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Thanksgiving

Each fall, as our homes fill with the sights, smells and sounds of the impending holiday season, we also find ourselves counting our blessings.

Thanksgiving brings friends and family together again to join in a feast. While our blessings are abundantly clear during these events, it also reminds us to be thankful daily.

Although many of our day-to-day activities can be the source of frustration, we should realize that many are in fact blessings in disguise and should be viewed as such. Consider the following:

The farmer on his tractor that inches his way along the twisty and narrow two-lane highway may have caused you to be late for work, but his hard work and the years of back breaking labor on that old rusty tractor has allowed for the feast on your table to be as plentiful this year as it was last.

After a hectic day of work, you run to the corner store, but they are out of nearly all of the items on your list. Be thankful for the small town corner store, the jobs it provides and the history it holds. Many have been forced to close their doors the past few years turning the “quick trip to the store” into a 30 minute drive to the nearest gas station/convenience store, hoping they have the items you need.

The frustration of another busier than average day at work, causing you to work later than anticipated. Be thankful and count your blessings. In the past few years, many people have lost their jobs, and too many of them are still looking for work. There are those who would call you blessed to have the very job that is sometimes so frustrating.

For those of us who are older, it is easy to caution our children to have patience with their own young ones. The loud noises, doors slamming, cries in the middle of the night and what seems like an endless list of needs and wants, from our children, no matter their age, are blessings and moments to cherish.

Our families are truly the most divine blessing any of us could have. I hope you take the time this holiday season to count your blessings and spend time making more memories. Next year, those memories will be additional blessings for which to be thankful.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol, however during interim I may be in district. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.

2014 General Election Produces Historic Republican Majority

It was just a few days ago that more than 1.4 million Missourians made their voices heard by voting in the November general election. That sounds like an impressive number, but voter turnout was actually a bit lower than expected this year. Our Secretary of State’s Office had anticipated slightly lower than 40 percent turnout, and the final tally amounted to turnout of just more than 35 percent. Ultimately, that means that while more than 1.4 million Missourians voted, another 2.6 million registered voters opted not to participate in the election. These are numbers we want to continue to work to improve by keeping voting a process that is easy and accessible to all while also making elections safe, secure and free from voter fraud.

The Missourians who did take the time to cast their ballots sent Republicans to the state House in record numbers. Never before in the history of Missouri have we seen this many Republicans hold office in the Missouri House. The 117 Republicans elected to serve increased further when a conservative Democrat switched parties the day after the election. The 118-member super majority represents the most members either party has had in the House since 1965-66 when Democrats held 123 seats. It also represents the second highest percentage of seats held by Republicans. The only greater majority for Republicans occurred in 1921-22 when they held 104 out of 142 seats or 73.2 percent of the total seats in the Missouri House. For the 98th General Assembly, Republicans will control 72.4 percent of the 163 seats.

What this means to me and my colleagues is that the people of Missouri have said they believe in the pro-growth, pro-jobs, fiscally conservative, family-oriented values that Republican legislators have fought to defend for more than a decade now as they have controlled the legislature. While we don’t have our agenda for the upcoming session set in stone at this time, we do know that a few key areas will receive our attention:

• Economic development incentives that invest in small business

• Education initiatives that keep decisions on the local level while also improving job readiness;

• Developing new ways to bolster our vital agriculture industry; and

• Continuing our efforts to move our state toward energy independence.

These are just a few of the goals mentioned by the new members of House leadership that we selected the day after the election. You can be certain that the list will grow and change in the coming weeks as the Republican caucus continues to discuss its priorities, and we continue to take input from the people who have entrusted us to serve as their voice in the halls of government.

As always, you have my most sincere thanks for your support and I look forward to again serving you and your family, as well as all of the communities in our district. The next few weeks will be a busy time as we enjoy the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but I want to remind you that my door is always open, and I am always ready to take your call or email if you have something you want to discuss. I am here to serve you and I greatly value your input on issues both great and small. Please keep that in mind and don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks again for giving me the immense honor of serving as your state representative.

As always, it is an honor to serve the good folks of the 153rd District. If you would like to discuss any issue, please call 573-751-1066 or you can e-mail me at steve.cookson@house.mo.gov .

A History of Thanksgiving

It’s no secret that one of the very first acts of Congress, dating back to 1789, resolved to ask Mr. President for a selected day to celebrate Thanksgiving. A few days later, Washington fulfilled this request, calling November 26th a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.” It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln, though–in the middle of the Civil War, that the first annual National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise was proclaimed. I offer Lincoln’s words for your perusal:

“… No human counsel have devised nor have any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens and every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly do to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as it may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Holiday.

(Mountain Home) – On Tuesday, November 25, Cotter and Flippin students, grades 8-12, have been invited to participate in a Career Cluster Camp at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home. More than 64 students are expected to attend.

The Career Cluster Camp will cover hands-on projects that mimic work a student might do if they selected a career in the Arts or Health Sciences. Projects will be coordinated by local volunteers who currently work in the fields being covered.

A Production Camp is slated for students interested in careers in the Arts, Audio/Video Technology, and Communications. Volunteers for the Production Camp include:

  • Rickey Crawford and Mason Bassford (ASUMH), representing the field of Sound, Lighting, and Production Tech.
  • Heather Loftis and Tim Tibbs (KTLO) will represent the field of Radio.
  • Gil Reynolds (XL7-TV) will represent the field of television.
  • Rebecca Smith (Twin Lakes Playhouse) will represent the field of acting.
  • Jim Bodenhamer will represent the field of journalism.
  • For the Health Science Cluster, students will participate in a Scrubs Camp. The volunteers for Scrubs Camp are:
  • Dr. Sara Shedenhelm (All Creatures) will represent the field of Veterinarian Medicine.
  • Wynne Woodard (BRMC) will represent the field of nursing.
  • Bonnie Brown, Kirk Brown, and Kerrie Hall (Billing Specialists, Inc.) will represent the field of Medical Coding.
  • Deanna Grace will represent the field of Home Health (Gerontology).
  • Corey Dicks (BRMC) will represent the field of EMT/Paramedic.

Students will arrive by 8:45 at the Vada Sheid Community Development Center and the camp will begin at 9:00 and run until noon. Lunch will be provided for attendees and volunteers and Laura Newth, owner of Twin Lakes McDonald’s Restaurants, will address the group from 12:20 – 12:45.

For more information, contact: Jennifer Dunn, CDF, College and Career Coach for Flippin and Cotter High Schools, Arkansas State University – Mtn. Home, at (870) 405-9716.

(Eureka Springs) (AP) – Three Arkansans involved with watershed protection activities have been honored with awards.

The awards were presented on Friday on the final day of the 2014 Arkansas Watershed Conference, sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

The Ginger Tatom Professional of the Year Award was presented to Lyle Godfrey, a 36-year employee of the Arkansas Department of Health. Dennis Dean received the Volunteer of the Year Award. The Professional of the Year and Volunteer of the Year awards were chosen from a list of nominees submitted to the conference organizers.

The Peoples’ Choice Award, voted on by conference attendees for the best exhibit or presentation, went to Bryant Baker of the Beaver Watershed Alliance.

About 70 persons attended the biennial conference, organized by the ADEQ’s Watershed Outreach and Education Section.

(Springfield) (AP) – A man accused of fleeing from Texas and Montana amid child molestation investigations has been captured in southwest Missouri.

The Springfield News-Leader reports that Springfield police arrested 55-year-old Johnny Benjamin Napier on Thursday at a trailer park after getting a tip from a neighbor. A federal arrest warrant had been issued for Napier in April in Montana after he was charged federally with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney.

The FBI says that Napier left Comanche, Texas, in 2011 after he was charged in a molestation case. Authorities allege he then moved to Baker, Montana, but disappeared in August 2013 amid a molestation investigation there. He later was charged in Montana.

Authorities say Napier had been using the name Sean Denning.

National Action Network Ferguson chapter president Rev. Carlton Lee speaks during a news conference Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, in St. Louis County, Mo. Lee spoke about preparations as citizens wait for a decision from the grand jury whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

National Action Network Ferguson chapter president Rev. Carlton Lee speaks during a news conference Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, in St. Louis County, Mo. Lee spoke about preparations as citizens wait for a decision from the grand jury whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

(Ferguson) (AP) – Activists, authorities and the family of Michael Brown called for calm Friday as a grand jury drew closer to an announcement in the Ferguson police shooting. But it was unclear whether the panel was still at work or when it would render a decision.

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch told reporters that jurors were reviewing evidence as they weigh whether to indict officer Darren Wilson.

Five hours later, Ed Magee declined to say whether the panel was still meeting.

The time, date and place for a news conference announcing the decision has not been decided, Magee said.

Wilson, 28, reportedly told the grand jury that he feared for his life on Aug. 9 as Brown, who was 6-foot-4 and nearly 300 pounds, came at him. Witnesses said Brown was trying to surrender and had his hands up.

The shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man by a white police officer led to protests, some of which turned violent. Demonstrations have continued for more than three months, though the number of protesters has dwindled and violence has become uncommon.

There were signs of rising tension.

Protesters were arrested Thursday outside Ferguson police headquarters for the second night in a row after around 40 demonstrators blocked South Florissant Road. One of the three people arrested pushed an officer and was hit with pepper spray, according to St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman.

Calls for peace and restraint emanated from several quarters, including President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and civil-rights leaders and business owners.

The most emotional appeal came from Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr.

“Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer,” Brown said in the video released by the group STL Forward. “No matter what the grand jury decides, I don’t want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”

Holder issued a general reminder to police to prepare for demonstrations and to “minimize needless confrontation.”

His video message did not explicitly mention Ferguson, but it did reference demonstrations over the past few months that have “sought to bring attention to real and significant underlying issues involving police practices.”

“I know from firsthand experience that demonstrations like these have the potential to spark a sustained and positive national dialogue, to provide momentum to a necessary conversation and to bring about critical reform,” Holder said in the video.

“But history has also shown us that the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to nonaggression and nonviolence,” he added.

Eddie Hassaun of the civil rights group Justice Disciples urged protesters not to be confrontational and for police to follow suit.

“We’re looking for the action on the other side to be equally as committed to peace in the streets and peace for the demonstrators,” Hassaun said.

City, county and state leaders on Friday announced a “rules of engagement” agreement between police and roughly 50 protest groups. The pact is aimed at preventing violence on both sides.

Obama also urged Ferguson to keep the protests peaceful, saying all Americans have the right to peacefully assemble to speak against actions they regard as unjust. But, he said, using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to the rule of law.

The president commented in an interview with ABC News scheduled to air Sunday. The network released his comment about Ferguson on Friday night.

The civil rights organization Advancement Project said more than 70 protest actions are scheduled around the country, including occupying government space in Washington and a gathering at police headquarters in Chicago.

Concern about the aftermath of the announcement prompted one school district to call off classes for Monday and Tuesday. The Jennings district includes some students who live in Ferguson. It had previously planned to close for Thanksgiving starting Wednesday.

Antonio Henley, owner of Prime Time Beauty and Barber Shop in Ferguson, said concern about the pending announcement is hurting business.

“It’s been rough, especially these past few weeks leading up to the decision,” Henley said. “Our business has been cut in half because the people in the community are afraid to come around.”

The FBI has sent nearly 100 additional agents to Ferguson to help law enforcement agencies, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the FBI plans.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – President Barack Obama’s sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policies got a swift reaction from lawmakers and activists in Missouri, where the changes could apply to roughly 20,000 immigrants who are currently living illegally in the state.

Here are things to know about the debate in Missouri:

OBAMA’S ACTION

The president’s executive order, decried by Republicans as a presidential overstep, protects as many as 5 million people from deportation. About 11 million immigrants are illegally living in the U.S.

Those who stand to benefit the most are immigrants who’ve been living in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or permanent residents. After background checks and fees, those individuals will be able to obtain work permits. Obama is also expanding a 2012 directive that deferred deportation for some young immigrants.

IMMIGRATION IN MISSOURI

About 65,000 immigrants were living in Missouri illegally as of 2012, based on the most current data available, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

The group reports that Obama’s executive order extends to about 20,000 of those immigrants to stay and work in Missouri. Noncitizens must have documentation of their immigration status to apply, such as a passport or work permit, according to Missouri Department of Revenue spokeswoman Michelle Gleba.

A federal work permit also makes immigrants eligible for unemployment insurance benefits and workers’ compensation if they meet certain requirements, Department of Labor spokesman Tom Bastian said.

LAWMAKERS REACT

Missouri Republicans chastised Obama’s actions as an unconstitutional overreach of his presidential powers, though many were mum on whether they supported the changes.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer said Obama should instead focus on existing laws approved by Congress, including completing a border fence and enforcing tax and welfare fraud laws against immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. “Immigration reform is much too complex and too important to not properly go through the legislative process,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt cautioned that an executive order wasn’t a lasting solution, noting that another executive order could override Obama’s decision.

Democrats were more divided in their response. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill bucked her party and joined Republicans in criticizing Obama for sidestepping Congress, saying the immigration system was broken, “but executive orders aren’t the way to do it.”

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay supported the executive order, calling it “the single smartest thing that we could do to spur economic growth.” He also said the changes would help millions of people “who till our fields, cook our meals, clean our offices and care for our loved ones,” and give them an opportunity to “finally live free from fear.”

A TEMPERED VICTORY

Some immigrant advocacy organizations said the new policies don’t go far enough. The orders only temporarily help less than half of the roughly 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally, and can be undone by the next president, said Vanessa Crawford Aragon, executive director of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Association.

She said Congress needs to address the issue, adding: “They’re the ones who can solve this problem once and for all.”

But the orders could have a positive economic impact on the state economy, said Carlos Gomez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Kansas City.

“Our economy needs them and industries need these folks,” Gomez said. “Let’s find a way that people can come out from the shadows.”

(Springfield) (AP) – Investigators have determined that a suspicious package found inside luggage that prompted a shutdown at a southwest Missouri airport did not contain an explosive device.

Transportation Security Administration screeners at Springfield Branson National Airport in Springfield detected the item at 9:30 a.m. Friday and stopped all incoming and outgoing flights. The city’s bomb squad removed the item and operations resumed around noon.

Airport manager Brian Weiler says three airplanes with passengers aboard waited on a taxiway while the device was removed from the airport.

The Springfield Fire Department issued a statement Friday afternoon saying law enforcement agencies acted out of caution to ensure the safety of the airport’s passengers.

The airport has nonstop flights to 10 U.S. cities and serves 750,000 passengers each year.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – On the surface, things look good for the Missouri Republican Party after winning commanding legislative majorities in the recent elections. But an internal battle is brewing over the party’s leadership because of concerns about lackluster fundraising heading into the 2016 elections.

Republican consultant John Hancock says he plans to challenge state party Chairman Ed Martin in a leadership election that will occur within the next couple of months. Hancock points to what he describes as a “complete collapse” in party fundraising.

At times this past year, the party has reported just a few thousand dollars in its bank accounts, with debts nearly equaling or exceeding the available cash.

“I am very concerned that the Republican Party does not have the resources to do the things that are necessary in 2016 to ensure Republican victories up and down the ballot,” Hancock said.

Martin acknowledged that fundraising is “a constant challenge,” but he added, “our finances are fine.” Martin said he’s still trying to rebuild the party after an era in which it routinely doled out sizable consulting contracts, including more than $1.6 million to Hancock’s firm from 2003-2012.

“I ran for chairman to stop the `business as usual’ consultant-based Missouri Republican Party that John Hancock embodies,” said Martin, who took over in January 2013.

The first step in the leadership battle will occur Saturday, when 34 Republican state senatorial district committees each elect two people to serve on the Missouri Republican State Committee. Those state committee members will elect the party chairman at a yet-to-be-determined later date.

Missouri’s 2016 elections will be big for the Republican and Democratic parties. In addition to a presidential race, Missouri’s ballot will include contests for the U.S. Senate and House, governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general and the state House and Senate. In several of those races, including for governor, there will be no incumbent – giving both parties an equal shot at those seats.

The high stakes have created a sense of urgency among some Republicans, who don’t want a repeat of the 2012 elections, when Democrats won a nationally watched U.S. Senate race and every statewide office on the Missouri ballot except lieutenant governor.

Martin, who lost a bid for attorney general that year, successfully challenged Republican Party Chairman David Cole following the 2012 elections.

“After 2012, the confidence in the Republican Party in Missouri was shaken. So we’ve had to re-earn that,” Martin said.

Martin said he has tried to implement a more “participatory model” for party members. He launched the Mighty MO Victory Crew, in which donations of at least $8.25 monthly are automatically charged to people’s credit cards. He estimated that 400 people have signed up.

But Hancock said a reliance on small-dollar donors is sinking the party’s finances. He notes that the number of businesses and individuals giving at least $5,000 has fallen by about half during Martin’s tenure.

As of Sept. 30, the Missouri Republican Party’s finance reports showed a balance of barely $1,300 in its state account and about $25,500 in its federal account with a debt of nearly $22,000. In the ensuing weeks, the House Republican Campaign Committee and individual state legislative candidates poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the state party. But the money was essentially just a transfer, so the state party could use its lower postage rates to mail fliers on behalf of the candidates.

Republican Party Treasurer Dick Peerson said the party’s finances are the worst he’s seen in a decade on the job.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re not doing very well financially,” Peerson said. “It’s been tough fundraising.”

Hancock served as executive direct of the party from 1997-2004 and continued to be paid as party fundraiser through 2012. If elected chairman, Hancock said he would revive the party’s fundraising as a volunteer.

Martin said political party fundraising has changed dramatically in the past decade, partly because federal court rulings have freed independent committees to spend millions of dollars on elections and because Missouri no longer has campaign contribution limits for candidates.

“We’ve raised plenty of money,” said Martin, adding: “The proof is in the pudding. Did we succeed in 2014? I think we did.”