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Looking Back: Ferguson, Politics And The Biggest Stories Of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, “St. Louis on the Air” looked back at the biggest local and regional stories of the year.

Topping the list was the August shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, and the protests, demonstrations, grand jury announcement, and conversations that have followed. Leadership has repeatedly come under fire regarding Ferguson, at the local, state and national levels.

St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jo Mannies said Gov. Jay Nixon’s involvement in Ferguson has hurt his political career, but “whether or not it’s hurt it permanently, I don’t want to say yet,” she told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Monday. “I’ve seen too many cases where politicians seem to have really stepped in it on something, and then a year or two later, they’re in great shape.”

“St. Louis on the Air” will review events in Ferguson more in-depth on Wednesday.

Nixon’s actions have hurt his image as a strong leader loyal to Democratic values but able to work across party lines, Mannies said. Ferguson also pointed out his uneasy relationship with black politicians, and made it clear to the nation that his off-the-cuff speeches are less than eloquent. Nixon “thinks while speaking,” Mannies said of his speeches riddled with “um”s and discombobulated thoughts. “He’s not stupid, but it didn’t make him look good.”

A Missouri House and Senate committee already is preparing to investigate Nixon’s response to Ferguson.

Looking ahead, Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio’s Missouri statehouse reporter, expects the legislature will take up Ferguson-related issues.

“You can expect a flood of bills that will address various topics related to police department procedures, weapons use, tear gas use, (and) of course body cameras,” he said. “There’s even one that’s been proposed by the (chairman) of the legislative black caucus that would bar grand juries, calling the entire grand jury process outdated and flawed.”

But Griffin also said he would be surprised if any of those bills make it through the legislative process.

Ferguson is not just a regional issue. Nationally, it was the most tweeted news story of the year, and has prompted conversations about race across the country. But the conversation varies, even in St. Louis, said Shula Neuman, a St. Louis Public Radio editor.

“The white community has not been talking about it in the same way and with the same sense of urgency that a lot of the African-American community has been discussing it,” she said. “Without that, it’s going to continue to be an issue moving forward.”

Outside of Ferguson, Griffin said two legislative overrides made news in 2014: “The tax cut that was vetoed by Gov. Nixon and was overridden while the regular session was still going on, and secondly the override of the 72-hour abortion waiting period. That override happened during veto session.”

That could continue in 2015, as the House has a clear Republican majority. While Republicans had to rely on a few Democrats to help override bills in 2014, they won’t have to in 2015, Mannies said.

Some 2014 issues are expected to pop back up in the new year, too, like school transfers. “It’s unfinished business,” Griffin said. “For the first time, a bill actually got passed.” Nixon vetoed the bill, however, because it would have allowed transfers to private schools, which was seen as a way to allow school vouchers. “This bill’s going to come back again,” Griffin said.

Politics took center stage in Illinois as well, as the state elected a Republican governor for the first time since George Ryan was elected in 1999, said Amanda Vinicky, Illinois Public Radio’s Illinois statehouse bureau chief. Ryan was convicted of federal corruption charges in 2003; so was his successor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich. Vinicky said 2015 “could be pretty darn big” for Republicans, although Democrats will still be able to get their way, she said. Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner has no Illinois government experience.

In local politics, Democrats retained control of the St. Louis County Council. County Executive-elect Steve Stenger takes office in January; an April vote will fill Stenger’s seat. But don’t expect Stenger to dive in to the deep end any time soon, Mannies said. Stenger has already said talk of a St. Louis city-county merger is off the table for awhile.

“He wants to not step in any sort of major controversy until things are calmed down and he knows who his friends are and who his enemies are going to be on the council,” Mannies said.

Across the nation, same-sex marriage gained support. Three court cases appear to have made same-sex marriage legal in Missouri in 2014, although the state has a 10-year-old constitutional ban against such unions. Counties around St. Louis and Kansas City began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in November. Attorney General Chris Koster has said he will appeal court decisions striking down the state’s constitutional ban, Mannies said. She also expects it will be an issue in Missouri’s 2016 gubernatorial race.

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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