Sen. Richard M. Webster, R-Jasper, was a noteworthy lawmaker in many ways.
His Senate tenure spanned 30 years. A one-man tour de force, he was respected by his colleagues and feared by his adversaries.
As minority leader, even when barely one-third of the Senate seats were held by his party, neither rule nor bill passed the Senate without Richard Webster allowing it to pass.
Webster was tall, lanky and bore a remarkable resemblance to a clean-shaven Abraham Lincoln. His slow country manner and plain, straight talk hid a creative and keen wit he never hesitated to direct at his political opponents.
In floor debate, he spoke at length with tales of Missouri history and myth, sometimes to kill bills, sometimes to give others a chance to cool down when debate became too heated.
Webster was a masterful storyteller. One of his favorites involved a conversation he claimed took place in his district, when one of his constituents asked what the Legislature had done that week.
Webster said he explained to the man that lawmakers hadn't done a thing to speak of during that entire week.
"Keep up the good work," was the constituent's reply.
It was classic Webster – a bit of irony from a complex and powerful man who referred to himself as "just a simple country lawyer," and who used that tale time and again on the Senate floor to remind his colleagues that sometimes in the Legislature, less is more.
This year's session of the Missouri General Assembly might well meet with the approval of Sen. Webster's mythical constituent.
In the Senate, 582 bills have been filed, along with 26 concurrent resolutions and 27 senate joint resolutions.
At the time of writing – with two weeks and one day remaining in the session, seven of those 582 filed Senate bills have been finally passed. Two of the 26 concurrent resolutions have finally passed and no Senate joint resolutions appear to have been finally passed.
In the House this session, 1,464 bills have been filed, along with 68 House concurrent resolutions and 54 House joint resolutions.
Of these 1,464 House bills, all 18 budget bills have been finally passed. In addition, six regular House bills have been finally passed, Three House concurrent resolutions have passed and no House joint resolutions have finally passed.
It should be noted that of the six non-budget House bills passed, three pertain to ethics. At the beginning of this year's session, the House Speaker declared that ethics legislation would be a priority and ethics bills would receive expedited treatment.
One of these bills, HB 1979, prohibits lawmakers, statewide officials and officials whose appointment requires Senate confirmation from registering as a paid lobbyist until six months after their term of office expires. Members of the General Assembly and statewide elected officials are prohibited from soliciting paid lobbyist positions while they are in office.
HB 1983 prohibits statewide elected officials, lawmakers and candidates for those offices from working as paid political consultants for others in or seeking those offices or any campaign or candidate committee.
HB 2203 restricts cash management of campaign funds. The measure requires the funds to be liquid, readily available and invested in nothing riskier short-term cash equivalent instruments. The bill tightens restrictions on transfers of fund between committees.
In fairness, most of the bills passed in any session of the Missouri General Assembly are approved in the last weeks of the session. Further, the simple numbers of bills passed tell nothing of the quality of legislation or the complexity of the issues the measures are intended to address.
This year's legislative session will end at 6 p.m. Friday, May 13. We won't know until then whether the results of this year's session meet the less-is-more standard contained in the tale of Webster's constituent.
Even more importantly, not-so-mythical constituents will get a chance to pass judgment on this session when they go to the polls this fall. And that's the opinion that matters most.
After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.