Politics as Entertainment in COMO
- This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of COMO Magazine.
There’s plenty of home-grown drama right here in our backyard
The classic comedy and tragedy masks of theatre represent the range of emotions in entertainment.
Modern television news broadcasts of a sensational nature are often called “infotainment.” Likewise following the political scene, and conjuring up the darned emotions — it’s often hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
The national political news produces endless such fodder. Our most recent former president was previously a reality TV star, and maybe still is. In recent years, many political races around the country have seen the likes of reality stars and internet celebrities throwing their hats in the ring, such as celebrity physician Dr. Oz in the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race last fall.
Observers of our state legislature last year described the Senate as resembling a circus, with warring ideological factions shutting down almost any other debate, including the necessary redrawing of congressional maps after the 2020 Census. Candidates including Taylor Burks and Sara Walsh filed for Congress, but later their districts were redrawn away from where they lived.
But we have plenty of homegrown drama here in COMO. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wanna bang your head against the wall, or throw your hands up in the air and go home. City council meetings routinely run many hours, into the wee hours on a school night, featuring a multitude of citizens declaring their impassioned allegiances for this or that method of residential garbage collection.
And there are channels beyond the “Trash Network.”
The “Police All Suck Channel” is an epic tale starring a cast of, well, dozens, in which each episode details how police are yet again up to no good. School resource officers slyly disguised as engaging in helpful community policing, building relationships with schoolchildren — but we know better.
A new program to help gather footage from businesses’ security cameras, which they already voluntarily provide after the fact anyway, got analyzed as “Columbia Wants to Build a Batcave.”
For premium subscribers, there’s the “Citizens Police Review Board Channel,” guest starring that seemingly otherwise nice guy, Police Chief Geoff Jones. He plays a sort of Joan of Arc, perpetually burned at the stake with rhetorical firestorm inquisitions. Alas, that action film finally burned out in a chaotic collapse, and the CPRB had to be reassembled recently with a new cast.
Each episode of “This New House” marches up a greedy land speculator pitching some project at City Hall, where we all know “developer” is a four-letter word. You know the caricature — diabolically trying to get away with building houses and stuff that happy families might enjoy living in.
Local civil engineer Tim Crockett has made somewhat of a career being so type-cast, meekly soaking up a barrage of verbal arrows. The endless flow of new residents into our thriving community don’t need that crap anyway.
It can also be entertaining watching out-of-towners navigate some of COMO’s unique traffic elements, like the diverging diamond near Columbia Mall, crossing over to the left side of the road on Stadium. Several roundabouts can catch drivers off guard, too. The puny one on Fairview is hardly round, though. You know, that’s where big pickups just rumble over the top of that big pimple in the street.
When the Rangeline underpass of I-70 was refashioned into a double traffic circle called a “dog bone,” weeks of demolition derby broke out.
While just down the street at the Boone County Commission, citizens apparently find those meetings about as captivating as watching paint dry, so their ratings are always abysmal.
The public library used to be ditto, until a group of workers said they felt unsafe during Covid, and generally aren’t paid enough. So now everybody is figuring out how their new labor union is supposed to work there. Then the Secretary of State proposed book decency rules, which got everybody stirred up. Not quiet there anymore …
The Columbia Board of Education also used to avoid drama. That did pick up when some parents questioned unfortunate trends within special education; and then again more with questions about pandemic-extended school closures and mask requirements. The district reigned in these wild cards with new requirements for public speakers. And Eric Schmidt stopped suing them after moving out east.
But just when serenity seemed restored, former State Rep. Chuck Basye up and decides to put in for school board.
After contacting the district office about coming in to file before the 5 p.m. deadline on December 27, he was informed that he actually needed to have made an appointment to do so by the 22nd. It turned out the district office was closed on the 27th anyway. While locked out in the cold, Mr. Basye called a friend for advice, reaching out to none other than Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Missouri’s top election official, who was at the time out in the boonies hunting. Mr. Ashcroft, the son of a former governor (and possibly our next one), advised Bayse — the former chair of the House Education Committee — to immediately make a beeline to the county clerk’s office to file there.
Not accustomed to school board election filing, a friendly staffer went above and beyond to figure it out, seemingly beating the clock — maybe. The next day, though, the school district informed Basye it would not be accepting his candidacy. So he is engaging with an attorney, applying the Perry Mason treatment, to file a lawsuit that these filing requirements violate state law.
Shortly after, he and long-time other-side-of-the-aisle rival, Stephen Webber, traded barbs in a sophomoric pissing match on Facebook.
Sound like a plot for a made-for-TV movie? This stuff can’t be made up. In fact, a local politico declared she is “stocked up on popcorn to watch this next school board election.”
As entertaining as movies, sports, theatre, and people-watching on the front porch might be, the local political scene often beats all.
Steve Spellman is a lifelong Columbia-area resident and political observer.