Firmest Friend to Truth
Happy New Year to the wonderful people who call the 32nd Senatorial District home. I began my fourth session as your state senator on Jan. 5, and even though I’m a seasoned legislator, I’m still taken aback each year by the beauty of the Senate chamber and the gravity of the only written words on its walls. If you receive my capitol report, The White Pages, you may recognize these profound quotes.
Nestled between artwork on both sides of the chamber’s dais, the quotes standout with trim-matching, gold-plated letters. The left side quotes the Scottish writer, George Campbell, saying “Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong.” The right side’s quote, “Free and fair discussion will ever be found the firmest friend to truth,” was coined by the Irish attorney, Daniel O’Connell. To help emphasize the phrases’ importance, the Missouri and United States flags hang below both inscriptions. It’s interesting how these centuries-old words from European activists are still relevant today. In fact, the decorum, traditions and communications of the Missouri Senate are deeply entrenched with these expressions, as is the legislative process itself.
While it takes a while to acclimate to the language and decorum used in the upper chamber, these formalities create the perfect framework for propriety and open dialogue. Each session begins with the pounding of the gavel, followed by a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, roll call, approval of the journal and the opportunity to present petitions, memorials, remonstrances, resolutions or concurrent resolutions. Before a single bill is even mentioned, the body has established a code of conduct for fairness and morality with its prayer, ability to revise the journal and invitation to air a petition or remonstrance. After each item is introduced, whether it be a bill, motion, amendment or committee report, the presiding officer asks, “Does any other senator desire to be heard?” Starting conversations with open-ended questions helps us to better understand each other’s perspectives, while maintaining civility. Senators decide when the conversation will proceed or stall with a verbal vote of aye or no.
Aside from the conversation-invoking language, our behavioral customs also support civility and fairness. During debates, only two senators may stand at the same time to inquire of each other. If a third stands, the presiding officer will ask, “For what reason do you rise?” permitting the third senator to make a motion or explain their reason for interrupting debate. During chamber debates, senators are identified by their county or district number, rightly placing the emphasis on the people we serve, rather than the name of the individual. If you attend or listen to a chamber discussion this year, you will likely hear me referred to as “the senator from Newton.”
Now, I’m not saying these free and fair discussions don’t get heated on occasion, because they do. We are impassioned public servants. However, offering each senator a chance to speak at the end of every inquiry or debate provides balance, closure and the opportunity for all to have their say, one of the most important aspects of the legislative process.
If you desire to be heard this session, please testify at a hearing or contact me to voice a concern or share an opinion. Bookmark the Senate website, senate.mo.gov, to track bills of interest, view the hearing schedule and listen to audio of committee hearings and debates. My Senate webpage, senate.mo.gov/White, also provides links to a variety of services and resources. My Community Services Directory is full of helpful information and contacts, and veterans may apply for the benefits they’ve earned by clicking on the Missouri Benefits and Resource Guide link. You may also request a courtesy resolution to honor a local hero, milestone or anniversary or search for your name in the Unclaimed Property Database, our state’s largest lost and found. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or my staff, Mike and Gina, if you need additional information or assistance navigating the legislative process.
As we delve into a new legislative session, I hope you are as grateful and optimistic as I am. Thank you for entrusting me to be your voice in Jefferson City. My votes on policies and budgets directly correlate with the input, reasoning and substance you provide, so please keep chiming in. Together, our discussions will ever be found the firmest friend to truth.
This column appeared in the Better Living publication on Jan. 7, 2022.