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Part 2 of our Conversation with Senator John Lamping


In part 2 of our conversation with Senator John Lamping we discussed the China Hub, his thoughts on meeting with the Governor, and some word association with his former high school classmate Chris Koster. More exclusively, we had the opportunity to ask his wife Caryn a few questions. Enjoy.

TMT: As a Senator from St. Louis you were heavily involved in the China Hub deal. Can you tell us the story of how the China Hub issue came about and what lamping in senatehappened in special session?

Lamping: I’ll give you my version, but you’d be surprised to know that I was not involved. The Senate passed a bill that allowed for almost complete funding for the Hub, about 350 or 400 million for the hub. As you can expect it has some serious caps and some serious sunsets on lots of other programs. We passed it by some very wide majority. That was what I thought what should have happened on that legislation. I also knew that’s exactly where the Senate was on the issue. Essentially, in the regular session, the clock ran out. That’s where the Senate was, it’s not where the House was and they tried to negotiate and they couldn’t get somewhere in between and then it was over. I thought when we left that was it. I picked up that there was some negotiation picking up again after the session after a few weeks rest.

TMT: You weren’t apart of that negotiation?

Lamping: Absolutely not. When the announcement came and I read the proposal I thought there is no way this is passing the Senate ever.

TMT: When did you read the proposal?

Lamping: When it was announced.

TMT: Publicly?

Lamping: Yes.

TMT: Do you think that was part of the problem?

Lamping: When you work with a team setting, you have to know where your team is at all times. You have to know who is strong and who is weak and where they are.

TMT: Listening to your background, the whole package, would it have made sense for you to be consulted [on the China hub]?

Lamping: I’m a freshmen legislator. I’m not a power broker and I don’t have a committee chairmanship so I don’t have anything to give or anything to deal.

TMT: So were you surprised that the President of the Senate was having press conferences with the Speaker and the Governor on something you didn’t think could pass?

Lamping: There was a lot of pressure put on the capitol to get this passed.

TMT: How do you deal with that pressure?

Lamping: Anyone who wants to explain to me what their thinking or what their position is, I will sit down with them. Sit down and I’ll give you as much time as you want and tell me why you feel the way you feel. Explain it to me; I’m going to ask a bunch of hard questions if I can. I’m going to try to understand. As soon as I figure out where I am on something I’ll look you right in the face and say, “I’m with you” or “I’m against you.”

TMT: Do you support Senator-elect Sifton’s bill to ban lobbyist’s gifts?

Lamping: As you may know, I don’t accept lobbyist’s gifts. You know the way it works is if I have a cup of coffee with a lobbyist and I get my ethics report at the end of the month, this $2.95 for coffee shows up as a gift or, you know, something. So when I go have coffee with lobbyists I buy them coffee. I think one of the really positive things with Senator Sifton’s idea is that it lets the public look at that information and say “I’m ok with that,” or “I’m not ok with that.” The irony is that some would say Senator Sifton won his race because the person he defeated had the information out there for the public to decide.

TMT: What is your impression of Senator Sifton?

Lamping: I don’t know him.

TMT: He hasn’t come by {the interview took place in December}?

Lamping: One or two large gatherings with him, but I don’t know him. But as far as this bill is concerned, I think there is something to be gained by the public. Clearly, I choose not to [take lobbyists gifts]. What kind of message does it send if we can and we don’t?

TMT: What is your feeling on tax credits overall? Do you think they should be part of the budget process or off-budget as they are now?the senate chamber

Lamping: If we had no tax credits of any kind then I would be very comfortable with that.

TMT: With them being included in the budgetary process?

Lamping: No, I don’t think there should be tax credits. There should be zero tax credits. Essentially what a tax credits are the government deciding how to allocate tax dollars. It’s really hard to do. The people that do that for a living get paid a lot of money to do it. Someone like Governor Romney, for a living, allocated capital. And when he did that he failed probably 30 percent of the time. But that’s what he did for a living and it was a competitive world where everybody on the outside sees how good you are at that job. In my mind, a tax credit is government officials attempting to allocate capital and I don’t see how they could possibly have enough information to be good at it. And finally as a taxpayer I have no idea of how good they are either. So when I elect people that support these things, how do I know what their track record is? That’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where the state of Missouri redeemed almost 700 million last year in tax credits. We’ve already authorized 2 billion in tax credits this year. If it were up to me there would be none.

TMT: There was a large surprise to some with regards to the senate majority leader position. You mentioned that discussions leading to the leadership election started in June, could you walk us through that?

Lamping: Well, what all the freshman did, and this includes Senator [Mike] Parsons, was to start to get to know each other in the 2011 spring session. After about a month or two off in the summer of 2011 we just started meeting. And we’d meet about once every six to eight weeks, we would meet in different places every time. We shared our ideas with each other and discussed strategy. After the first 6 months we knew we wanted [Senator] Tom Dempsey to be the President so we asked Tom to come and visit and be part of this group.

TMT: How many members did that start with?

Lamping: Well it was just the freshmen. There were 11 of us. I don’t know that we were all there at first, but six or seven of us started to get together consistently. We went into session and we kept talking, we kept saying how we wanted to organize. We thought pretty hard about who would have what role and who would fill each position.

TMT: Do you feel a greater responsibility because of the leadership role you’ve taken?

Lamping: No. I just feel really good about the team. I like the personalities, the group has lots of strengths. I’m optimistic that it will do well, and what I mean by that is the perception of the public looking in on the Senate will say “You know what? Those guys have their acts together, I’m glad they’re there.” It’s funny but individual constituencies always like their elected official. They hate where they go and the organization they are in. I think outside observers will look in and say “Yeah, those guys are doing a good job and they know what needs to be done.”

TMT: What’s the biggest issue facing the state in the next session that you see?

Lamping: It’s not just this year, it’s going to be what the state of Missouri has to contend itself with over the intermediate and long term. What I mean by that is, we’ve been in this partnership with the Federal government all these years. Think back, 100 years ago, states were much more independent of the Federal government you know, it was before federal income taxes. And now we’ve evolved to a point where so much of what goes on in the state and state government and state economy is intertwined with the Federal government. But I have serious questions as to the long-term viability of the federal government from a financial point of view. How they run their business, they have a serious cash flow a problem.  Deficit spending is at almost 100 billion a month and it doesn’t have a budget that it runs from and they seem relatively dysfunctional as an organization The state of Missouri, we are in a partnership with them in a lot of ways. But we are going to have to prepare ourselves to be more independent of them and to separate ourselves from them. So much of our infrastructure spending comes from federal dollars. The commitment the federal government had implied they would be able to make to the states over the next 5 or 10 years, they have been not able to keep. To the extent that states have relied on federal funds to carry the ball and take the bulk of the responsibility when it comes to infrastructure. They are hurting us.

TMT: What about the argument that if you don’t join in, then you’ll be paying for people in other states? The argument that the federal government will continue to spend the largesse they take from others, but if you don’t participate then you will not receive any of the gift, but you’ll still pay.

Lamping: Missourians are Missourians and Americans. I can’t change the federal tax law, so this idea that you’re taxing Missourians…I can’t change the extent to which the federal government taxes my fellow citizens. What I’m saying to them though, this idea of you sending a dollar to Washington and to have Washington borrow forty cents on that dollar and then to have us to fight to have some percentage of that 1.40 to come back to us…. it’s just silly. It’s a process whereby when that money comes back the state is obligated to contribute towards whatever that money is contributing towards. That system just won’t be viable in the intermediate and long term.

TMT: How far off does it not become viable?

Lamping: Well, no one knows.

TMT: You’ve got a background in finance, what’s your opinion?

Lamping: As long as the government can sustain kind of no-growth, and we’re kind of no-growth. During this administration we’ve grown about 2 percent on a 16 trillion dollar economy so we’ve grown at 300 billion of yearly growth. But we’ve deficit spent a trillion dollars. Ok? So we’re deficit spending a trillion dollars to grow 300 billion, which really means we are not growing at all. If we didn’t deficit spend, we’d have negative growth. That kind of flat growth and the capital market lending us money, that can go on for twenty years. In Japan, this is what has been going on for 20 years. They’ve had zero interest rates, more or less, they’ve have 0 to 2 percent growth more or less, and their outstanding debt to their GDP…ours is 100 percent. Theirs is 240 percent. This can go on for a very, very long time. But when it ends it will happen in two steps and it will be sudden and it will happen all at once. You can’t plan for it to end if you’re leveraged to the federal government and we can never disassociate ourselves to the federal government we’re going to be in partnership with them in lots and lots of ways. But we have got to minimize to the greatest extent possible that partnership. So the priority for the Senate session is to make sure that is happening.

TMT: In your opinion is there any chance of the Medicaid expansion mentioned by the Governor being seriously considered in the Senate?

Lamping: I like what Senator [Kurt] Shaefer had to say from the beginning. He said “Ok, that sounds great, you’ve decided it’s what you think we should do, I want to meet with you and you can explain to me why you think it’s what we should do.” There’s nothing about ACA [The Affordable Care Act] that’s changed financially in the last two years. We have a real strong sense of what it means financially to the state and we have significant concerns. For example when the Federal government says it covers 100 percent of the expansion, they haven’t decided what that means yet. 100 percent of what? 100 percent of how many different drugs? 100 percent of what quality of Medicaid coverage? We’ve studied this long enough to know that there are so many uncertainties that it’s not something the state should do.

TMT: Do you know if the Governor has met with anyone about this in the Senate since he made that announcement?

Lamping: [Senator] Kurt [Shaefer] has asked to meet those on the Governors staff that support this.

TMT: Is it surprising to you that Governor Nixon made every effort possible to distance himself from the President and then within three weeks of his re-election grasp onto this as a top priority?

Lamping: I think it’s unfortunate that he chose that path. I think elected officials can change their minds about something. I also think elected officials can change their minds after an election, that can happen. Somebody could say well “You didn’t mention this when you were running” or “you had a different opinion before.” And now you’ve changed your mind. That can happen. But… not two and a half weeks after the election.

TMT: There has been discussion of bonding as a potential issue in the upcoming session.

Lamping: Sure

TMT: What’s your opinion of some of the proposals that have been discussed.

Lamping: I’m interested to see the arguments that are made, the pro’s and con’s. As you know we don’t have the discretion, the general assembly, does not have the discretion, to bond against general revenue. So the question that ultimately goes to us is do we let that up to a vote of the people? You know, I have to see all the things, I know that it is out there, I need to see the plans and that is something out there. If Senator Shaefer were to file that bill on our side I think there would be a long discussion.

TMT: You said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an article with Virginia Young about there not being a statewide recruitment process or development process.

Lamping: Right

TMT: Have you done any concrete work on that lately to put that kind of program in place?

Lamping: Well, the first thing is just talking to people. I’ve probably met with somebody every other day since the election. I’ve talked to almost all the candidates that came out of this cycle, I talked to lots of people I knew in politics and how they’d like to proceed. I think it’s a long shot.

TMT: I think most people assume that kind of recruitment happens. Whose fault is it that there isn’t something like this in place?

Lamping: I don’t know. I don’t know why it came to be this way. People say there are smoke filled rooms where the party makes all the decisions, but it doesn’t exist. The way I’ve seen it, there’s no honest broker. There are paid political consultants that do candidate recruitment. They are out trying to find the best candidates they can find and those people are very passionate about moving the Republican agenda forward. But at the same time they are also paid political consultants, so they are looking for people they can get paid to work with and for. And there are other people in politics that maybe try to negotiate this process but then they ultimately want to put themselves on the ticket somewhere. I have no desire to do that anytime soon. I’ve no desire to be a paid political consultant. I’m going to at least try to be someone that can be useful and for people to use as a sounding board, so we’ll see.

TMT: If Peter Kinder becomes congressman in the 8th district, if people came to you to run for Lt. Governor, if that’s how it ultimately comes out, is that something you’d be interested in?

Lamping: I’m not sure, that is not something I presently pursuing, but if the timing was right, you never know.

TMT: Alright, let’s do some word association. Rob Mayer, former President Pro Tem, what are your thoughts on him?

Lamping: I think he went too far in terms of his position in the Senate.

TMT: What about Governor Nixon?

Lamping: My second thought is that he is, politically, very smart. He wants to be in politics his entire life. And that keeps him from being courageous and bold. But my first thought is that he lacks courage. He has political smarts and if you want to be in politics a long time, you’re probably better served by politically smart than courageous.

TMT: Will you seek him out this session?family

Lamping: There’s nothing for me to do with him.

TMT: So visit with him, maybe explain some of the —

Lamping: No, I don’t think so. There’s nothing to explain to him. If I need him to vote for something I want him to vote for then I will.

TMT: Talk about Peter Kinder.

Lamping: Soldier. Fighter. Loyal. God bless him, he’s been in this damn thing a long time. His whole life, right? So, we got to get him on a battlefield. Quiet frankly, Lt. Governor….the meat of being Lt. Governor….there isn’t much meat in those bones, you know? So I hope he gets in a fight.

TMT: Chris Koster.

Lamping: He’s, uh. He will….he’ll do the best thing everytime for………..Chris Koster. But that’s not a bad thing for everybody else, too.

TMT: Senator [Mike] Parson

Lamping: Mike’s a really good guy. Very capable. All my interactions with him are positive. I already know he is going to be a great member of this team.

TMT: David Barklage.

Lamping: Very, very smart guy. His institutional knowledge of Missouri politics and his sense of things is as good as anybody I’ve ever met.

TMT: What about Todd Akin?

Lamping: I don’t know Todd.

TMT: Senator [Eric] Schmitt?

Lamping: Good friend. Somebody who, I agree with on the vast majority of things. And God bless him, if he’s willing to keep going in politics Missouri is better off for that.

TMT: [Former Missouri House Speaker] Steve Tilley?

Lamping: I wish he had run for office. That’s what he intended to do. But then having not run for office I think that he should have separated himself from the political world at least for a certain period of time.

TMT: [Senator] Ron Richard?

Lamping: Ronnie and I will be dear friends until the day either he or I go, and I’ll probably go before Ronnie does.

TMT: What about [County Executive of Saint Louis County] Charlie Dooley?

Lamping: I don’t really know Charlie.

TMT: [Senator] Jason Crowell.

Lamping: I’m one of the rare people in the freshmen class disappointed not to have him in the room. I also think our country is in trouble and I think we are going to have to fight lots of fight. When I say ‘we’, I mean conservative thinking people are going to have to fight lots of fights. And [Jason] is tough. I want to get on a battlefield. If he is willing to go there, I know we are really well represented on that battlefield.

TMT: [Saint Louis] Mayor Slay?

Lamping: I like Francis personally, he’s a really nice guy, but my political interaction with him has been minimal.

A few extra questions for the senator’s wife and partner Caryn Lamping:

The Missouri Times: The Senator’s face lights up when describing the closeness of your relationship. How do you maintain such a close connection with both of caryn lampingyour time stretched across the state?

Caryn Lamping: First, we talk and text all the time.  And every day, we find a few minutes to talk with each other about what was important in our day.  Second, we are both so confident in the decision we made to set up a household in Kansas City for our daughter’s gymnastics, that we don’t really think about it.  God has blessed us in so many ways that we find joy in everything we do.

TMT: What was your reaction to Senator Lamping’s entering politics?

Caryn Lamping: I was so pleased.  For years, John had been, and continues to be, the most well read person I know on all subjects relating to the political economy.  I could sense his desire to share his experience both in the private sector and as a philanthropist to contribute to Missouri government.  John, a native St. Louisan, loves Missouri and wants it to be the best it can be.  I do too, by the way, even though I’m from Connecticut.  You couldn’t get me to leave the midwest now!

TMT: Does it surprise you to see your husband’s influence so expansive in only his third year in the Senate?

Caryn Lamping: Forgive me, but no.  John is a rare combination of brilliant and knowledgeable.  That equals wisdom, in my opinion.  People throw around the word “smart.”   But to be really smart, you need to understand problems from both sides and have rational solutions, not clichés.  I don’t know anyone better at it than John.  He can take the most complicated problem and explain it to others in a way that they can understand it.  Even those that disagree with him, still respect him.  And he does change people’s minds.

TMT: What is the one thing that you would like people to know about your husband?

Caryn Lamping: He is the most admirable person I know.  I wish I were more like him.