Stories found in unusual locations

By Phill Brooks
    Wandering Missouri's statehouse continually reminds me of the unusual locations for my stories. I learned the importance of Capitol hideaways from Gov. Warren Hearnes in the early 1970s.

    When the House was in session, he regularly took over a House member's office directly across from the chamber. As a former House majority leader, he knew how to personally cajole and negotiate with lawmakers.
    That office became a go-to location for me to discover the governor's efforts by talking with legislators as they left their meetings with Hearnes. From that experience, I learned the value of regularly walking the legislative hallways to see if a governor was meeting with lawmakers to win votes or cut deals.
    The location that triggers my strongest memory is the Capitol's basement garage. That's where state officials and top legislators park their cars. So it's a great place to catch top players in government at the end of the day.
    That garage haunts me because it's where I learned on October 16, 2000 that Gov. Mel Carnahan had died. Late that evening, I went to the Capitol garage after a tip that Carnahan had been in a plane crash.
    I soon encountered Secretary of State Bekki Cook driving into the garage. A dear friend of the Carnahan family, she was in tears. She did not need to say much to me.
    I realized the only reason for her to be in the vacant Capitol that late in the evening was for a meeting of the Disability Board of state officials to declare the governor unable to perform his duties.
    Shortly later Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson arrived. Rather than driving to his normal parking spot, a Highway Patrol officer drove the car and parked it in the governor's spot.
    That was poignant since the Patrol provided security only for governors and their families. Exiting the car, Wilson sadly nodded his head to me confirming the tragedy.
    Other locations in the Capitol that flood my memories are less somber.
    At one time, lobbyists would flood into the few legislative offices where they could smoke and drink. They were go-to places for immediate access to powerful players in the legislative process.
    In those rooms I developed relationships that could last for years to help me better understand what's going on. Elevators are a tremendous place to ask a quick question or two as legislators move between their offices and the chamber.
    Recently, a brief elevator conversation confirmed for me rural concerns about the potential condemnation of farm land from the House Speaker's hyperloop transportation proposal.
    For one state official, a statehouse sidewalk became an invaluable location.
    It was the path Gov. Joe Teasdale would walk every day to the Catholic church next to the Capitol when he was in office in the late 1970s. Teasdale limited press access.
    But he was such a considerate person that I knew he would not blow off my student reporters and their cameras waiting on the sidewalk to ask him questions while walking to church.
    My most unusual location for a Capitol news story was a Senate urinal! It was there, in 1973, that I interviewed Senate President Pro Tem Bill Cason as to why he ordered staff to block the lieutenant governor from the chamber that day to preside.
    Cason refused to leave the chamber for reporter questions. But I knew that at some point he would need to relieve himself. So, I kept watch on the Senate bathroom where Cason ultimately went.
    Standing next to the urinal, he did not object to my inquiry and provided  a blunt explanation.
    During the years I supervised journalism students, I'd recount these stories during orientation tours of the Capitol.
    Besides showing them the unusual locations to get information, it also reinforced that wandering the hallways and poking into crannies is where you can discover what's really going on and develop lasting sources.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.

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