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Peace -- and passion -- reign at McCaskill's SEMO forum

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 10, 2009 - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill's first recess forum went off without incident this morning at Southeast Missouri State University in Kennett, Mo.

The room was packed, her aides say, and most of the questions were about proposed changes in the nation's health care system.

But while emotions were high, civility reigned, at least according to the brief video posted on the Daily Dunklin Democrat's Web site.

The lack of verbal fireworks today, compared to last Thursday's melee at Rep. Russ Carnahan's forum in Mehlville, could signal a less-charged atmosphere at McCaskill's forum scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Jefferson College Field House in Hillsboro.

The chaos and arrests at Carnahan's event prompted University City High School to cancel McCaskill's forum scheduled for Tuesday morning at the school.

Meanwhile, those on both sides of the health-care debate continue today to partake in a blame game over who was responsible for the violence at the Carnahan forum.

Allies of the Service Employees International Union are circulating videos that they say show that the union's members have been unfairly tagged as "thugs" by opponents of proposed healthcare changes.

The key video shows an SEIU activist Elston McCowan -- a pastor and an African-American -- on the ground and then rubbing his shoulder after he is helped up. That video also shows part of the altercation that conservative activist Ken Gladney, who's also African-American, says shows that he was attacked by SEIU members.

Brandon Davis, executive director of the SEIU Missouri State Council, said in a statement today: “Despite the fact that it was an SEIU member — a disabled minister — who was attacked, right-wing fringe groups who oppose reform have launched a misinformation campaign to say it was the other way around.

"SEIU is standing up to their bullying tactics because we believe America deserves a real conversation about how to fix our broken health-care system.”

But some conservatives are contending that race was a factor in the confrontations. Gina Loudon, an activist in the St. Louis Tea Party movement, has sent out an email today highlighting comments by black author and commentator, Kevin Jackson.

Loudon quotes Jackson as saying that Gladney's treatment exemplifies that "Liberals, especially black liberals hate blacks who do not toe the racial party line.  The thugs controlled themselves when confronting white protesters.  Seeing a black guy 'act white' was too much."

Tea Party leader Bill Hennessy also has posted some critical comments about McCowan on the Tea Party Web site.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.