Well, the Missouri legislature stepped in it again this week.
If you’ve been anywhere near the Internet, you know about the brilliant suggestion from Rep. Bill Kidd, a Republican from Independence, whose proposed remedy for recent bad behavior by male lawmakers toward female college interns was “intern dress code.”
Rep. Nick King, a Republican from Liberty, thought Kidd’s idea was grand.
“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” King said in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”
Ridicule ensued, the Twitter hashtag #MoLegDressCode went viral and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill sent scathing letters to Kidd and King, pointing out that the men and women elected to draft Missouri’s laws really should be able to cope with a college student going sleeveless. By late afternoon Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson had issued a statement affirming that there will be no intern dress code.
End of story.
Except I keep coming back to King’s comment about removing “one more distraction.”
One more distraction? How many are there?
Oh my goodness. So many, once you start counting them up. To be a Missouri lawmaker is to fend off distractions all day long.
There is the “where is my next free meal coming from?” distraction. And its companion: Who’s paying for drinks tonight? Also: Can I score freebie playoff tickets for the (pick one) Royals/Cardinals?
These are distractions that pop up when your state has almost no laws governing what lobbyists can do for lawmakers. Legislators frequently say they want to impose some limits on lobbyist gifts, but they never get around to it. And who can blame them, with all the distractions?
Just put yourself in a legislator’s place. You’re sitting at your desk in the House or Senate chamber, trying to focus on a debate about tax credits or education policy or some such thing. And you get to thinking, “I wonder if anyone contributed to my campaign committee today?”
So you sneak a quick peek at the Missouri Ethics Commission website, which is where donations are recorded. And there it is! A major health insurer has just dropped a few thousand into your account. Because this is Missouri and, unlike in some other states, there’s no ban on lawmakers receiving donations during the legislative session. There’s no limit on the amount of the donation, either.
So now you can’t think about anything except that bill to expand managed care coming up in a couple of weeks.
See what I mean? Distractions, distractions.
They are nearly impossible to avoid in the Missouri Capitol.
You walk through the rotunda and some group or other is dishing out free barbecue, distracting you from your diet and your legislative principles.
People come to your office wanting stuff, like expansion of Medicaid eligibility limits. A couple of years ago, a group of ministers and other do-gooders concerned about that issue interrupted Senate proceedings by singing “Amazing Grace” in the visitors’ gallery.
How is a legislator supposed to concentrate on fundraising for the next campaign and/or lining up a decent lobbyist job with shenanigans like that going on?
And don’t even talk about finding a fix for crumbling highways or runaway tax credits. That’s hard work!
Besides, there’s no time. Elections are coming up in 2016, and lawmakers have to ramp up the politicking. And the big legislative project this summer is figuring out how to stop legislators from sending racy texts to interns or otherwise propositioning them.
Because scandals, as Missouri lawmakers have come to understand in recent months, are such a distraction.