Kinder calls for civility in Senate

Thursday, January 10, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As Republicans began their first full year running the Senate since their mid-session takeover of 2001, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder on Wednesday called for cooperation and civility among his colleagues.

Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, made his comments during his opening address before the chamber, which Republicans narrowly control by a single vote.

In debating points of honest disagreement, Kinder urged senators from both parties to "never lose respect for each other as our sharply differing views clash inside this chamber."

However, Kinder warned that he and majority Republicans will not sacrifice principles for peace.

"Where devotion to principle and constitutional government demands it, we will oppose any and all comers, including the governor, with equal vigor," Kinder said.

Kinder has been the subject of Democratic criticism since assuming Senate leadership three weeks into last year's term and ending a half-century of Democratic control. Chamber relationships were sometimes rocky as each party adjusted to new roles. Kinder acknowledged errors were made and chalked them to inexperience.

"I freely acknowledge my own mistakes and manifest shortcomings," Kinder said. "I ask your good will and indulgence as we attempt to carry off something no member of my party has done since 1948, and pledge to return the same to all who offer it to me."

'Same mistakes'

If Kinder was offering the hand of friendship, Democrats seemed mistrustful of taking it. After the Senate adjourned for the day, state Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said the former collegial relationship of the chamber has been replaced by a partisan atmosphere that threatens the institution.

"I think you have to judge a person's actions, not his words," Jacob said. "Senator Kinder basically apologized for making some mistakes in his first term as pro tem. Since that time, the same mistakes have been made over and over again."

During a news conference, Kinder said he intentionally avoided making reference to specific legislative goals during his speech.

"It was not my intent to lay out a programmatic agenda," Kinder said. "I do not presume to dictate any such thing, even as a majority caucus on the Republican side."

However, Kinder did say enacting needed spending cuts to deliver a constitutionally required balanced budget will be the Senate's priority, as will making those cuts while still fully funding elementary and secondary education.

Optimism typically runs high in the Legislature on the first day. However, this year that positive outlook is somewhat muted by concerns over budget cuts and a faltering Missouri economy.

However, Kinder said that while the present situation isn't ideal, it needs to be put in perspective. The state survived much worse economic conditions during the Great Depression and on occasion has even been threatened with insolvency, Kinder said.

"We will get through this, but it will take working together," Kinder said.

Democrats also promised to make the budget and preserving education spending their priorities. However, they made it clear a primary goal for the session is to regain their Senate majority in the November elections.

"We are going to work to elect Democrats because it is in the best interests of the state of Missouri that we do so," said state Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler.

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