Reading the recaps of the career of the late south St. Louis County legislator Jim Murphy, he was lauded for being an independent thinker and running the best little fee office in the state. Interesting how times have changed. Today, the media frowns upon sitting legislators being awarded no bid fee office contracts. I suppose its good that the media is raising its standards, although here their hindsight seems a bit less than 20/20.
He was lauded for what sounds like a wonderful idea at the time, for the taxpayers to finance a stadium and gain equity ownership in the team. If there were a franchise in the world whose fans would be good stewards of a team it would be Cardinal Nation. In hindsight his opposition to the Metro-Link would prove not so wise, however from all accounts he was overall a good public servant.
It is true the SEMO TIMES never covered Representative Murphy, never wrote on any of his proposals, and never had any trouble keeping Representative Murphy and Sheriff Murphy separate. However, if no one else is going to bring it up leave it to the paper covering southeast Missouri to remind our colleagues of probably the only vote of consequence this member of the minority party ever cast, the decision that casts a shadow over every other one, but has somehow been left out of history’s memory.
It was 1995 and there was a sense of change in the air. The incumbent speaker, the larger than life Bob Griffin was under FBI investigation and the republicans who until then were a meaningless minority willing that were all to willing to trade their votes for being a bill sponsor, or better yet an appointment, or less. However change was in the air. The minority was infused with energy by a new Minority Leader Mark Richardson and under his leadership the republican caucus grew to real force to be reckoned with.
Within this window of opportunity a coup was organized to overthrow the old system that was ran by Griffin with an iron fist. The idea was for members of the republican and democratic parties to come together in a spirit of cooperation and transparency and elect Richardson speaker to rule the house in a cooperative way, working together to benefit the people of the state instead of their parties.
It was an idealistic idea that should have never got off the ground in a body known for corruption and graft. Sort of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington meets David vs. Goliath. However, because of the fact that a few democrats as well as many republicans were willing to put the good of the state above themselves, and perhaps more importantly had the courage to do so they sprung into action on the opening day of the General Assembly in 1995.
As usual the Secretary of State Becki Cook opened the session and presided over a ritual where it was standard practice at the time for a legislator with seniority, in this case Gene Copland of New Madrid, to be elected as the temporary leader of the house to preside over the what the established cronies felt would be assured re-election of Griffin as speaker. Republican Representative Yates would serve as the republican sacrificial lamb against Copeland.
Cook held the gavel while the nominations were made everything going as the good ol boys planned. It was then that the idealistic young Turks struck. As the board light up it was clear that enough democrats were joining the republicans to elect Yates who would in turn preside over the election of Richardson as the new Speaker and usher in a new era of cooperation and transparency.
When Griffin realized the coup was real, and was about the change the very fiber of State Government he ordered Cook to lock up the board and stop the voting. Cook dutifully following the political boss’ orders kept the board locked while Griffin and his cronies reprimanded rebelling democrats and searched for a republican to turn. It took a full day, none of the democrats would budge and Griffin was having trouble finding a republican to bring over to his camp.
Then Griffin found Jim Murphy.
After Griffin and Murphy struck their deal the board magically unlocked and the good ol boys re-installed Griffin as their speaker, Murphy’s wife received a fee office, and the General Assembly would spend the next two years embroiled in the FBI’s investigation of Griffin that led to him being convicted on corruption charges. Richardson went onto lay the foundation for the future republican majority that is still in power today. He would go onto become the leading statesman in Poplar Bluff and his son is currently a member of the House.
Murphy may have been a fearless fighter of higher property taxes, a fierce opponent of public financing of stadiums, a great operator of fee offices, and a very good person. But any retrospective should not forget on the biggest vote of his career instead of ushering in a new age forward thinking governance he turned the state backward and dragged it down.