Benton Mural model bids ‘fond farewell’ to his likeness

      The last living model for one of the Missouri State Capitol’s best-known artistic features paid a visit to his likeness today, giving in what could prove to be a “fond farewell.” 

Harold Brown, Junior, in front of his likeness (the baby whose diaper is being changed) in the Benton Mural, “The Social History of Missouri,” in the Missouri State Capitol (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communcations)

      In 1935, the legislature commissioned Thomas Hart Benton to paint the walls of the House of Representatives’ Lounge on the Capitol’s third floor.  Benton called it “The Social History of Missouri;” a history that he felt would be incomplete without a baby, for without children there would have been no expansion into the west.

      Enter Harold Brown, Junior, then the 1 year-old son of Missouri Adjutant General Harold Brown, Senior.  While Benton was visiting the General’s home he saw young Harold crawling on a blanket and asked to include him in the mural.  The Browns agreed and Benton sketched the youngster. 

      It is Harold’s likeness that became a baby having his diaper changed while a political rally plays out behind.

      “It’s been an honor,” said Brown of being included in the mural.  He said he likes to share the piece, and his story, with people.  “I’m fortunate to be there.”

Thomas Hart Benton’s sketch of one year-old Harold Brown, Junior, who he later included in his mural on the walls of the House Lounge in the Missouri State Capitol. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Brown, now 86, said with a wry smile that he’s “getting pretty feeble,” so he’s not sure how many more times he will be able to visit the mural.

      His father is also in the mural.  Benton was actually at the family’s home to sketch Harold, Senior’s likeness when he got the idea to include Harold, Junior.  The elder Brown is the foreman of a jury in a courtroom scene near the southeast corner of the Lounge.

      Brown also has the sketches Benton made of him and of his father.  The sketch of his one-year-old self includes blotches of paint; the artist’s reminders to himself of what colors to use for the infant’s skin and eyes.

      Benton signed the sketch, “To the Browns with apologies.”  Brown explains, Benton was concerned Brown’s parents wouldn’t appreciate his rendition of their baby boy.

Harold’s father, Harold Brown Senior, also made it into Benton’s mural. He is the jury foreman in this scene – he can be seen with his left hand over his wright wrist. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “My mother said, ‘Why with apologies?  That’s such a beautiful thing.’  [Benton] said, ‘Because that’s my style.  It’s bold and the baby is much prettier than that,’ and that’s why he signed it like that.”

      Brown said he never met Benton after he was old enough to have remembered him, “and I can kick myself.  I should have found out where he was in Kansas City or wherever he was and introduced myself to him and shake his hand.  I think he would have appreciated that too,” said Brown.  “You know, you think that you’re too busy to do a lot of things that you should do until it’s too late.”

      Brown, Junior’s bare-bottomed likeness and the rest of the “Social History of Missouri” can be seen during guided tours of the Missouri State Capitol, which are offered by staff of the State Museum.

Capitol Security an Early Session Priority for House

      An ongoing discussion about security in the Missouri State Capitol continues next week when House committees will hold hearings on two bills.

      One would move control of the Capitol Police from the Department of Public Safety to a new Capitol Police Board, made up of members appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tem, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chair of the State Capitol Commission.  Another would allow the House Speaker and the Senate President to appoint marshals to provide security and other duties.

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 05-14-2020)

      House Bill 785, which would create the Capitol Police Board, is sponsored by St. Charles Republican Ron Hicks.  He says legislators and other public officials in the Capitol have no control over the security.

      “Over the years Capitol Police just seems like it’s been kind of a neglected police department.  They’ve been the most underpaid department in, just about in the state,” said Hicks.  “One of the problems we have with it is security.  We’re in the House and the Senate and we do not have control of the security that happens in our building.”

      Former Joplin Police Chief and Director of the Department of Public Safety Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) sponsors House Bill 784, which would create marshals for the House and Senate.  He shares Hicks’ concern that the legislature has no control over Capitol security, and says the agencies responsible for that security are “fragmented.”

      “We have several different law enforcement agencies directed by a number of different entities,” said Roberts.  “Right now the assembly would have to make a request of somebody else and hope that request would be [granted].  This would give the Assembly the ability to determine for itself the level of security that it gets.”

      Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have been concerned about Capitol security for many years.  Lee’s Summit Democrat Keri Ingle is beginning her third year in the House after working in many public buildings in her career dealing with child welfare and adoption.  She said compared to other public facilities, Capitol security is lacking.

      “Right now I would say it’s one of our greatest priorities,” said Ingle.  “As someone who’s worked in crisis situations and someone who’s studied this particular problem, I would say that emergency preparedness is something that we should do outside of a crisis situation … we can’t wait until something happens to start developing a plan for when it happens again.”

      The hearing will come just shy of three weeks after people protesting against the confirmation of the Electoral College Vote that saw Joe Biden become President stormed the U.S. Capitol.  Rumors and threats in recent weeks that some state capitols, including Missouri’s, would be targeted on the day of Biden’s inauguration, led to heightened security.  No such additional attacks occurred.

      All three legislators agree those events highlight the importance of making changes.  Representative Roberts said recent events were something of a “reality check … for people who would like to believe that everybody in the world is actually civilized.  In truth there’s some fairly uncivilized people out there,” said Roberts.  “The reality of where we are was brought home to us in a pretty ugly fashion.”

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 02-26-2020)

      Hicks said the increased security during the inauguration of Governor Mike Parson (R) and again this week during President Biden’s inauguration highlights one of his main concerns.

      “The point has been proven … [Wednesday there were] probably 50 or so Highway Patrol officers in [the Capitol].  That means there are 50 or so Highway Patrol officers that are not doing what they normally do for us.  That means we’re borrowing.  I’ve noticed, too, the park rangers have been walking around in our building … they don’t even know where they are in that building,” said Hicks.  “There’s a lot of ins and outs in that building that there’s a lot of people don’t understand or even know how it operates or works.  And we don’t want to be borrowing.  What about when the time comes where all this settles back down and we’re all back in the legislature, does [security] all go away again?  It does.”

      Ingle said she has supported Hicks’ legislation in past years, but she and others in her caucus believe a new Capitol Police Board should include two additional members chosen by the minority leaders in each chamber. 

      “It’s really important that all of the members of the House feel that this board is looking out for the best interests of everyone and that we have a say in that as well,” said Ingle.

      Ingle said a “glaring” concern to her and other Democrats is that people can carry firearms into the Capitol. 

Representative Keri Ingle (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 04-29-2020)

      “There’s nothing to stop them from entering someone’s office or entering the [chamber] floor.  Obviously we have doormen, but as we were told during a security briefing there’s not really anything to stop someone who’s armed from entering our balconies.  Even though they are not supposed to, they are not checked in any way after they go through that initial security screening when they enter the building,” said Ingle. 

      HB 785 will go before the House Special Committee on Homeland Security, Monday at noon.  A live stream of that hearing will be available here.

      The House Committee on Crime Prevention will hold a hearing on HB 784 at the same time.  That live stream will be available here.

‘Trailblazer’ for women in politics inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians

A woman described as a “political trailblazer” is the latest inductee into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

The bust of Annie White Baxter, being added to the Hall of Famous Missourians, is joined by Representatives Sonya Anderson, Gina Mitten, Peggy McGaugh, and Ann Kelley (L-R). (Photo courtesy: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Annie White Baxter was the first woman elected to public office in Missouri and the first female county clerk in the United States.  Baxter was elected Jasper County Clerk in 1890, 30 years before women were eligible to vote.  She later served as the state registrar of lands from 1908 to 1916, and as the financial secretary of the Missouri Constitutional Convention in 1922.

Baxter earned a reputation as one of the state’s best county clerks.  She played a role in the planning and early work in constructing the current Jasper County Courthouse.  Then-governor David R. Francis named her an honorary colonel for her work, leading to one of her nicknames, “Colonel Baxter.”

“Today is such a proud moment in the preservation of our Missouri history,” said Wendy Doyle, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation.

Doyle said this recognition for Baxter is long overdue, and will inspire future generations.

“It is important to recognize women’s historical contributions in historic sites, state parks, and other public spaces.  We are stronger when we can see ourselves in the lives and legacies of those who came before us … we know that recognizing the historical contributions that women have made in the past is an important part of empowering and inspiring women of all generations today,” said Doyle.  “Today is a moment of great Missouri pride.”

The House Speaker selects inductees to the Hall.  Speaker Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield) said people like Baxter paved the way for those who have influenced his life and the lives of those close to him.

Women’s Foundation President & CEO Wendy Doyle speaks during the ceremony to induct Annie White Baxter in the Hall of Famous Missourians. (Photo courtesy: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

He said it was his mother who was the first political advisor in his life, “who really gave me the words of wisdom that ended up putting me on course to take the job that I have today.  I pass that along to my children, especially my three daughters who will grow up in a world where they don’t have to think about not having the opportunity to vote and not having the opportunity to run for office.  It’s moments like these that I feel especially excited about not just what we’ve learned from the past but about the future of our state and our country,” said Haahr.

Current Jasper County Clerk Charlie Davis said Baxter’s efforts lead the way for women not just in his county or Missouri, but nationwide.

“Today I cannot even imagine our country or our counties or our state being run without women … but you know there are places all across this globe that women don’t have the right.  They don’t have the right to vote, they don’t have the right to participate in any politics, and I think some of that needs to change, because I look at our country.  Our country is much better today than it was in 1890 when Annie White Baxter was the first woman elected in the State of Missouri and the first woman elected as county clerk in our country,” said Davis.

Baxter’s induction came one week after the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.  Doyle called that an event of, “great significance for Annie White Baxter, knowing she oversaw the very elections that she couldn’t even vote in.”

The Hall of Famous Missourians is located in the third floor Rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol, between the House and Senate chambers.  Others in the Hall include Walt Disney, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Josephine Baker.

House Budget Committee members frustrated by Capitol metal detectors

Members of the state House Budget Committee have told the Greitens Administration they aren’t pleased with how it paid to keep operating metal detectors in the State Capitol.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The state legislature passed a budget that approved paying for additional police officers to patrol the Capitol while the metal detectors, which were installed shortly before Eric Greitens (R) became governor, would be removed.  Greitens’ administration has paid contract workers to continue operating those detectors using money out of a fund for building maintenance.

Lawmakers on the budget committee expressed frustration not only at how the administration is paying for those contract workers, but also at Greitens’ continued support for using metal detectors.

“If the administration had come out at the beginning of the year and said, ‘We think these metal detectors need to be here,’ and there was clear communication that that was the intent of the administration, I think it’s far more likely that there would have been an appropriation for the manning of the metal detectors,” said Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob).  “The public communication that was out there was that the administration was not in favor of metal detectors.”

Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety, was critical of the administration’s decision to use money from the maintenance fund to pay to staff the detectors – a step that was done without the legislature knowing about it or approving it.

“We need to be in the loop,” said Conway.

Not all budget committee members were as upset with the administration’s actions.

Kansas City Democrat Greg Razer asked Greitens’ Office of Administration Commissioner, Sarah Steelman, what would happen if the detectors are removed and an incident occurs at the Capitol.

Sarah Steelman is the Commissioner of the Office of Administration, under the administration of Governor Eric Grietens. She testified to the House Budget Committee that the administration wants to keep metal detectors in the Capitol. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications).

“The governor works here, the legislature works here, and anyone who’s here during the springtime knows that there are hundreds of rambunctious, loud fourth graders that roam this hall … if we remove the metal detectors and, God forbid, something horrible happens in the halls of this building and one of those kids are hurt, can we look that parent in the eye and say we did everything we could to protect your kid?” asked Razer.

“No, I don’t think we can,” said Steelman.

Fitzpatrick said he is, “somewhat indifferent,” about the metal detectors being in place, but he remains frustrated about the administration funding the staffing of those without the legislature’s approval.

He did say he does not want to see Capitol Police officers staffing those detectors after the legislature approved money for more officers to be hired so the Capitol halls would be patrolled.

“I’m going to have a major problem with that,” said Fitzpatrick.