April 1, 2015

Missouri Democrat leader discusses focus on state legislative races (VIDEO)

The Missouri Democratic Party hopes to take some of the seats currently held by a large Republican majority in both chambers of the state legislature.

Chairman Roy Temple says there is a real opportunity for his party to make headway in those races. One issue that he thinks works in his party’s favor is Medicaid expansion.

“Medicaid is just a great example of where the current majority has worked around an ideological agenda instead of focusing on practical problem solving that would benefit Missouri families, Missouri communities and Missourians,” says Temple. “I think Medicaid is a great example of that but it’s not the only one.”

Several House Republicans have said they support some level of Medicaid expansion, perhaps coupled with reform. Temple thinks they’re only trying to defuse that as an issue in their races.

“They’ve come to realize that is a case that can be made against them, that they can be held accountable for their failure to act and for the harm that they’ve inflicted on Missourians in terms of healthcare,” says Temple.

He expects support from key, current Democratic office holders in state legislative races, and that includes support from Governor Jay Nixon (D).

“Governor Nixon clearly understands the harm that’s being inflicted by the current supermajorities in the General Assembly,” says Temple. “In fact there’s a fair argument that he understands it better than any other person in the State of Missouri because he has to deal with the consequences of their actions more directly than perhaps anyone else.”

Nixon has been criticized in the past for not coming to the aid of fellow Democrats in campaigns. Temple doesn’t comment on such critiques.

“I really have no interest in looking behind me or watching in the rear view mirror. I’m interested in looking forward,” says Temple. “We have an opportunity before us and I’m trying to marshal every available resource and every person who’s willing to assist us in that effort.”

Senators Blunt, McCaskill offer amendment to keep fighter production in St. Louis going

Missouri’s U.S. Senators are recommending money be appropriated to keep construction of a high-tech fighter jet continuing in St. Louis County.

A Boeing EA-18G Growler (courtesy; Wikimedia Commons)

A Boeing EA-18G Growler (courtesy; Wikimedia Commons)

Senator Roy Blunt’s (R) office estimates 15,000 north St. Louis County jobs are tied to production of Boeing’s EA-18G Growlers – fighters capable of jamming enemy electronics. Boeing has orders for the plane through 2016 but could have to cease production while waiting for new orders to come in.

Senators Blunt and McCaskill have offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to authorize 100-million dollars to keep production open.

Current budget rules mean finding that money could be difficult. McCaskill says the Navy wants more Growlers, but it could have made that desire more loudly stated.

“I’m frustrated the Navy did not put them in their budget but they did put them number one on their unfunded priorities. Well the tricky part of that is ‘unfunded,'” says McCaskill. “That means we’ve got to steal money from something else in order to put money into that.”

She says the Growler provides a vital service to U.S. defense.

“There is no other aircraft that can do what the Growler can do. There is no other aircraft that serves any of our branches of the military that can really perform electronic warfare, that can jam radar systems, that can do what we need done in cyberspace,” says McCaskill.

The Senators’ amendment would also urges several steps that could encourage future Growler purchases and production.

The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Buck McKeon (R-California) has recommended $450-million be included in the 2015 federal budget to pay for five EA-18Gs.

Missouri senators agree on handling of military sexual assaults

Missouri’s Senators are in agreement on what they see as the better of two proposals to combat sexual assaults in the military.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D) is the sponsor of one of two amendments to the 2014 defense spending bill that would lay out how allegations of sexual assaults in the military would be handled, and by whom. Her proposal would leave with military commanders the authority prosecute cases while stripping them of the power to overturn jury convictions. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) proposes giving military prosecutors oversight.

The issue was debated for much of Wednesday but an effort to hold a vote failed. A vote could come before Thanksgiving.

Senator Roy Blunt (R) spoke on the Senate floor in favor of McCaskill’s amendment, saying she and Gillibrand only disagree on how to fix what all senators agree is a problem.

“We all believe this problem’s got to be solved. I think we all believe the (underlying) bill takes a significant, strong step toward doing that. I think most senators are going to agree that the McCaskill amendment adds another element there.”

Both Missouri senators sit on the Armed Services Committee.

Longtime Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton dies (link to AUDIO)

A longtime Congressman who represented west-central Missouri for 34 years has died. Ike Skelton served 17 terms as the representative for Missouri’s 4th Congressional District. He died Monday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Virginia, at the age of 81.

Former Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton

Former Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton

The cause of his death has not been released, but longtime congressional staffer Russell Orban said he entered the hospital a week before his death.

Skelton was a conservative Democrat who specialized in military issues, serving as chairman of the House Armed Service Committee from 2007 to 2011. He was recently elected chairman of the National World War I Centennial Commission.  His memoir, Achieve the Honorable:  A Missouri Congressman’s Journey from Warm Springs to Washington, was just published two weeks ago.

Listen to Skelton’s 2010 farewell to Congress and read Brent Martin’s story on it

In 2010 Skelton took the floor to say farewell. He told his fellow lawmakers he had “lived a charmed life,” but as a youngster, learned how one’s life can change in an instant when he contracted polio. He said he learned important lessons about life while being treated at the Warm Springs Foundation in Georgia, “Never let illness define you, never be limited by the expectations of others, never give up and never stop working.”

Polio prevented Skelton from joining the military as he had wanted. During his career he was known as an advocate for the military and a defender of Missouri’s bases. In his farewell address he spoke with reverence about the armed forces and the need for civilians to support them.

“The men and women in uniform who form the backbone of our security can not devote all to protect us if we fail to provide what they need to perform their missions, stay safe in the field and take good care of themselves and the families at home. Keeping America safe demands a national committment to military readiness.”

He added, “I’ve always considered each young man and woman in uniform as a son or daughter. They are national treasures and their sacrifices can not be taken for granted. They’re not chess pieces to be moved about on a board. Each one is irreplaceable.”

Of his long time spent in Washington D.C., Skelton said, “You can’t do the job as a member of Congress for so many years unless you love it, and I do. It’s a labor of love, and to paraphrase my fellow Missourian, Harry Truman, I’ve done my damnedest every single day. I will forever be grateful for the trust Missourians have placed in me through the years and for the opportunity to serve Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, U.S. House of Representatives and the United States of America.”

In a statement, Governor Jay Nixon (D) called Skelton a “role model,” who “inspired us all with his quiet dignity and tireless commitment to America’s men and women in uniform.” Nixon added, “Congressman Skelton embodied the true meaning of public service and will forever be remembered as a leader who left a legacy of greater prosperity and security for his district, our state and our nation.”

Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple called Skelton a, “Missourian, a statesman and a champion of a strong and sensible national defense, and above all he was a gentleman.” Temple calls Skelton’s passing, “A loss for Missouri and the nation.”

Missouri’s two Senators also remember Skelton in statements. Senator Roy Blunt (R) says, “It was a great privilege to serve Missouri in the Congress with Ike Skelton and to benefit from his friendship and advice. No member of Congress was more dedicated to America’s defense and those who defend us than Ike Skelton. He loved our country and its history and will be remembered for his contributions to both.”

Senator Claire McCaskill (D) says, “Missouri lost a giant. Ike Skelton represented the very best of Missouri and fought tirelessly for the state he loved. Those of us lucky enough to call him a friend know that he lived the Missouri values of compromise and common sense, and in his half-century of service he showed how Missouri could be a leader in contributing to the safety and security of our nation. I join all Missourians in sending my thoughts and prayers to Patty and the rest of Ike’s family. I’ll miss him dearly.”

Skelton was defeated in 2010 by Republican Vicky Hartzler. She issued a statement as well, calling Skelton a, “respected friend,” and saying, “I have appreciated our conversations over the past two-and-a-half years and the commitment we shared to see Missouri’s 4th District prosper. I am thankful for Ike’s tireless efforts on behalf of our men and women in uniform and know our country is safer as a result of his unwavering leadership. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

Skelton was born in Lexington on December 20, 1931. He was first elected Lafayette County prosecutor and later to the Missouri Senate before being elected to Congress in 1976. After losing his seat in Congress he had joined a Kansas City law firm and maintained homes in Lexington and in Virginia.

He died surrounded by his wife, Patricia, his sons and their families as well as Orban.

U.S. Senate Democrats split on proposals to handle military sexual assaults (VIDEO)

A rift has formed between U.S. Senate Democrats over the best way to improve the military’s handling of sexual assault cases.

Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) are joined by retired military women who support Sen. Ayotte's proposals for the handling of military sexual assaults.  (photo courtesy: the office of Senator McCaskill)

Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) are joined by retired military women who support the Armed Services Committee’s proposals for the handling of military sexual assaults. (photo courtesy: the office of Senator McCaskill)

Military unit commanders have the say in whether prosecution of soldiers under their command for serious crimes, proceeds. One proposal from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) would give that final decision to Judge Advocate General attorneys.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) backs proposals that she helped write,  in a defense bill approved last month by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Those make other changes but keep the decision whether to proceed with prosecution with commanders.

McCaskill says it will better serve victims in several ways, including affording greater protection to victims from retaliation.

“If you’ve been victimized and you go back in the unit, do you think it’s more likely you’re going to get retaliation if a bunch of outside lawyers have said to go forward or if the commander has said to go forward? A level of protection comes to the victim because the commander has said, ‘We’re going to get to the bottom of this.'”

McCaskill also refutes arguments made by backers of Gillibrand’s proposal that countries using systems that hers would mirror would see more reporting and prosecution of assaults.

“None of the nations that have changed their systems have had an increase in reporting. The data does not support that position. Secondly we know that literally dozens and dozens and dozens of cases just in the last two years, prosecutors turned down the cases and commanders said, ‘Go ahead.’ We know that if prosecutors are the last say, that we will have fewer prosecutions.”

Several retired military women joined Senator McCaskill at a media conference to offer their support for the proposals.

Retired Army Judge Advocate Lisa Schenck

Retired Army Judge Advocate Lisa Schenck

Retired Army Judge Advocate Lisa Schenck says those proposals would empower victims, including through the requirement that a Special Victims’ Counsel be provided to offer legal advice and assistance to service members who are victims of sexual assault by a member of the U.S. military.

“They need to go to their attorney, their counsel, and they need to be told where they can report. There are nine other places to report aside from the chain of command in the Army … the other thing they need to be told is, they can initiate the court-martial process themselves by preferring charges … they don’t have to wait for the JAG office, they don’t have to wait for the commander, and that’s what that victim counsel is going to tell them.”

Both plans have bipartisan backing.

McCaskill’s position has earned her criticism from some former supporters, including a Navy veteran who was raped in 1986, campaigned for McCaskill last year and now has been featured in a half-page ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calling McCaskill’s approach misguided.

The Armed Service Committee’s proposals would still strip commanders of authority to dismiss court-martial convictions for most offenses and require that any case in which a commander overrules the advice of a Staff Judge Advocate to proceed to court-martial be referred to the civilian Service Secretary for a final decision.

Other changes they would make are:

· Make it a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to retaliate against a victim who reports a criminal offense

· Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court-martial, to provide written justification for any modifications made to a sentence

· Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court-martial, to receive input from the victim before arriving at any decision during clemency proceedings

· Require that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge

· Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child

· Ensure the military has the authority to move an individual accused of sexual assault from a unit to protect a victim from unwanted contact with their alleged attacker, while sustaining a victim’s right to request expedited transfer

· Provide for study of the military’s ability to create a database of information regarding those accused by victims in restricted military reports-meaning the victim chooses to not have the information given to law enforcement, commanders, or others to facilitate potential prosecution-such that serial offenders might be identified and victims might be encouraged to make unrestricted reports that allow for prosecutions in those cases

· Express the Sense of the Senate that commanding officers are responsible for a command climate that appropriately handles sexual assault, that failure of a commanding officer to maintain such a command climate is an appropriate basis for relief of their command position, and that command climate should be a consideration in a commander’s performance evaluation

· Remove the past performance and character of an accused from those factors that may be considered by a commander, when serving as a military courts-martial convening authority, in deciding whether to refer a case to court-martial

· Provide that in sexual assault cases in which a Staff Judge Advocate and a Commander, when serving as a military courts-martial convening authority, agree that a case should not proceed to court-martial, the next higher military commander also review this determination

See the media conference, courtesy of the office of Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire):