Articles about politics in the early Southeast Missourian newspapers frequently referred to "stirrings of the political pot." It meant that people were beginning to think about who would make good candidates for office, as well as speculation about who would throw his hat into the political ring.
Well, that "political pot" heated up and boiled over in the spring of 1971, when Missouri Gov. Warren E. Hearnes, a Democrat from Charleston, took exception to remarks made by Cape Girardeau's Republican Rep. A. Robert Pierce Jr. and Rep. Richard M. Marshall, R-Webster Groves, concerning the financial state of Missouri.
Pierce and Marshall accused the Hearnes administration of "perpetrating a state financial 'hoax'" by artificially creating a funds shortage to pressure the Legislature into passing a state income tax measure. Hearnes, in turn, heatedly said that was a "reckless and misleading" charge. The governor went on to call Pierce a hatchet-man for the GOP.
The accusations and name-calling led to an unusual debate between the governor and the Cape Girardeau representative. It was taped June 9, 1971, in the studios of KFVS-TV in Cape Girardeau, with Don McNeely serving as moderator. It aired that evening on the local CBS affiliate.
Missourian city editor John G. Adney wrote in the following day's edition, "Nothing was settled -- and little explained. The debate provided an opportunity for both to criticize each other without really airing Missouri's money woes."
State Rep. A. Robert Pierce Jr., R-Cape Girardeau, left, debates Missouri's money woes with Democratic Gov. Warren E. Hastings, right. KFVS taped the debate June 9, 1971, and aired it that evening. Serving as moderator was KFVS's Donald T. McNeely, center. (Southeast Missourian archive)
Published June 4, 1971, in the Southeast Missourian:
LEGISLATORS ACCUSE HEARNES OF FUNDS HOAX
Special to the Missourian.
JEFFERSON CITY -- Accusing Gov. Warren E. Hearnes of perpetrating a hoax involving Missouri's financial problems, two Republican state representatives have demanded the governor release the 15% holdback in state expenditures.
Rep. A. Robert Pierce Jr., R-Cape Girardeau, and Rep. Richard M. Marshall, R-Webster Groves, charged the original holdback action was "merely a hoax to dramatize a money shortage that did not in fact exist."
The two legislators said Thursday a study of the revenue situation indicated money actually collected in April was not reported as state income until May.
They claimed the Revenue Department "artificially created a bad month (April) to put pressure on the Legislature to pass the state income tax, then opened the financial pipeline in May to allow the state to return to a normal financial status."
The Legislature approved the income tax extension May 4.
Rep. Pierce said there was $13 million more in revenue "in the pipeline at the end of April this year than last year."
In addition, he said the Revenue Department speeded up deposits of checks from income tax returns, producing more revenue in April which was not reported.
At the same time, he added, the department recommended 15% of funds for state agencies and colleges be held back until the state's financial picture improved.
"The recent disclosure of a great increase in revenue completes the latest fiscal hoax" of Hearnes' Democratic administration, the GOP lawmakers said in a prepared statement.
"The first part of the hoax occurred when state officials complained that state revenue this year was going to be $20 millions short. This hoax was exposed last May when Rep. Pierce detailed projected revenue, showing no shortage of funds. This latest great revenue discovery just swings the hoax pendulum in the other direction."
The representatives labeled as a "farce" the department's recent claim that the revenue increase is based on Missouri's economic growth.
"No one actually believes Missourians spent 50% more money in May 1971 than they did in May 1970 and no one believes personal income is 33% higher," they declared.
After delaying reporting "substantial amounts of money" in April and holding back appropriate allotments, Reps. Pierce and Marshall contended, the department reported more money in May "in order to prove...that the state could afford to appropriate all the money recommended by the governor."
The two Republicans termed the situation an "intriguing tale of no money -- then instant m0ney."
Published June 5, 1971, in the Southeast Missourian
HEARNES WILL DEBATE PIERCE
Gov. Warren E. Hearnes is hopping mad at State Rep. A. Robert Pierce Jr., R-Cape Girardeau.
- The governor, a Democrat, and the young GOP legislator will confront each other in a televised debate on the state's financial situation. Gov. Hearnes is particularly anxious to answer Republican claims that his administration is involved in a fund "hoax," which he terms a "reckless and misleading charge."
- The governor has asked the Missouri Revenue Department to release half of the $20 million withheld from state agencies for two months because of what Comptroller John C. Vaughn had said was a shortage of funds.
This action follows an attack on the governor and the department by Rep. Pierce and Rep. Richard M. Marshall, R-Webster Groves, who charged in Thursday the Hearnes administration was perpetrating a state financial "hoax."
The "hoax" charge reported in Friday's Missourian drew the immediate ire of Gov. Hearnes, who asked Rep. Pierce Friday night to confront him in a televised debate in Cape Girardeau.
The debate is scheduled to be taped Wednesday at KFVS-TV. It will be televised at 7:30 that night.
Gov. Hearnes today branded Rep. Pierce a "hatchet-man" of the Republican party and expressed disappointment that the Cape County Democratic Central Committee, or other Democrats, have not replied to almost relentless Pierce attacks against the administration.
The governor, who is spending the weekend at his home in Charleston, said he doesn't mind Rep. Pierce being one of two GOP "hatchet-men" in the House. "But I wish he would stick to the truth."
"It is bad when no one in Cape County will reply to these statements," Gov. Hearnes said in an interview with The Missourian.
While area residents might take everything Rep. Pierce says for granted, Gov. Hearnes said the fact that the charges are not answered lends credibility to them elsewhere.
"I've waited for someone from the Cape County Democratic Central Committee to do something about the reckless, misleading statements Pierce has been making over the past two years, but so far no one has answered him," he stated.
Gov. Hearnes said he does not believe it is his job to reply to the Pierce charges but, because no one else will, he will do it himself -- on television.
The governor declined to discuss specific charges, other than to label them false, and indicated he is saving his ammunition for the debate.
Rep. Pierce appeared jubilant over prospects for the debate. "I certainly welcome the opportunity to debate the governor," he said at a news conference here this morning.
Hails fund thaw
Rep. Pierce also hailed the decision to release at least $10 million in funds to state agencies, including colleges and universities.
"They are now headed in the right direction," he said of the Hearnes administration. "They have it within their power to have the money there; if they want it paid they can see that it is paid."
The state comptroller-budget director announced Friday -- the day after Reps. Pierce and Marshall issued their "hoax" charges -- that $10 million would be released next week. This is about half the 15% cut in their allotments ordered by Gov. Hearnes for the last quarter of the year because of the state's money shortage.
Mr. Vaughn said the state's financial condition has improved in the last two months, partly because of a speedup in processing state income tax returns.
Reps. Pierce and Marshall had contended the money was available but the Revenue Department withheld reporting it until May to force the Legislation to pass an income tax bill. They accused the administration of creating a false picture of state finances.
Meanwhile, at Jefferson City, House and Senate conferees went back into session today, still trying to agree on Missouri's $1 billion-plus budget for fiscal 1971-72.
Published June 10, 1971, in the Southeast Missourian:
HEARNES-PIERCE DEBATE SHEDS LITTLE LIGHT ON STATE MONEY WOES
By JOHN G. ADNEY
Missourian city editor
The administration of Gov. Warren E. Hearnes practices "shoe box" financing that confuses Missourians and causes them to lose confidence in their state government, says Rep. A. Robert Pierce Jr., R-Cape Girardeau.
Rep. Pierce, on the other hand, likes to make people believe he is an authority on financing but really doesn't understand the state's revenue system and has to resort to "reckless accusations to cover his ignorance," says the governor, a Democrat.
Those are some of the potent verbal potshots exchanged by the two Wednesday night during a half-hour television debate here.
Nothing was settled -- and little explained. The debate provided an opportunity for both to criticize each other without really airing Missouri's money woes.
Rep. Pierce contended the Democratic administration runs a "shoe box accounting system" and Gov. Hearnes said his Republican critics should practice "more statesmanship and less politics."
The governor suggested that Rep. Pierce confine his legislative activities to other matters and leave state finances in the hands of Department of Revenue "professionals."
Declaring the Hearnes administration has caused "a lack of confidence in state government," Rep. Pierce said the average Missourian "doesn't know the financial condition of the state." Some state officials don't either, he added, thanks to the administration's "shoe box accounting system."
Shoe box accounting, Rep. Pierce explained, works like this: "The shoe salesman makes a sale but puts some of the money in a shoe box on the back shelf and doesn't count it as received or ring it up. Then when he needs the money he pulls it out of the shoe box."
The state, he said, "has a lot of shoe boxes built into its accounting system."
He reiterated a charge made last week that the administration perpetuated a financial "hoax." This was the accusation that moved Gov. Hearnes to challenge Rep. Pierce to the debate.
Rep. Pierce contended the "hoax" was created to force the Legislature to pass an income tax extension bill early in May.
The Republican said State Comptroller John C. Vaughn had warned anticipated revenue would fall far short of needs, creating an urgent need for the income tax. After the bill was passed, Rep. Pierce said, the administration "opened the financial pipeline and millions of dollars of extra money started rolling in."
"Some of this money came when the administration called in the shoe box money," he added. "This is too much of a pill to swallow."
Rep. Pierce cited a variety of figures as he pressed his "shoe box" theory. An example: the Revenue Department collected $1.3 million on March 19 but the money was not reported until April 22. Meanwhile there were administration warnings of a shortage of revenue.
Gov. Hearnes acknowledged state finances may confuse Missourians but charged the confusion is caused by legislators like Pierce.
Accusing Rep. Pierce of making "misleading" and "false" statements, the governor said: "It's the old story... if you can't convince them, confuse them."
He said when his Republican critics "have nothing intelligent to say (they) make something up."
Gov. Hearnes recalled statements made by Rep. Pierce in 1969 and 1970 in which the legislator predicted balances indicating there would be sufficient revenue to meet state needs and that a state income tax was not required at that time.
Rep. Pierce admitted his earlier revenue estimates had been in error "because I had been in the House only a short period." He said he "vowed I would not make a mistake again."
Gov. Hearnes accused him of voting against an income tax bill early in the present session of the Legislature. Rep. Pierce replied he opposed the original bill because it did not provide for the one-year extension the governor wanted. He said he subsequently voted for a measure providing the one-year extension.
Gov. Hearnes said Rep. Pierce has "a complete lack of understanding of state finances."
Pointing out that legislators work in state government six months a year (the length of a legislative session) while those in the Revenue Department are "full-time professionals," Gov. Hearnes suggested Rep. Pierce confine his interests to "legislative matters such as pari-mutuel betting and leave the finances to the professionals."
Declaring the economy of the state dictates how much revenue will be produced, the governor denied there is any juggling of funds or that "shoeboxes" and "pipelines" hold up collections.
He produced an affidavit signed by Revenue Collector Thomas Gilstrap in which Gilstrap swore under oath that he is not diverting money and that it is promptly collected and deposited into the treasury.
"I suggest, if you still have doubts, that you can take court action," he told Rep. Pierce.
Of the legislator's shoe box theory, the governor said "it is not very funny."
Gov. Hearnes said state financing "is very complicated" because it is affected by various economic situations and issues including strikes. He said he deals with these problems by following a "conservative" spending policy.
"I can't just issue press releases like a representative," he remarked.
"I am not going to take chances with the money. I do the job the people expect me to do," Gov. Hearnes declared.
He said when it appears collections are running short he can either "gamble that they will pick up" or hold back funds until he is sure anticipated receipts are in.
"I'm a fiscal conservative, not a gambler," he said.
The debate failed to explain fully just what the state's financial problems are and how they can be dealt with.
A lot of figures were tossed about -- and Gov. Hearnes and Rep. Pierce made political jabs at each other. Some observers thought the governor appeared to opening his campaign for a third term -- if he could run again.
A winner was not selected. There were more Republicans than Democrats in the small studio audience so most of the votes -- had ballots been cast -- would have gone to Rep. Pierce.
If a winner could have been selected on the basis of figures produced -- and there were many -- Rep. Pierce stacked his "ammunition" on his lap.
If a winner had to be selected on the basis of politicking, Gov. Hearnes would have won handily. His more pointed jabs drew chuckles from studio observers -- even from some of the Republicans.
Donald T. McNeely, moderator of the KFVS-TV Public Affairs Forum debate, said at its conclusion he would not pick the victor but would let the people of Southeast Missouri decide.
Within half an hour after the debate went off the air, the station received nine telephone calls -- eight of them favoring Rep. Pierce, a KFVS-TV spokesman said.
One viewer who thought the debate was live demanded to question Gov. Hearnes.
The debate was taped Wednesday afternoon. By mutual consent, Rep. Pierce was allowed to speak first.
The television debate was a rare one for the governor.
Editorial published June 11, 1971, in the Southeast Missourian:
A DEBATE OF LITTLE CONSEQUENCE
The great debate is over, and like many others, we weren't particularly impressed.
It seemed to us that neither Gov. Warren E. Hearnes nor Cape Girardeau Rep. A.R. Pierce Jr., representing different political parties, proved much of anything.
We would suggest that the Democrats liked what the governor said and the Republicans will hold that Pierce won the argument.
The debate itself had strong political overtones and in places amounted to name calling and mutual insults, which perhaps is to be expected when strong members of differing parties meet.
Many Missourians feel as Rep. Pierce does, that it is peculiar that funds appeared after the crisis of the income tax bill when the Legislature had safely passed it.
Whether correct or incorrect, the sudden appearance of the funds following passage of the revenue measure appeared to numbers of people to be manipulation.
On the other hand, there are those who hold with the governor and feel that funds normally appear at this period of year -- income tax collections show up -- and that he was not crying wolf because of the fluctuating volume of receipts.
We would suggest, in view of the new budget adopted by House and Senate this week and events as they have developed in the past year that perhaps Gov. Hearnes and Rep. Pierce were both right to a degree in their assessment of the financial condition of the state.
We question, however, whether their debate really shed much light for their viewers.
A gallery of photos taken by a Missourian photographer during the debate is here.