This past Friday I fired up the Acura for an extra-credit trip down Highway 63 to Jefferson City. It involved meeting with Phil Brooks, the Missouri School of Journalism’s political guru, and taking in some inside-access of the Capitol. I left very early from Columbia assuming we had to be there at 12:15, but really, I messed up my schedule so I didn’t need to be there until 2. So when I got to the Capitol, I tried to get into Brooks’ office but the door was locked. I moseyed around the 1st floor and checked out some of the interesting historical displays. After giving him about 30 minutes, I left to get lunch at a great New York-style pizza place in Jefferson City, “Kate and Ally’s”. I’ve been there before with a friend of mine, and it’s pretty good. It’s not quite full-legit NY Pizza, but it’s definitely the best I’ve had in Mid-Mo since Columbia’s “NY Pizza” closed last spring – the place attached to the former Athena nightclub.
So after lunch I returned to the Capitol and promptly met up with Brooks. We waited around in his office while other B2ers slowly filtered in. Once everyone had arrived, we were off to return a legislative journal that Brooks “borrowed” from the Senate Secretary. Brooks told us that his little newsroom operation was the only oen of its kind in a state capitol – something I definitely believe. I haven’t spent much time in other Capitols but I know for certain that Trenton, New Jersey and Albany, New York are MUCH less accessible to the media. Brooks also showed us MDN – Missouri Digital News – and all its amazing information. It seems like an incredibly valuable resource for political reporters.
After looking at the newsroom and getting the others acquainted with the building, we went to the Senate debate chamber. I had no idea we could not shoot video in the Senate without prior approval – in which we must register with the Senate Majority Leader, in this case, now Kevin Engler. Brooks explicitly said that men must wear a coat and tie while in the Senate chambers – another good dress code issue to know. He made the point that there is always a Christian pre-debate prayer that everyone must participate in, regardless of their religion. Another important rule I did not know was that legislators cannot refer to each other by name – instead, they must say “the gentleman from the 18th district” and such when trying to single one out.
After stopping to chat in the Senate room, we moved on to see the House chambers – an area I’ve been before both for KOMU and for a Political Science class. Brooks reemphasized that reporters must shoot video from the side galleries. Reporters also cannot enter the debate floor.
We then looked at the Senate lounge – the room with the awesome mural, before going downstairs to the committee meeting rooms. Brooks had us find the XLR connections in the rooms so that we know where to set up audio cables if we have to cover a meeting in one of those rooms. Since we were on the ground level, we proceeded out through the garage (where Brooks would later tell us he learned of the late Governor Mel Carnahan’s death) and found the parking spot for KOMU – a spot I have been to!
I chatted with Brooks after the tour “ended” just out of curiosity about dealing with Missouri politics – he had previously mentioned that former Govs. Holden and Blunt were terrible at dealing with the media, so I was curious why/how those administrations were not open with the media, and what he thinks of Governor Nixon’s accessibility now.