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Like much of his work, Kander's thinking on ethics reform is informed by his time in Afghanistan. As a lieutenant, he led a team of intelligence soldiers who investigated dirty dealers inside the Afghan government, meeting with political leaders who felt the presidency was off limits because they didn't have the money to win an election Karzai-style.
"I don't want to be too hyperbolic, but I've seen a system with few rules," Kander says. "I don't mean to compare Missouri with Afghanistan, but I've just seen the ultimate result, the exaggerated result, when people really feel like their government is not responsive to them at all."
Jetton's problems with the FBI had been in the news when lawmakers returned to the statehouse in January, vowing to clean up the place. Richard even started a committee on ethics reform, promising to support whatever recommendations it made.
That committee soon drafted a bill that incorporated several of Kander and Flook's ideas, giving Kander hope that reform was in the works. But then, as they often do in Jeff City, things began to stall.
One of Jetton's innovations as House speaker was the rules committee, which he operated like a chop shop for legislation that he opposed. And though Jetton had left the House in 2008 because of term limits, some of his methods remained in place: With four weeks left in the session, that rules committee grabbed the ethics reform bill and sent it back for reconstructive surgery. Once supportive of the legislation, Richard and his fellow Republican leaders began to fuss about constitutionality and "language problems."
Ethics reform became a free-for-all. House Democrats pushed for a floor debate. Republicans responded by attaching the reforms to an unrelated bill and larding on a bunch of stuff about voter identification and union elections and health care. They were trying to make the bill toxic to Democrats, who could then be cast as the opponents of "reform."
Things only deteriorated from there. When the bill reached the House floor, Republicans spoke for two hours before a Democrat was even recognized. At one point, Bryan Pratt, a Republican from Blue Springs, taunted Democrats by testing their dead microphones.
When the House ethics bill finally reached the Senate, sanity began to re-emerge. Senators scrapped the House craziness and installed a few meaningful new ethics rules. The bill, which finally passed in May, grants the Missouri Ethics Commission new powers and makes money laundering more difficult.
But the reforms taste like weak tea to Kander — especially because Missouri remains one of just a handful of states with no dollar limits on campaign contributions.
Kander left Jefferson City feeling that his work had just begun. Now a captain in the Missouri National Guard, he spent three weeks in June training officer candidates — yet another military experience that will shape his work in politics, possibly to his detriment.
"At times I may have a stubbornly rigid view of what leadership should be, how those in charge should behave," he says. "That has served me well. But it's also at times caused me to be even more frustrated."
He adds: "It just feels like in politics there's just too much room for excuses."
Kander is up for re-election in the fall. If he wins a second term, he'll be considered a sophomore. That lawmakers use schoolyard vernacular to describe their service is a hint at their neediness for popularity and recognition. That's not lost on Kander.
"I never ran for office in high school," Kander says. "But I imagine it would have been pretty good training."