Monday, September 12, 2011

John Coltrane or Tommy Flanagan? The Missouri General Assembly Special Session and the March Presidential Primary Bill

There is an old story about the recording of John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Pianist Tommy Flanagan obviously struggled with the progressions in the tune and it shows in the recording. Compared to the other solos throughout, Flanagan's is, well (diplomatically), lacking. The way FHQ has heard this told in the past is that Flanagan was out a little too late the night before, came in to the session late and Coltrane punished him by keeping the best of the bad takes. That the song and record went on to be celebrated in and out of jazz circles only added insult to injury for the pianist.

Now, FHQ is never one to fall in to discussions of classic jazz -- not here anyway -- but this story is a nice metaphor for what is happening during the current Missouri General Assembly special session. The Republican-controlled legislature is essentially taking the call for the special session from Governor Jay Nixon (D) and improvising off of it. As Rudi Keller points out in this morning's Columbia Daily Tribune, a governor typically makes the call and includes items in it that the legislature will deal with expeditiously. After all, the taypayers of Missouri are picking up the tab. The coordination between the executive and legislative branches, however, looks to be minimal, raising the specter of a longer-than-necessary special session. That has led to the improvisation on the part of the legislature. The only question is:

Are they producing Tommy Flanagan or John Coltrane?

In other words, is the legislature augmenting the legislative items specifically called for by Governor Nixon in ways that will ultimately win his approval or have they made changes that will be met with a veto?

I'll pass on the discussion of the more controversial business tax break legislation -- a bill that may struggle to pass -- and focus on the presidential primary legislation instead. The governor's call presented the legislature with a clean bill -- move the Show Me state presidential primary to March or leave it in February in violation of the national party rules. The House last week, however, widened the scope of the legislation to include a increase in the presidential candidate filing fee for the primary. Now, whether that amounts to a flubbed Tommy Flanagan piano solo or a John Coltrane sax solo on the other extreme will depend to a great degree on Jay Nixon's interpretation of the improvisations the General Assembly has made. The filing fee change may not derail the process, but bear in mind that the Senate has yet to consider the bill either. That will happen this week as will the scheduled veto session on September 14. The House already has a veto session agenda out, but the Senate does not. That House calendar does not, as of now, contain SB 282, the original elections overhaul bill the legislature passed with a provision to shift the presidential primary back by a month. An override is possible, but SB 282 will have to be added to the agenda and the Republican majority will have to find four Democrats in the House to vote for the override to pull it off.

The point is that there are some obstacles to the passage of this legislation. Passage of the move to March will depend on how Nixon interprets the changes to the call already made and those the Senate may add -- requiring further House consideration to reconcile -- in the process. The situation is fluid, but the bill to move the Missouri presidential primary to March is through one chamber and will be taken up and referred to committee in the Senate today. This bears watching simply because if the bill falls apart, Missouri will be positioned on February 7 on the presidential primary calendar next year. That obviously has the effect of definitively pushing the first four states, Florida and possibly Georgia into January.

For now at least, that is the less likely outcome. Nixon is more likely to get something closer to Coltrane than Flanagan, but that may change as this week progresses.

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