exceeded five percent of total state spending and created a small but real surplus. We are sustaining government and investing in priorities without the higher job-killing taxes that the people have rejected time after time. We are saving millions of dollars within state government that can be sent to schools, used to provide healthcare or to improve Missouri’s roads, highways and bridges. We have demonstrated that real, positive change can be realized without increased taxes. Tonight, Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, and fellow Missourians, just one year after we began to work together, the state of the state is strong.

Last session we enacted pro jobs, pro growth policies that have made state government a facilitator of job creation, not a free-spending, tax-increasing burden to economic growth. Today, the sun has risen and Missouri’s economy is on the move. Jobs are coming back and staying in Missouri. Lawsuit reform and regulatory relief are having their desired effect. Twenty-eight thousand jobs have been created since January. Our small business men and women are hiring more of their neighbors. The entrepreneurial spirit has been rekindled, and the results are dramatic. On average, we have seen the creation of more than 500 new jobs per week since my address last year.

We made great strides last year to keep doctors in Missouri by passing medical liability reform. Hospitals and doctors’ groups report that they now can recruit and retain quality doctors, especially in crucial specialties such as obstetrics and neurosurgery. Lawsuit reform is making a tremendous positive difference for people and communities across Missouri and is improving access to high-quality healthcare.

Thank you for passing a tough new anti-meth law to control the sale of key ingredients of methamphetamine. This new law is showing strong results, with a decline of 44 percent in meth incidents in Missouri.

I encourage the Congress to pass Senator Jim Talent’s similar legislation at the federal level to better protect Missourians and to help stop the scourge of meth across the country.

As you drive across Missouri you are seeing new construction on virtually all our major highways. When complete, Missouri's Smooth Roads Initiative will deliver a total of 2,200 miles of safer, smoother and improved roads. MoDOT has turned the corner and is earning the trust of Missouri taxpayers because they are eliminating the problems that confronted them in the past and they are now focused on one central mission, "building and maintaining roads." I know they are up to the challenge, and tonight, I call upon the State Highways and Transportation Commission and their Director, Pete Rahn, to complete the Smooth Roads Initiative by December 31, 2006 - one year ahead of schedule.

As a product of Missouri’s public schools, I am deeply committed to public education. In the past, schools suffered from budget withholdings that were shortsighted and diminished opportunities for young Missourians. I pledged to Missourians that I would deliver consistent increases to our schools and that withholdings would stop. Last year, we fulfilled that promise and delivered 158 million new dollars to public schools, a 4.4 percent increase. We also passed a new funding formula that is based on the needs of Missouri school children rather than the taxing capacity of school districts. At the same time, we ensured that last year’s budget provided public colleges and universities with more funding than any budget of the prior administration.

In 2005, we did the most basic things in making a Missouri Family First budget. We set priorities and made choices. We got serious about getting full value for people’s hard-earned tax dollars. We found and ended many wasteful practices and created a culture that is committed to efficiency and responsible stewardship. We put children and taxpayers first. We changed course to bring the state’s priorities in sync with the people’s priorities.

Fiscal responsibility in budgeting works hand in hand with policy changes such as ending lawsuit abuse and establishing the Quality Jobs initiative. Today’s deficit spending is tomorrow’s job-killing tax hike. Last year we did not allow ourselves to make spending decisions under the false illusion that there is no end to state resources. We cannot dig ourselves into the spending hole that made last year so challenging. However, we can and should invest dollars wisely in order to secure an even brighter future.

The budget I present tonight required much thought and consideration. It lives within the people’s means while funding the many important services provided by state government.

Notably, the new budget is balanced without new job-destroying taxes and without borrowing or accounting gimmicks. This is a MISSOURI balanced budget. Spending and revenue are in balance. Last year we ended the policy of spending money that we do not have.

My priorities remain clear. From pre-school to college, the state budget should reflect the number one fiscal priority of state government – "to educate and prepare our children for the 21st century." Last year, Melanie and I were blessed with the birth of our son. We, like all Missourians, want to provide him with every opportunity to achieve the American dream. At a young age, children’s minds are eager to learn, and as a state we should look for opportunities to foster that desire for knowledge so that Missouri’s students will lead the nation and, more importantly, thrive in the competitive global marketplace.

A key component of my comprehensive childhood education commitment is an increased investment in Parents as Teachers. Parents as Teachers changes children’s lives and ensures that any developmental delays are identified and corrected early, providing a bright future for Missouri children. My new budget provides another $1,000,000 to Parents as Teachers in addition to last year’s increase.

I am committed to delivering more taxpayer resources to Missouri schools every year. Last year we increased state aid to education by $158,000,000. My new budget fully funds the first year of the new school foundation formula and provides a total increase of 167 million new education dollars. Combined, these increases will result in 325 million new dollars for schools delivered by my Administration and this General Assembly.

We should ensure that as many of those new dollars as possible reach the classroom. There has already been a great deal of healthy and beneficial discussion regarding my proposal to deliver at least 65 percent of the education tax dollar to teachers and students, with others defending the current system. I do not believe it is acceptable to lag behind nearly every other state in teacher salaries or for some districts to spend only 52 or 53 cents of each education dollar on student instruction. That is not good stewardship of tax dollars.

I have heard comments and suggestions for adjustments to the education community’s definition of what constitutes classroom instruction. The definition is not my own. It belongs to the education establishment, but it is clearly not sufficient. I am open to meaningful discussion on this issue, but the bottom line is that more dollars must be delivered to the classroom.

Learning does not begin in kindergarten nor does it end after high school. Prior to my service as governor, colleges and universities were hit with significant cuts. This year, my budget calls for a $17,000,000 increase for state colleges and universities, providing them with the resources they need to improve quality and hold back tuition increases.

The A+ program is an additional tool that helps young Missourians stay in school and ensures that advanced learning is a reality for more Missourians. My budget increases state funding for A+ by $1,800,000, which will allow additional Missouri young people to attend community college and acquire the skills they need to be competitive in today’s global economy.

Residential care facilities such as Boys and Girls Town and Edgewood provide the love and support that can dramatically impact troubled children’s lives. Last year my budget recommended a $2,100,000 increase in funding for these care providers. This year, I am pleased to include 2.8 million new state dollars in my budget request for residential care facilities.

Smoking is one of the leading healthcare cost drivers. In Missouri, smoking takes thousands of lives and devastates families. We all pay the costs of smoking through increased insurance premiums, social welfare for smokers and most significantly through the loss of family and friends afflicted with cancer. The tobacco settlement funds have been misused in the past, and I propose that one million of those dollars be spent on smoking prevention and cessation this year.

The spike in gas prices and home heating costs has hit all of our families. Fortunately, common sense policies and regulations in Missouri have resulted in residential utility rates that are the eighth lowest in the nation. However, some seniors and low income Missourians have been pushed past their financial ability to keep up, and we must respond. In order to help low-income Missourians pay high winter heating bills I ask that $6,100,000 be dedicated immediately to Missouri’s Utilicare program.

This program has never been fully funded and has received no funding since 2001. This crucial funding will provide real assistance to seniors and low-income Missourians. No Missourian should have to choose between heating and eating, between utilities or groceries.

Most seniors and disabled adults would like to remain in their own homes. In-home healthcare is more cost effective, and it allows them to do so. Last year, working together, we increased funding for in-home healthcare services. To continue encouraging home care as an option, this year’s budget calls for a $10,900,000 general revenue increase to improve the quality and availability of in-home healthcare.

Through the ethanol and bio-diesel incentive programs we are encouraging a vital expansion of the economy by producing renewable fuels and reducing America’s and Missouri’s dependence on the Middle East while providing ready markets for the farmers of the Midwest. My budget calls for full funding of Missouri’s bio-diesel and ethanol incentive funds.

I also call upon this General Assembly to pass an "Energy and Green Power Initiative," to reach beyond full funding for bio-diesel and ethanol incentives. I ask that we give Missouri’s heartland economy a major and lasting boost by requiring that motor fuel sold in Missouri for passenger cars and trucks contain 10 percent ethanol.

This standard will spur even greater economic development in rural Missouri. For all of us, it will provide cleaner air, lower prices and greater independence from Middle East oil supplies. Please stand with me against special interests and for our farmers, consumers, the environment and new energy supplies made right here in Missouri.

As a veteran, I feel a special privilege in leading a state that respects military service and supports those who have worn the uniform. In my budget, I ask that you establish a new state veterans’ cemetery, Missouri’s fifth, at Ft. Leonard Wood.

I also ask that you approve my requested appropriation to strengthen the Veterans’ Ombudsman program which serves men and women who are deployed in defense of our freedom and their families as well as those who have recently returned from deployment.

This night, and everyday as a free nation we are grateful to Missouri’s men and women in arms.

Tonight, we have with us two Missourians who recently returned from active duty. Please join me in recognizing Major Brian K. Tully of Cape Girardeau and Master Sergeant Robert Miller of Tebbetts. Both received the Bronze Star for their service in Iraq.

The state plays a key role in protecting children, families and seniors from criminals. We must do more to support law enforcement professionals on the front lines. Missouri has only four accredited, full service crime labs. I ask that this General Assembly appropriate funds to staff and equip an additional state crime lab. This new lab will expedite forensic work, help ensure that case backlogs are not delaying justice, and get dangerous criminals out of our neighborhoods.

Drug courts save the state money. A University of Missouri study demonstrated that the cost per drug court participant is $5,400 versus the $14,000 cost the state bears to incarcerate a drug related inmate. Many non-violent drug offenders can be better punished and rehabilitated through drug courts, which is why my budget provides them with a $2,100,000 increase.

We are striving every day for greater efficiency in your state government. In fact, the budget I am presenting tonight is the first in eight years that requests funding for fewer than 60,000 state employees. That is partly due to better management, but it is also dependent on Missouri’s state employees. They have answered my call to provide more efficient and effective customer service to Missourians while at the same time using fewer resources. They are truly doing more with less. We should reward their good work. An important component of my budget is the inclusion of a four percent pay raise for state employees.

One of government’s most basic responsibilities is to respect and safeguard the rights of the people. Sadly, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision undermined those very rights.

I was offended by the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kelo versus New London case. This ruling allows governments to take private property for the use and profit of private interests. This ruling was wrong. Churches and places of worship across our state that contribute immeasurably to society but generate no tax revenue should not fear the forced sale of their land.

I believe the work of my task force on this issue provides the Legislature with a sound basis for "fixing" the Kelo decision and ensuring that eminent domain abuses in Missouri are forever ended. I look forward to working with you to protect homeowners, farmers and small business men and women all across the state.

I recognize the importance of healthcare to every Missouri family, and I believe we have an obligation to provide assistance to those truly in need of help. Last year, we took important steps to save Medicaid for our neediest citizens and began a process of reform. What few Missourians have heard is that we spent more money on Medicaid last year than we did the year before. If left unchecked the old program would literally bankrupt state government within a matter of years. Missourians know that simply throwing money at the problem without any other changes would not have solved the problem. Had we not taken action last year, today it would cost taxpayers an additional $935,000,000 to fund the old program. For those who continue to clamor for a return to the old way I ask that you be candid. Be honest with the people of Missouri and tell them what programs you would cut or what taxes you would raise. Do not pretend that we can spend money in a vacuum with no resulting harm to schools or Missouri taxpayers.

My administration remains committed to providing meaningful assistance to our neediest citizens. Medicaid is an important state program. That is why my budget asks for 275 million additional state dollars to sustain its current commitments. This significant increase will allow us to continue providing healthcare for 16 percent of our fellow citizens. It also means that this important program will receive 29 percent of the entire budget.

Federally Qualified Health Centers and Community Health Centers combine federal, state and community resources with personal responsibility to expand access to healthcare. My budget provides an additional $700,000 for the funding of new community health centers which will benefit tens of thousands of Missourians.

I also believe that technology and innovation are essential to improve the delivery of healthcare for all Missourians. That is why I am creating a Healthcare Information Technology Task Force to recommend ways to harness technology to make better care decisions for patients, which will lead to better results at reduced costs.

We must prepare now for the healthcare challenges of tomorrow. We should create a Healthcare Technology Fund to ensure that the basic technology that is pervasive throughout society is a part of the improved delivery of healthcare services to Missourians. This funding will involve multi-year projects that will explore new and innovative ways that technology can improve the delivery of care, reduce administrative burdens and eliminate waste and fraud. Programs funded with this money will emphasize personal responsibility and health literacy, and create a structure to help Missourians make informed healthcare decisions. The overarching goal is to improve the health status of all Missourians. The results will lead to a healthier state and a more efficient healthcare delivery system. That is why my budget provides 25 million new state dollars for a new Healthcare Technology Fund.

I commend the work of the legislative commission led by Senator Charlie Shields in outlining a structure for a new healthcare program that will improve the delivery and quality of healthcare in Missouri. We must also continue the successful work that has been done to improve efficiency, eliminate waste and track down and prosecute those who defraud the medical safety net.

Fraud, whether by dishonest providers or ineligible recipients, comes at the direct expense of people who truly cannot provide for themselves. In the past, we had a lackadaisical approach to fraud. Rooting it out was not a priority, but since January 2005, it has been one of my chief objectives. Since I assumed office, $138,000,000 of Medicaid waste and fraud has been identified and corrected.

Missourians by their nature are generous and compassionate to those in need. We must work together to create a new and better healthcare system in this state. This new program should contain many elements, such as additional incentives for employers who provide insurance to their employees, tax incentives for those who purchase their own medical, long term care and in-home health insurance, buying pools for small businesses and individuals to increase their purchasing power, all as part of an aggressive effort to reduce the number of uninsured Missourians.

We also must join together to bring greater transparency to our healthcare delivery system. We must arm Missourians with knowledge through increased access to information regarding the quality and cost of healthcare services. This vital information will allow Missourians to make informed healthcare decisions, and it will drive costs out of the system.

No state has found a "silver bullet" for the delivery of healthcare, and no state has the perfect program. All states are struggling with how to pay the mounting bills. But Missouri is being viewed as a national leader because of our commitment to innovative solutions for low-income healthcare and for the comprehensive and complete reworking of our program in an attempt to provide temporary help for Missourians during their time of need. Let us work together to create a healthcare system that offers assurance to our seniors, comfort to our families and hope to our children.

We also must pay particularly close attention to healthcare for our seniors. We all know the federal government has created a prescription drug benefit for them and I encourage all Missouri seniors to sign up for this important new assistance. I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that the state funded MissouriRx program is a robust supplement to the federal benefit.

I commend your action last year to make Missouri a leader in protecting our children from predatory criminals. Tonight, I propose a new series of crime measures to further protect the safety of our children. First, I propose that Missouri enact a version of Jessica’s Law, to impose a life sentence for sex crimes against children with a minimum of 25 years served in prison. These predators would then be under lifetime supervision after they complete their time behind bars.

We need to face facts. We have had little success at changing the behavior of child sex offenders. Too many children have been permanently scarred for us not to take action to appropriately punish these evil criminals. We need to lock sexual predators up for a very long time and monitor them for the rest of their lives.

The Internet has opened a new avenue for dangerous criminals. I am proposing a mandatory minimum sentence for Internet sex offenders who entice young children, and I am asking you to require the posting of their pictures on the Internet. Even if the "child" they think they are enticing is actually a law enforcement officer, these sexual predators must be punished.

In addition to protecting our children, Missouri must also maintain commitments to our seniors. Tonight, I urge this body to pass stronger penalties for those who commit violent crimes or fraud against senior citizens.

We are living in an age in which we must always be prepared to respond to man-made and natural disasters. Just last month the Taum Sauk reservoir burst releasing 1.3 billion gallons of water into Johnson Shut-Ins state park, injuring park superintendent Jerry Toops and his family. Please join me in recognizing Jerry and Lisa Toops, who are with us tonight.

I am happy to report that Jerry, Lisa and their children, Tanner, Tara and Tucker have all recovered and are doing well. The prayers of many Missourians including my own were answered, and we are so pleased to have them here tonight. The faith they have demonstrated is truly inspiring. The reservoir that was breached was under federal jurisdiction and, while Missouri had no authority to inspect the dam, we will insist that AmerenUE fully compensate those affected and provide 100 percent reimbursement to the state.

Working together we have solved many of the problems we faced in January 2005. Although we must work diligently on the budget before us, we have contained the raging blaze kindled by past over-spending and deficit budgeting.

None of the new investments that I have proposed here tonight would be possible had we not acted last year to improve our jobs climate and control unsustainable spending. Increased funding for schools, the strengthening of the safety net and holding the line on taxes depend upon responsible budgeting decisions.

Our record is clear. We promised a balanced budget without accounting tricks or tax increases. We have turned an over one billion dollar shortfall into a surplus, and we will build a brighter future for all Missourians on a solid financial foundation.

We promised to re-fire the economic engine of opportunity, and we have created a jobs environment which has resulted in 28,000 more Missourians achieving the dignity and independence a paycheck provides.

We promised to develop a better way to fund schools and to make the teaching of young people our first priority. The new student need-based funding formula is now the law, and I have recommended that we fully fund it.

We promised better stewardship and to fight waste and fraud. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been saved, and we will continue our ongoing efforts to achieve greater efficiency.

It may not be normal in politics, but what we have promised is what we have delivered.

As we tackle other tough issues ahead we should keep in mind the words of the Bible that "to whomever much is given, much will be required." We have been blessed as a people, as Americans and as Missourians. We have a moral obligation to set very high expectations for the future.

Every Missourian should be able to achieve their full potential, be blessed with financial security and be comforted knowing that we will keep our commitments and work together to build the Missouri of our dreams.

Thank you. May God bless you and may God continue to bless the great state of Missouri.

What about John Edwards?

The Kansas City Star asked readers, "Why is John Edwards still in the race?"
While our team of journalists invaded the inner sanctuary of presidential campaigns in Iowa, I was able to spend some time studying multiple campaigns. Of all the presidential candidates Edwards attracted the organization and support of the traditional Democratic base. Yesterday, three of five interviews with the Steelworkers Union were posted on the Presidential Politics website. A few more from campaign Edwards will be posted later today.
The Unions setup special offices in Iowa to campaign for Edwards. No other candidate had this type of visible, parallel campaign effort in Iowa. The problem is, Edwards didn't seem to be recruiting neither new demographics nor new voters.
While Barrack Obama brings new blood the game, Edwards has the solid support of "Old School Democrats"
From watching Edwards rhetorical approach during the debates and negotiations in the Democratic party; I believe it's likely we'll see Edwards run on an Obama ticket.
Other than that, like the other candidates, Edwards believes he can make a difference.

Branson Board of Alderman - January 14th Meeting Summary


January 14, 2008 -Meeting Summary
Prepared by Jerry Adams City of Branson Communications Director


Increasing certain park user fees

Expenses have risen in the parks and recreation department in areas such as league administration, umpire and referee fees, and maintenance costs. The increases will also make park programs less dependent on subsidies from other funds. Most of the user fee increases will be for competitive team sports like baseball, soccer and basketball.

Board postpones funding for songwriting contest

Board postponed until Jan 28 a request by the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce for $15,000 to market a Billboard World Song Contest Awards Show in Branson this spring. The funds would come from the 2% Tourism Tax Contingency Fund, administered by the aldermen. With the endorsement of Billboard Magazine, this event is produced to highlight new and rising young talent in the songwriting field. There are 15 different musical categories. The event would be held at the Mansion Theater in Branson.

Final Report on Branson Landing and Convention Center

Jim Martin of the Benham company will give a final status report on the Branson Landing and Branson Convention Center projects. The Benham Company was hired by the city as the project manager for the two developments. Martin said the six-year, $420 million lakefront development came in on time and on budget. Of that $420 million, the city’s portion of the project amounted to $105 million. A city and state TIF was approved to assist in the Landing and convention center financing.

Board gives okay to merger of city and county health departments

Aldermen gave first reading approval to an agreement that consolidates the city of Branson and Taney County Health departments. This will result in one unified public health system that can effectively respond to our area’s present and future growth. Taney County Health Department would become the provider of all public health services, including animal control in the city.

Portable restroom for campground approved

Board approved on first reading the purchase of a portable restroom trailer for public use, specifically fishermen, on the south end of the Lakeside RV Park by the public boat ramp. This type of facility is necessary due to the inability to construct a permanent restroom because of flood plain issues. The cost of the portable restroom trailer is $30,000.

New city vehicles approved

Board approved on first reading a bill to purchase 15 vehicles for five city departments including police and public works. All of these vehicles are replacements for older ones. Total cost of the vehicles is $367,000.

Springfield Blogger Awards

1. Best Special Event Coverage (Blog and the coverage)
2008 Caucus - 100 video clips of presidential candidates, 200 Embedded Pictures, actual documents from inside presidential campaigns...good stuff. The project involved three Springfield area citizen journalists on the ground in Iowa and embedded in presidential campaigns.
2. Best Comical Blog
Desdidova - an irreverent critique of the Springfield media

3. Best News Blog
KY3 Politics - passionate coverage of politics
Tony Messenger - Not only does Messenger address important issues but contributed significantly to the field by forcing and winning a battle verifying the right of reporters to receive information in a digital form.
Branson Missouri:

4. Best Entertainment Blog
Fat Jacks Erratic Rants - Fat Jack is in a category of his own. If there was a category for best edu-blog Jack would win. Jack gives great insight into the field of education and the importance of edu-tainment as a means to engage students.

5. Best Photography Blog
(Will Post Later

6. Best Personal Blog
2 Dollar Bill - Passionate about politics and atheist leanings, "The Sniderman" raises interesting questions about faith and science.

7. Best Local Coverage Blog
Branson Missouri - The Springfield Media market closed in this year on covering local politics - but the trend is new - the movement has only really ramped up during the last quarter of the year though it looks like it will continue.

8. Best Resource Blog
Rhetorica - Want to understand press politics? (This site has it covered)

9. Best Sports Blog (coverage, promotion, or fantasy sports)
(Will Post Later)

10. Best Political Blog
(Will post later)

11. Most Improved Blog
Busplunge - Really found hiis voice this year

12. Rookie Blog of the Year
Life of Jason - The site made major changes in format throughout the year. Jason clearly has great writing skills and style. The site has made several transitions this year. Some of my favorite posts relate to issues relating to his autistic child. The site seemed to move from a personal to a religious blog and most recently a Springfield City Politics blog .

13. Blog of the Year
(Will Post Later)

14. Blog Post of the Year
Michelle Sherwood - Sherwood's discussion on "What is News" is both informative and thought provoking.

If you are a local blogger and you're not on my blogrolls at:
Tech Trends
Branson Agent
And you want to be on - drop me an e-mail!

Rico J and the Hot Hits Commercial airing in Branson

The Hot Hits Coffeehouse in Downtown Branson is one of the few shows still open during the winter season.

The video clip posted above is currently running on cable television.


The value of new construction in the city of Branson for the year 2007 totaled $117.9 million, making this the third year in a row that construction totals have topped $100 million.

For December, new construction hit $2.6 million with two major projects permitted in that month, Brookside Mini-Golf at 2925 Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and a new retail center that will be divided and leased to businesses on Branson Hills Parkway west of Target.

Except for the past three years, the last time Branson saw the value of new construction surpass $100 million in one year was 1993 when the total reached $119.5 million.

“That confidence developers had in ’05 and ’06 that Branson’s a fine place to do business continued right into ’07,” said Jerry Adams, the city’s public information director.

A few of the projects that helped push Branson to the $117 million total in 2007 included:

o Wal-Mart Supercenter on Branson Hills Parkway
o Clubhouse at the Payne Stewart Memorial Golf Course at Branson Hills
o White River Fish Company at Branson Landing
o Mount Pleasant Winery on Green Mountain Drive
o Tanger Mall addition

According to the city’s planning and development department, more plans for major projects have been brought in for review that will most likely be approved in 2008.

“The momentum of 2007 should carry into 2008,” Adams said.

Press Release by City of Branson

Branson Board of Alderman

Branson's Board of Alderman will meet tonight at 7:00 PM.

A few highlights.....

The city of Branson will finalize an agreement committing approx. $3 million dollars in cash and assets to the Taney County Health Department. The Taney County Health Department will provide the services and function the City of Branson currently conducts.

The Branson Chamber of Commerce will likely receive approval for $15,000 from Branson's Tourism Tax Contingency Fund. The money will be awarded to winners of a song contest sponsored by Billboard Magazine entitled, "Billboard World Song Contest Awards Show".

Bids will likely be awarded for new city vehicles following staff review.
Lindsay Chevrolet: 64,450 Friendly Ford : $21,987 Tri Lakes Ford:$281,113

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

Let's Quit Pretending there is "Justice For All" (Editorial)

Personal experience has led me to believe that their is an inherent love of justice from those who've dedicated their lives to the study of law. Putting theory and love to the side and weighing the reality of practices in Missouri and specifically the 38th Circuit Court on a scale of truth we are forced to come to the inevitable conclusion that many are left out of the promise to fair and equal treatment.
The reality is, lady justice has taken her blindfold off and targeted her eyes on the wallets of the accused.
Make no mistake, it's the poor that inhabit our prisons, at the expense of taxpayers while the wealthy are most certainly released on bail. Our courts are bogged down and the caseloads of the prosecutors, judges and especially the public defenders office provide a burden beyond reasonable capacity.
To the Missouri Bar's credit, the issue has been addressed with verbal and written acknowledgment that the Public Defender system is overburdened. The jail's are no different. Reports from the Taney County Jail over the last few weeks include accusations of untreated staph infection, inmates defecating in plastic buckets and confirmation that some cells are secured with handcuffs instead of proper locks. In the event of a fire, the death of inmates appears imminent (as has happened before when the jail was ablaze).
The press has reserved its right to remain silent, after all - addressing prison conditions is no way to win a popularity contest. The presumption of innocence is not known to the jury of public opinion - but it should be. After all, thats what separates us from the unrighteous nations - does it not?
The right to fair treatment under the legal system is a basic tenant of American citizenship and one apparently forgotten. And if the practice is imbalanced by wealth instead of virtue- fiscal might not what is right - we spit on the graves of our forefathers who sacrificed their lives and pronounce their visions of "unalienable right" but a dream. If we are to continue this path let us change the constitution to read - "rights alienable by account balance" and erase creator from our founding documents lest we promote the name in vain.
A few weeks ago I interviewed local Attorney Russ Schenewerk on the issue of Missouri's failing public defender system. He had some good ideas about how attorneys can alleviate the pressure placed on our system.
The Missouri Legislature can help by making enabling leeway to the Judicial and trusting in our judges ability to be creative and act with discernment. They can also reduce pressure by redrawing district lines and creating a new circuit court in Taney County.
For the Taney County Commission and the Sherrif's office, a higher standard must be adhered to. The Sherrif's job is to take protect ALL the citizens and the Commission to oversee all county functions, including protecting those the county has taken into their care.
The prison industry is big business and promises to grow as capturing and housing illegal immigrants becomes a greater priority. We've been told hosting inmates will provide a new revenue stream though presently we're burdened with new taxes.
In many ways we're moving in a positive direction. A new jail is being built in Taney County and the facilities being constructed promise both more humane treatment and security. Reports regarding Missouri's new sentencing guidelines point to lower overall cost and decreased recidivism rates.
During a conversation with a Missouri judge last month I was reminded, "not all who haven't been tried are innocent." This is true, whoever commits a crime is guilty, but not all those charged are guilty.
Until the American system is applied we must presume innocence and if I were a politician whose responsibility included overseeing a imprisoned population I'd go to great efforts to ensure facilities were safe and humane. After all, if an untried man dies through their inaction they will be tried for wrongful death as sure as I draft this note on American soil.

Jefferson City 2008 "The Year of the Wedge" (1 of 4) - Switch Hitters

The balance of power could tilt to the Democrats this year. Sen. Chris Koster, who is currently running for Attorney General is now the Senator formerly known as a Republican. With such a delicate balance in the Missouri Legislature this year we should anticipate more "interesting negotiations" from the center of the aisle.

Jefferson City 2008 "The Year of the Wedge" (2 of 4) - Blunt Vs. Nixon

Governor Matt Blunt and Attorney General Jay Nixon are battling over who will own Missouri's 95th session Governorship this November. The battle is and will continue to be fought on numerous fronts. Without getting into too much detail, both have massive campaign war chests and the most powerful political positions in the state. Proving who is the greatest champion of open government, campaign finance, immigration and other wedge issues promises, non-stop entertainment on the stage of public affairs.

Jefferson City 2008 "The Year of the Wedge" (3 of 4) - Digital Documents and the Sunshine Law

Props to Jason Rosenbaum at the Columbia Tribune for the clip above and mad props to Springfield News-Leader's Tony Messenger for creating a revolution in digital journalism by filing for a request for e-mails.
For those of you living in a cave, Messenger made a Sunshine Law request for digital documents that may or may not have been deleted. The state has ruled that digital documents, including e-mail fall under the auspices of Missouri's official open government policy.
Here's where things get interesting. Though digital correspondence isn't protected, government bodies are not required to release human resource records - which the Governor's office was more than happy to do - when it didn't put former Deputy Counsel Scott Eckersley in a positive light. In return Eckersley filed a defamation and wrongful termination suit.
Eckersley had hoped to leverage his past employment with the Governor's office to catapult himself into a postion with for Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign for presidency. To date, I haven't read anything about attorney client privilege as it relates to the case. Watch the video above and read the AP report below David Lieb sent to the wire yesterday.

Gov. Matt Blunt ducked questions Thursday about a lawsuit alleging his office intentionally deleted e-mails in violation of open-records laws, but defended the firing of the former staff attorney who sued him.

A whistleblower and defamation lawsuit filed Wednesday by former gubernatorial attorney Scott Eckersley claims that top Blunt aides directed staff in his office and other agencies to destroy e-mails to avoid providing information sought under public-records requests.

Blunt refused to either confirm or deny whether those directives were given, whether he was aware of the orders at the time or whether he approved of the e-mail deletions.

"I'm not going to respond to accusations in lawsuits," Blunt told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

Earlier Thursday at the governor's annual prayer breakfast, Blunt declined to answer questions from The Associated Press about Eckersley's lawsuit, but pledged to discuss it at a later news conference on drunken driving laws.

At that news conference, however, Blunt devoted barely 2 minutes to questions about the lawsuit - refusing to discuss it any detail - and then turned his back on reporters and walked out of the room while ignoring continued questions.

Eckersley claims he was fired in late September in retaliation for pointing out that the e-mail deletions by Blunt's office violated Missouri's Sunshine Law and document retention policies. Blunt has consistently denied that.

"I'm confident that the decision to dismiss this young man was indeed lawful and that the case is without merit," Blunt said Thursday.

As Eckersley was about to go public with his allegations in late October, Blunt's administration sent The Associated Press and other media a thick packet of papers defending Eckersley's firing and questioning his character.

Included was a termination letter to Eckersley by Blunt's then-chief of staff, Ed Martin, claiming Eckersley had lied about using a "group sex Web site" and misused his state resources to do work on behalf of his father's private health care business.

A cover letter to the media from Blunt's deputy administration commissioner, Rich AuBuchon, also claimed Eckersley did a poor job as a legal adviser, was frequently tardy and had been questioned by Martin about drug use.

Eckersley denies all of those allegations and claims in his lawsuit that Blunt's administration intentionally released false information "designed to injure, defame and smear" him.

His lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages for defamation, wrongful firing and violations of Missouri's Sunshine Law and whistleblower protection act.

Eckersley's attorneys and Blunt's administration had been negotiating a potential settlement before the lawsuit was filed. Those efforts failed. But the amount of money was not the main sticking point.

Eckersley wants Blunt to issue an apologetic retraction of the accusations made against him, specifically clearing him of the drug and sexual allegations and the assertions he was a lazy, poor employee.

"I can't negotiate with my character," Eckersley said Thursday.

The lawsuit names as defendants Blunt, Martin, AuBuchon, Blunt communications director Rich Chrismer and Blunt's former general counsel, Henry Herschel. Martin and Herschel have been replaced on Blunt's staff, though the governor has praised their work.

Martin declined to comment about the lawsuit. AuBuchon, Herschel and Chrismer did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit claims Herschel and Martin directed the e-mail deletions. It also alleges that one or more of the five defendants ordered the state's backup computer tapes for e-mails to be destroyed.

AuBuchon has previously denied that. So has the state's computer chief, Dan Ross, who has said the backup tapes have been preserved.

Several months ago, the AP submitted a Sunshine Law request to the Office of Administration and Blunt's office seeking backup file copies of e-mails sent or received by Blunt, Martin, Herschel, Chrismer and Eckersley.

Late Thursday, Blunt's legal counsel responded with a letter saying it would cost about $23,625 to retrieve, review and produce those e-mails, plus additional copying fees of 10 cents per page.

After publicity about Eckersley's accusations, Blunt in November directed Ross to come up with a way of permanently retaining government e-mails. On that same day, Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is challenging Blunt in the 2008 gubernatorial election, appointed a three-person team to investigate whether Blunt's office was violating the Sunshine Law or document retention policies.

One of Nixon's investigators, St. Louis attorney Chet Pleban, said Thursday that the lawsuit would not deter that investigation. He said Blunt's office generally has declined to provide documents without a formal Sunshine Law request and declined to make staff available for interviews.

"We're requesting a variety of documents, and were hoping for more cooperation from the governor than there has been," Pleban said. "From our perspective, there is an easy way to do this and a hard way to do this."

Pleban said he does not have power to issue subpoenas, but could sue to get records from the governor's office.

Eckersley's lawsuit claims Blunt's administration has shown a pattern of firing people for political motivations. It says Eckersley was assigned by Martin to determine who was responsible for misinterpreting how Missouri's new minimum wage law applied to tipped employees.

The lawsuit says Eckersley identified the responsible person as the director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, who at the time was Rod Chapel. But the suit claims Martin was reluctant to fire the director "for political reasons." Instead, the lawsuit says Martin fired department general counsel Cynthia Quetsch because she had served under former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and her husband worked for Nixon.

This story has more legs than a supermodel.

Jefferson City 2008 "The Year of the Wedge" (4 of 4) - Abortion

It looks like Jefferson City will host a fiery session after all in 2008.

It's been said little will happen in Jefferson City this session due to the fact 2008 is an election year - but the rhetoric from Missouri State offices are already heated.

Here's an excerpt from a press release sent by Missouri's Department of Senior and Health Services:

"Jane Drummond, the Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued a letter to Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is pro-abortion, notifying him she will not consent to or recognize Nixon's representation of her in any case involving Planned Parenthood's opposition to requiring that abortion clinics meet basic safety standards that safeguard the health of Missouri women.

The letter was prompted by a recent filing by Nixon concurring with Planned Parenthood's request to strike Drummond's chosen counsel and an entry of appearance in November in which Nixon claimed to represent the director, against her wishes. Drummond hired outside counsel to represent the department in August 2007

"About four months ago, I expressly declined your representation in cases filed by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers seekingto prevent the department from regulating abortion facilities pursuant
to state law," Drummond wrote in the letter. "I continue to decline your representation because you have a clear conflict of interest arising from the fact that Planned Parenthood and attorneys representing abortion providers have helped finance your political career and provided you political support.

"How can the department trust you to zealously represent it and fight to regulate abortion providers when you have received money and political support from the very same abortion providers the law seeks
to regulate?" Drummond asked."

A little background for you here. Several states have debated abortion clinic regulations under the banner of "making abortion clinics safe for women". Social conservatives have taken the term to challenge clinics on the basis of access to emergency treatment, mental health concerns and increased regulation relating to mandatory equipment.

Pro-Choice advocates claim increased regulation have no medical basis, are designed to put facilities out of business by drastically increasing operating costs.

The wedge issue was addressed in Speaker of the House Rod Jettons's opening remarks yesterday foreshadowing debate on the topic we're likely to hear in the statehouse this year:

"Now I am going to touch on one thing that might be a little more controversial – abortion. I think President Bill Clinton used to say that he wanted to make abortion safe and rare – safe and rare. Now whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, most people would like to reduce the number of abortions. And I will tell you that in the state of Missouri last year, we did the fewest number of abortions we've done in this state since 1975. And I guarantee you the abortions that were done were done in a lot safer way for those women. That is something we probably all should, and can, be proud of."

To Come: Tax Wars, Blunt sued by former attorney Eckersley....

New Year's Angst - Editorial

We're 10 days into 2008 and I for one am mindful of those action items 2007 left behind.
On the top of my mind are those people I've yet to correspond to. Sometimes, viewers comments are so insightful that they demand a detailed response. For those that left food for thought - thank you - if I haven't responded - it's likely that your contribution demanded meditation and consideration as opposed to a shot from the hip.
On New Year's Eve I was fortunate to have an interview with presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Though interesting, I feel it's important to have a solid understanding of subject matter and some firsthand experience before corresponding on a topic.
Democracy is everybody's business and everyone seems to have an opinion on who should be the next president though few of us take the time to cast our vote when given the opportunity. Perhaps, the most exciting part of the 2008 election is the fact more people than ever are acting upon the responsibility to exercise their civic duty and participating in the election process.
For me, having first hand encounters with the candidates was an awesome experience. For Huckabee, my first question was, "Why should my atheist friends vote for you?". The great thing about the Iowa process is that candidates are forced to mingle with common folk - a process known as "Retail Politicking". Most of us who live in small town America are familiar with this process. A politician comes to your doorstep and explains why you should support him as a leader. Many disagree, but I think theres a lot you can tell by shaking a man's hand and looking into his eyes. As a journalist, I've found the camera rolling to be a great addition. For one, you have a true account of the experience and the subject has an understanding that the answer has a permanent affect. The camera is a great replacement for truth serum.
I must have been in the room for a good hour with Huckabee until everyone at the Des Moines country club had a chance to shake Huckabee's hand. When the numbers dwindled down to ten - I hit with my question. Huckabee promised to protect the atheists right s in an elegant and heartfelt manner - the full text I dare not paraphrase as the evidence of this encounter is lost along with 40 Billion Bytes of pictures and videos contained in a 4" by 2" portable hard drive misplaced somewhere between meeting Chuck Norris and seeing Hillary Clinton address fans later in the evening.
While in Iowa, responding to two people was on my mind frequently. Questions posed by cartoonist John Logan about the nature and responsibility of journalism and KOLR cameraman Eric the Wise about the importance and impact of his job loomed at during moments between the next candidates speech, rally or visits to campaign headquarters.
Time halts for no one and yet I find myself yearning for it to halt so I can soak what wisdom their is to obtain - and get a few more things done.

Missouri House of Representatives 94th Session Opening Address

Rod Jetton opened the Missouri House of Representatives 94th session with the slam of a gavel today at noon.
..."I think that's what has allowed us to lead this state. I am so proud that we have set an example of putting the partisan differences aside and working together to solve the key issues in a professional way – not that you agree but you did it in a professional way. We really changed this state and to me that's something we should all be proud of. And I thank you because we can't do it by ourselves. It takes all of us together to do it.

Now we have a few issues – I'll talk a bout a few things I hope we can work on in this last year. I know it's an election year and people say you can't do as much, but I will tell you the gentleman from Jackson , LeVota district, the new minority leader; I can't tell you how many times he and I have talked on the phone this Fall and Summer. Believe it or not, a Democrat and a Republican can pick up the phone and talk about how we're going to deal with an issue. Does that mean we agree? Not always, but we at least talk about what can we do to solve a problem for people in this state."

Full Speech

Missouri Senate Opening Address 94th General Assembly

Senator Gibbons opened up the 2008 legislative session at high noon in Jefferson City.
Political pundits say nothing much will happen here this year. We owe it to the people of Missouri to prove them wrong. It is fitting that we begin in January, because this is the time of year that exudes hope and optimism.
The New Year is here, and all things are possible. We meet people every day who come here as advocates, regardless of past disappointments, who believe this is the year their issue will succeed. We owe it to the people who care so much that they travel here to share their ideas to listen to them and take action where we can. Were we elected simply to engage in political posturing? To test the wind or react to the latest poll? Or, are we here to give voice to the hopes and dreams of the people and look for those opportunities to make life better for the people we represent?

Full Text

KY3's David Catanese in Iowa (Video) - "Blogging is better than television"

(The above clip is of Springfield's local NBC affiliate KY3 Political Correspondent David Catanese and his personal photog in Des Moines, Iowa Caucus Headquarters. Filmed by Darin Codon 2 hours before caucusing was scheduled to begin.)
Between an interview with Governor Blunt and Barrack Obams'a campaign manager I grabbed the footage you can view by clicking on the arrow above.
Due to the fact Catanese is from Southwest Missouri and has extensive firsthand knowledge of Mike Huckabee, it's likely NBC will send him on the road to cover more of the caucus.
On New Year's Eve, while I was filming Huckabee make his first attempt at playing "Hard Day's Night" on the bass, Catanese attended "Raucus before the Caucus". The event was sponsored by the Iowan Republican and Democratic parties. A buffet and open bar was provided for members of the media at the low cost of $25. Towards the end of the video we tease Catanese about the event. We have no reason to believe Catanese partook of an alcoholic beverage.
Media ethics and guidelines news organizations force journalists to adhere to was a storyline followed while witnessing the political process firsthand.
Catanese did a great job covering the event and led the AP video wire when final analysis was needed after Iowa Caucus results were tallied.
When I first met Catanese a couple years ago, he was shocked when I told him that I didn't watch television and preached the gospel of the wonders of the boob tube. In Iowa he conceded, "Blogging is Better".
In addition to corresponding for KY3 Catanese manages a blog titled Political Notebook.