A filibuster broke out on the last night of the Missouri legislative session. Sens. Richard M. Webster, a Republican, and Robert A. Young, a Democrat, held the floor.
St. Joseph got a mention, though few parts of the state eluded reference during four and a half hours of talking.
Some in 1972 wanted a constitutional amendment to let a Missouri governor serve three terms. Webster and Young led the bipartisan opposition and laced their filibuster with stories of Missouri governors.
Speeches turned to Gov. Thomas T. Crittenden, who offered a reward for Jesse James and provided a pardon for Bob Ford, the man who murdered him.
Webster, a showman of the top oratorical ranks, even sang part of the song about “the dirty coward that shot Mr. Howard.”
Young asked his Senate colleague if Crittenden ever ran for a third term.
“Good heavens, no,” Webster would later recall of his part in the filibuster. “He might kill Jesse, but he wouldn’t stoop low enough to try to run for a third term.”
Webster, who died in 1990, first went to the Statehouse in 1948 as a representative. He unsuccessfully ran for statewide office a couple of times in the 1950s, but his lasting legislative fame came in winning seven terms in the Missouri Senate.
Every obituary used the same term — “powerful” — when discussing the Carthage man’s time in the Senate, that despite spending all but a handful of years in the minority party.
His clout came from his understanding of the Senate, its rules and its tradition, and the relationships he formed among Republicans and Democrats. He claimed to have attended 10 gubernatorial inaugurations, and when he called, governors picked up the phone.
Yet Webster and others like him got to be seen as part of Missouri’s problem.
In 1992, state voters got to decide on Amendment 12, a measure limiting state representatives and senators to eight years in office in those respective chambers, or a total of 16 years in both houses.
It passed with a 75 percent majority.
The thinking went that lawmakers stayed around too long, became entrenched in their thinking and gained influence at the expense of legislators representing other parts of the state who could never catch up in seniority.
Unspoken, but vastly apparent, was the fact that one party could more easily keep control of the Legislature if a long-standing majority remained in place. Democrats had the majority for decades. It was not a coincidence that Republicans gained a majority in the Senate in 2001 and a majority in the House two years later.
Opponents at the time, and in subsequent years, have said term limits serve only to limit one branch of government, that executive branch officials and bureaucrats, not to mention lobbyists, hold greater sway because legislators can’t become rooted in their jobs.
Ryan Silvey, a Republican who served in the state Senate, told The Kansas City Star, “Term limits mean always being governed by people who almost know what they’re doing.”
In the roster of pre-filed bills for the 2019 session of the General Assembly, at least three measures speak to term limits, two involving statewide officeholders and the other modifying the existing law on legislators.
This latter resolution looks to keep the 16-year limit in place but allow lawmakers to stay in either chamber for longer than eight years. In effect, someone could reside 16 years in the House, say.
Still, an interest clearly remains in rotating the players sooner rather than later. Missouri, long the Show Me State, appears content to be the Show Me New Faces State.