In what was a valedictory of sorts, the two state lawmakers representing Nodaway County made their annual post-session appearance Tuesday at the Greater Maryville Chamber of Commerce legislative coffee.
It won't be the last appearance at the event for either 12th-District Sen. Brad Lager or 1st-District Rep. Mike Thomson, but, thanks to Missouri's term limits law, each is nearing the end of at least the current phase of his political career.
Unless Lager again seeks statewide office, as he did during the lieutenant governor's race in 2012, the former Maryville city councilman's political career will close in 2014 when he completes his second four-year Senate term.
Likewise, Thomson, now serving his fourth two-year term, will be forced to leave the House next year, though he has said he is considering a run for what will be Lager's vacated seat.
He made it clear Tuesday, however, that any decision about entering the race lies in the future. After all, both Thomson and Lager still have one more General Assembly session to go, and that session is already shaping up as something of a reboot of 2013.
Depending on what bills Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon decides to veto, tax cuts, gun rights, right-to-work legislation and education reform are all issues likely to surface again next year.
Just what Thomson's role will be when the Legislature reconvenes at the Capitol in January is uncertain. A retired high school coach and guidance counselor, Thomson has specialized in education issues, but this spring was booted from the House panel on elementary and secondary education by Speaker Tim Jones.
Jones relieved Thomson of the committee assignment for his refusal to support public school reform legislation that would have forced districts to base teacher assessments, in large part, on students' standardized test scores.
Thomson said Tuesday he was "not against reform" and recognized that changes needed to be made with regard to Missouri's education system. But he added that the job of evaluating teachers is best done by principles and superintendents acting under the authority of local school boards.
In the event, Thomson said his being removed from the committee may have mobilized opposition to a pair of Jones-backed school reform bills that were rejected on the House floor
"I don't think I was hurt much, and I think it may have helped swing the cause our way," Thomson said.
For his part, Lager said new education reform efforts are likely to return to the Capital next year but could well meet a similar fate.
Because advocacy groups such as California-based StudentsFirst have insisted on pushing for sweeping change, Lager said reforms regarding teacher tenure and other issues he sees as worthy of debate have been pushed aside.
"Do I believe in education reform? Yes I do," Lager said. "But we need to take it a step at a time. The perfect has become the enemy of the good, and all-or-nothing is typically not something that is going to make it through the legislative process."
Page 2 of 2 - On other fronts, both lawmakers made note of the state's improving fiscal position as Missouri continues to report increased tax revenues for the first time in five years.
Lager, however, believes elected officials are still dodging what he sees as vital issues having to do with tax reform, employee litigation and private-sector regulation, all of which he said are continuing to suppress Missouri's still-struggling economy.
Rather than creating a business-friendly climate by cutting taxes and decreasing spending for social programs, Lager said Missouri's economic development model revolves around "taking the state treasury and redistributing it to certain companies."
Thomson said he was also glad to see state revenues growing for the first time since 2008, but noted that despite a projected $250 million surplus big gaps still remain.
The appropriations formula for public schools, for example, picked up $66 million but remains $600 million short of being fully funded, he said.
He added that a $25 million increase for higher education brings the state's colleges and universities back to the same level of appropriations granted by the Legislature in the late 1990s.