Thursday, February 17, 2011

Survey Says….

There’s grumbling among House Republicans about staffer Tom Smith.  Smith previously worked in the Speaker’s office under Ron Richard and has moved to the Leaders’ office.  He also runs Survey St. Louis, a political consulting firm.  That firm was responsible for the spoofing – showing a fake caller ID – robo-calls last cycle.


This “grumbling” surrounds the broader question of whether his consulting business is kosher in a post-Rod Jetton era.  There’s been a collective reaching for a higher standard since Jetton’s downfall.  And the prevailing ethos is that arrangements which were once acceptable are now invitations for trouble.


For example, do legislators who hire Smith for campaign work then receive favoritism inside the building?  That was basically the question that dogged Jetton.


It is however difficult to discern how much of this grumbling is rooted in ethical concerns and how much emanates from strained personal relationships.


Over the last few days I’ve spoken to a lot of people – Republicans, Democrats, lobbyists – of various positions and perspectives.

The opinions range from the grim “he’s a walking indictment” to “nice guy, consider him a friend.”  But even those in Smith’s camp acknowledge concerns about wearing two hats and the potential for conflicts of interest.


It’s said that Smith doesn’t use a government computer.  And when he offered to call me last night and this morning, he practically splashed about how he had to first leave the building before he could talk politics.  Another person close to Smith says that he doesn’t actually wield much power or influence, certainly less than he did under Richard.



Double Dipping

Legislative staffers have long grappled with the issue of “double dipping.”  Many have taken vacation days or sick days from their legislative jobs to work on campaigns, receiving a dual income.  Others look down on those arrangements and take full leave of their legislative duties before joining a campaign.


Lobbyists have complained to me about these situations, saying they felt uncomfortable with the blurry line.


Similarly during the recent discussions about pay and work rules for legislative assistants Smith was cited as someone who has consistently been on the public payroll while building his private consulting business.



Blurry Line

So while no one could give me a concrete example of Smith crossing the line in running his business and working at the Capitol, they nearly all agreed there’s an inherent blurry line in the practice.


The grumbling may dissipate as the session gathers steam and people have other things to talk about.  But I also wouldn’t be surprised if the discomfort level rises to the point of asking Smith to choose a career – public service or political consulting – to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.



Local Control Debate

Local Control, HB 71, will take center stage in the House today.  Given the build-up it wouldn’t surprise me if the actual debate is anti-climatic.  But a few minor developments…



Helpless Bystander

Yesterday in St. Louis, the Police Board met to paint a picture of the problem of governance. The police chief reported to the board that a shortfall between their budget and what the city can afford would result in cutting 65 police officers.


The mayor who cannot determine where the police department cuts from their budget then faces an ultimatum – give us what we say we need, or lose 65 cops.  This, Mayor Francis Slay contends, is the heart of the matter: there’s no fiscal accountability to the citizens of St. Louis.


He then made a motion to send a letter asking for state funds to help cover the cost.  And he couldn’t get a second to the motion, further demonstrating the powerlessness of the mayor’s office in that situation.



Fear of a Black City

Meanwhile Tea Party blogger Darin Morley posted a video of a St. Louis police sergeant with photos of Rep. Jamilah Nasheed at a New Black Panthers march, as if that has something to do with anything.



2012 Watch

Rep. Ryan Silvey will likely have organized labor on the sidelines in his Senate 17 race.  Tips one Democrat: “In 17, the real question on who can win is who has done more for organized labor?  UAW & Ford cannot have another hostile Senator like Luann Ridgeway.  What has Bill Skaggs done for organized labor - NOTHING!”




Yesterday the Republican House Caucus discussed whether to push forward with a “repeal amendment,” which would let states opt out of federal laws when enough of them disagree with the feds.  The caucus was not unanimous, but it looks like it make go on.  Read the Resolution Here.



$19,000 in, and Rep. Jonas Hughes troubles are apparently not over.  The Kansas City Star has an article today on the possibility that Hughes perjured himself when he signed affidavits to file saying he wasn’t delinquent on taxes.  Read it Here.



Cancer survivor Lance Armstrong proposed a $1/pack tax hike in California to fund various cancer research and smoking cessation programs.  At 17 cents per pack, Missouri’s cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation, and over 40% lower than the next lowest rate, Virginia. (New York is the highest at $4.35/pack).



$5k+ Contributions

MO Republican Party - $5,805 from Friends of Tilley.

Save Kansas City Committee - $15,000 from John Sherman.

Save Kansas City Committee - $25,000 from HNTB.

Save Kansas City Committee - $75,000 from Hallmark Global Services Inc.

Slay for Mayor - $10,000 from AT&T.

Missourians for Koster - $15,000 from Kansas City Power & Light.