Thursday, May 14, 2015

The John Diehl Fiasco Was Not An Isolated Incident

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl resigned today after getting caught sexting with a 19-year old intern.  However, I think it's important to note that, at least according to quite a few people who have worked in Jefferson City, this is not an outlier in the Missouri Legislature.  Since I haven't seen this anywhere else, I thought it might be helpful to collect some examples of public comments made about this.

First, just to show this isn't a recent development, here's what Senator McCaskill wrote about her time as an intern back in 1974:
“It was the first time I experienced moments of being very uncomfortable as a young woman surrounded by lots of men,” McCaskill writes. “There were inappropriate things said to me and inappropriate behaviors that made me very uneasy.”
Part of her gopher activities included running errands to the upper floors of the Capitol:
“One day I ended up in the elevator with two older male legislators and one of their assistants. They began asking if I liked ‘to party’ and then tried to get me to come to one of their offices for some drinks. I felt trapped. For the rest of the internship, I took the stairs.”
In 2009, State Senator Joan Bray gave an impassioned speech during a fillibuster that pissed off many of her Republican colleagues.  Here's an excerpt:
I am sick of the disrespect for women who come to the Capitol defending a woman's legal right to choose an abortion.
I am sick that they're being treated dismissively and rudely.
I'm sick of the ethic around here that men are pro-life for their wives and pro-choice for their girlfriends.
In response to the Diehl story, one woman I know who was previously an intern in Jefferson City wrote on Facebook that "today's news does not surprise me at all."  Another woman with first hand experience wrote that Missouri Republicans have, "zero respect shown for young women," and added that she heard a male Missouri legislator call Bray a "c#nt" during her filibuster, causing two other male legislators to laugh.

Another commenter on Facebook mentioned that Rich Chrismer, when he was a Missouri Representative, commented to her that he had a "very good sex life" (without specifying with whom).  Chrismer recently settled a sexual harrasment lawsuit filed by three former workers in his capacity as the elections director of St. Charles County.

Of course there's the sordid tale of Rod Jetton who plead guilty of assault after "he struck a woman in the face and choked her before and during sex at her Sikeston, Mo., home in November 2009." 

Read more here:
Tony Messenger, in an excellent editorial about the Diehl episode and the broader disaster of the Missouri Legislature, mentioned an incident in which Diehl's predecessor Scott Muschany was busted having an affair with a Mid-Missouri woman and accused of forcing her 14 year old daughter to inappropriately touch him (he was found not guilty of the crime). 

And, so you don't think this is only Democrats claiming that there's a problem, former Republican State Senator John Lamping had the following comments about the Diehl story in the Kansas City Star:
Former Missouri state Sen. John Lamping, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, said the texts suggest an unacceptable political environment in the state Capitol.
“This epitomizes the culture in Jeff City,” he said. “This is what happens. … This is a high-profile, apparently well-documented circumstance, but it is not an isolated incident. It is standard procedure. It’s remarkable.”
And Lamping later said the following on Mark Reardon's radio show:
This epitomizes the behavior down there [in the capitol] and it's a bipartison set of behavior...A lot of people get into office and are very comfortable with what their status will be, and then...there's too many people who don't just go back to their homes at the end of the session and they're out and about and circumstances like this happen and they happen far too frequently, certainly, more than they ever should.
A coalition of Missouri legislators also circulated a petition today stating the following:
Dozens of talented and hard-working young people serve as interns in the Missouri Capitol each year, and they play an important role in legislative operations.  We must ensure them a safe environment to work and learn free from the inappropriate attentions of elected officials.
With all of that smoke, I think we can be pretty sure there's a fire.  Hopefully, the Diehl incident provides the necessary spark to reform the frat culture of the Missouri Legislature.  People, even hypocritical Bible-thumpers, should be allowed to do whatever they want in their free time as long as they're not hurting anyone else.  But when they create an atmosphere that systematically demeans and devalues women, the situation needs to change.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

James O'Keefe Caught in the Act

Good segment on Chris Hayes exposing James O'Keefe's dishonest editing:

This isn't a surprise for those of us who paid attention, but it is a particularly nice example.

And why is this relevant for St. Louis?  The local tea party fever that came and went (but which still has a pernicious influence on politics) was based in large part on emulation of the dishonest tactics employed by Breitbart and O'Keefe.  Any immoral action was justified as long as it was in service of their "WAR".

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

MIssouri DESE Posts Story Suggesting Nicastro Unilaterally Made Decision On Contoversial Consultant

@MOEducation, the Twitter feed for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) posted a link today to a story by a Kansas City group called "Do The Right Thing For Kids:"

The post was full of the usual, "if caring about children is wrong, I don't wanna be right" fluff of Nicastro defenders that steadfastly avoids the actual issues at the heart of the controversy, but what was especially strange is that it included the following passage:
So according to this account, Nicastro "hire[d], in her judgment, the best consultant." That's funny, because I thought that the consultant was supposed to be determined by the scores of four separate evaluators who graded the different proposals according to different criteria like "cost" and "personnel".  The State Board President Peter Herschend said the process was "open and competitive." Of course, there are many reasons for questioning whether that evaluation process was rigged from the start, but I'm a little surprised that DESE would tweet out a story that openly states Nicastro made the decision herself given that they were claiming it was a fair process determined by a scoring system.  You would think they would at least offer some correction or note stating that the story incorrectly described the process.

Unless, of course, Nicastro really did unilaterally make the decision.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tea Party's Star Gladney Witness Found Guilty of Fraud, Blames Gay And Pro-Abortion Activists

Remember when tea partiers were completely humiliated during their fabricated story about evil "union thugs" brutally beating a guy selling tea party merchandise?  One of the tea party's alleged "witnesses" of the "brutal beating" was Harris Himes, a Montana pastor oddly attending a St. Louis political event who told conflicting stories about what he saw.  After a jury took less than an hour to reach a not guilty verdict for the "union thugs," Himes sent a letter to Gateway Pundit Jim Hoft, one of the primary pushers of the fabricated story, declaring that the trial was a "miscarriage of justice."

So yeah, about that guy:
A Ravalli County jury found Hamilton pastor Harris Himes guilty on three felony counts of securities fraud Friday...

The charges followed a yearlong investigation by the state Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance on accusations that Himes and another pastor, James “Jeb” Bryant, promised a Hamilton man a large return on $150,000 of his inheritance for his investment in the Mexican-based building materials company Duratherm Building Systems.

The man told the jury this week that he was surprised when he traveled to Mexico to find the factory was nothing more than an empty agricultural shed.
Oh, and guess who he previously blamed the charges on:
Himes went on to claim that gay and pro-abortion activists may be behind the charges against him and co-defendant James "Jeb" Bryant, another self-proclaimed pastor.
Himes seems like quite a guy.  He's the perfect spokesperson for Jim Hoft's right-wing victimization fantasies.

Monday, December 16, 2013

St. Louis Public Radio Story on the Nicastro Scandal

Dale Singer has a nice story up at the newly merged St. Louis Public Radio/Beacon site on the Nicastro controversy.  There's a lot in there, so please read the whole thing, but here are a few highlights:

Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal says that Nicastro has not been honest during her time at DESE:
“My total issue,” she said, “has been her not being transparent and telling the truth. She tells school board members one thing and she tells senators and representatives something else. Since I serve in both capacities, I’m hearing both sides.”
Specifically, Chappelle-Nadal complained that when Normandy absorbed the Wellston school district in 2010, she was told that the district would not lose accreditation for at least three years. The district lost accreditation two years later, leading to the student transfers that have resulted in serious financial problems and questions about whether the district can survive.
“When you make a commitment,” Chappelle-Nadal said, “you stick to your commitment. The one thing I will never ever ever ever tolerate is an administrator who misrepresents the truth and makes misstatements and outright lies.
It doesn't look like the controversy is going away any time soon.  The Kansas City School District filed suit to prevent the state's breakup of their school district, stating that Nicastro has been working "covertly to orchestrate a breakup of (the district) into charter schools."

And Tom Schweich has asked for documents to investigate Nicastro's decision to change wording on DESE's cost estimate (or lack thereof).  There are reasons, however, to be skeptical about the chances of Schweich taking any action that would negatively impact Sinqeufield's agenda. Many reasons.

Mike Jones, a senior policy adviser to Charlie Dooley and the vice president of the state board of education, had a jaw-dropping quote:
“But the process of making the sausage is a different issue. I’m big on accountability. I think transparency is fairly overrated. Transparency is a liberal fetish. It’s way overemphasized.”
 His full quote is a little more nuanced and contains some interesting observations:
“On one side you have the education reform establishment. There is a small group of people who want it to work for all children, then there are two other groups: libertarians, who live in a fantasy world and don’t believe in public education, and corporate interests, who see education as a cash cow.
“Then you have the education establishment. They are genuinely concerned about the education of kids, except they collectively seem to lack the will to fundamentally change the way we deliver public education. They have lost the moral high ground.”
It sounds like Jones is thoughtful about this issue, but I have a feeling the transparency quote is not going to go over very well and will lead to future headaches.

Finally, I wanted to make sure to flag this important tidbit:
Sinquefield has declined repeated requests for an interview on his stand on education issues.
Rex spends millions to bend state policy to his will, relying on slick advertising campaigns and predetermined "reports" from stink tanks rather than comprehensive, honest debate.  So it figures that he would not want to answer questions about his true views.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Usual Suspects Say Open and Transparent Government is Overrated

Republican Jay Barnes wrote a blog post claiming that the Nicastro scandal wasn't really a scandal because, I guess, unions are bad, and they have secret bad motives.  How exactly the claim that unions are big meanies gets Nicastro off the hook for pushing for a no bid contract and then rigging the process is left unexplained, but that didn't stop Rex Sinquefeld's favorite Democrats from declaring that the Republican's post was a vindication of Nicastro.

Martin Casas, of course, declared that the Nicastro scandal "is a total farce:"

(note the "favorite" by the director of one of Sinquefield's front groups)

And Robbyn Wahby linked to the post saying that it revealed "the full story:"

Wahby, however, is a member of CEE-Trust, so it's not exactly surprising that she's a fan of rigged processes that get CEE-Trust lucrative contracts:

Not surprising. But worth noting.  And twenty years from now, if school privatization has gone bonkers and the schools are still a mess, it will be worth remembering.

Every Nicastro Story Should Include These Details

The Kansas City schools scandal with Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro is worse than it is being portrayed in many media outlets.  Not only did Nicastro originally try for a no-bid contract to CEE-Trust and promise a job to a guy before the job was even created, but it's pretty clear that the process that was ultimately selected was rigged to ensure CEE-T would be chosen.  Below are a few relevant details from the original Kansas City Star story that don't seem to make it into many of the subsequent reports.

Two of the state administers working with Nicastro to create the original "memorandum of understanding" (ie no bid contract), were on the panel that "scored" the different bids:
State administrators Margie Vandeven and Robin Coffman, who emails showed had helped craft the original memorandum of understanding with CEE-Trust, were two of four evaluators who scored the bids.
With those two scoring, CEE-Trust won the evaluation process by a single point, after a competitor that cost 1/3 the price of CEE-Trust received ridiculously low scores on a category that is normally their strong suit:
CEE-Trust edged the closest competitor — Community Training and Assistance Center, known as CTAC — by a single point, 70 to 69.
CTAC, because its bid of $124,700 was less than one-third of CEE-Trust’s $385,000 bid, earned the maximum 45 points under the major category of cost.
CEE-Trust earned the maximum 45 points under the other major heading, “Experience, reliability and expertise of personnel.”
CTAC received only 20 points for its personnel despite a proposal that described a 34-year history of assisting school systems in 40 states. 
Here's what the executive director of the company that lost the bid by a point had to say:
"That’s a section (personnel qualifications) that we usually knock out of the water,” said CTAC executive director William Slotnik, who had not been aware of the details of the scoring until he was reached by The Star.
No one could look at this with clear eyes and not have alarm bells go off.  So though I agree with the group of Missouri Democrats calling for Nicastro to resign, I think the other part of their request is probably even more important:
In addition, we are asking the State Board of Education to open an internal investigation into potential bid-rigging by Dr. Nicastro to ensure that an education department contract was granted to an organization she favors, despite the fact that its bid was more than three times more costly to taxpayers than the bid of the next closest competitor.
This process needs to be investigated, transparently and by an independent entity. It's sad that the president of the state education commission, Republican Peter Herschend, so far has shown no interest in transparency or openness, and has not even discussed the possibility of investigation.

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