By DANA SPITZER
Florissant — About a month after State Sen. Tim Green’s days in the Missouri state legislature ended, he was driving along north Lindbergh Boulevard reminiscing about some of the highlights of his 24-year career in public office. Traffic was busy with cars and trucks in both directions.
Beyond the gas stations, shopping centers, stores and taverns on Lindbergh stretched the portrait of his district. Neighborhoods of houses large and small, public and private schools and colleges, big hospitals, churches and state institutions, all of it fueled for the most part by some of the largest employers in Missouri; Boeing, Emerson, and until a few years ago, Ford.
There are mansions on the bluffs of the Missouri River, which forms the northern boundary of the district. One of them was built by Joseph Desloge, one of Missouri’s great industrialists and philanthropist, a member of one of the oldest French families in America. Another was a favorite of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who stayed there on his visits to Missouri.
STEEPED IN HISTORY
The district is shrouded in a history that began when Spanish settlers established an outpost in 1786 along the Missouri River. Before long, there were seven plantations in the area and residents named their village St. Ferdinand. Later, the French called it Fleurissant, or “blooming” in English. Lewis and Clark camped there on the first night of their journey west. Today, the former French village is one of Missouri’s oldest and larger cities. But most residents are German and Irish. Many of them belong to unions.
This is where Green grew up, in Spanish Lake, not far from where he and his wife and two children still live. Unions and the Democratic Party are in his gene pool. His mother was a Teamster who drove a forklift for Schnucks. His father was a union electrician.
Green’s grandfather, Tom Walsh, also a union electrician, was the legendary “Dean” of the Missouri House of Representatives. He served from 1944 to 1972. During the administration of the late Gov. Warren Hearnes, Walsh was the governor’s representative on the floor of the house.
“My grandfather and my parents were inspirations to me and probably the reason I went into public service,” Green told the Labor Tribune. “ When I first ran it was my mom and family and friends who helped me win.”
Altogether, the family has given more than 50 years of public service to the state, with Walsh’s 28 years and Green’s 24 years. “And my brother, Tom, added four more years in the House of Representatives.”
A STRONG VOICE FOR LABOR
Green, a union electrician with IBEW Local 1, was the voice of organized labor in the state senate for the St. Louis region for the last eight years. That was an especially important role because Republicans held impressive majorities and took a sharp turn to the right with an aggressive agenda of anti-union legislation. There are eight Democrats in the senate, and 26 Republicans.
Green’s greatest accomplishment from labor’s point of view was his leadership, with Senator Victor Callahan of Kansas City, in putting together an unusual coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the senate that stopped cold the union busting bills promoted by Republican senate leader Rob Mayer of Dexter representing some of the most conservative, anti-union business interests in the country; the same interests that successfully promoted union busting legislation in Wisconsin, Indiana and several other states in the last two years.
Crippling right-to-work (for less) and bills to repeal the state’s prevailing wage flew out of senate committees only to be stopped on the floor by Green, Callahan, Democrat Ryan McKenna of Jefferson County, and a sizable band of Republicans.
The key to success, Green says, was the relationships of respect and trust built up over many years in the house and senate with his GOP colleagues in the senate.
The senate, he says, still clings to its traditions. While partisanship is still present, many issues turn on whether a senator of one party can discuss with another what he or she considers the merits of a bill, or, in some cases, the political implications of one course or another.
“We talk with each other, and listen to one another far more than in the house,” Green says. “If you have built up respect over the years, and you give it in return, you can get things done regardless of partisanship.”
GOP State Sen. Eric Schmitt of Kirkwood, a boyhood friend of Green’s, says, “Tim was a guy everyone in the senate respected. He was chairman of the budget committee when he was in the House, and on the budget committee in the senate. He knew a lot of things that the rest of us didn’t know. He helped educate many of us and we knew we could trust him. Trust and respect go a long way in the senate.”
TERM LIMITS HARMING PUBLIC INTEREST
Unfortunately, Green says, the institutional knowledge and constructive relationships lawmakers used to build with one another are slowly going away because of term limits, which impose eight-year terms in both houses. Green managed 24 years because he was already in the house for eight years before Missouri voters adopted the limits.
Despite his success in helping labor defeat anti-union legislation, Green is concerned that labor may not be able to defeat its business adversaries in the future. Partly, that’s because the business interests out to destroy organized labor can be expected to be back year after year.
And partly, he believes, labor may not be operating well enough to cope with future political attacks.
“It’s not like it used to be when Democrats were in control and labor had tremendous influence. Today, we are one voice among many in the Democratic Party.
A CONCERN FOR LABOR’S FUTURE
“I am seriously concerned that we may not be organized well enough to develop the bonds of loyalty we need among our members. We need to develop future leadership to compete with all of these different interests. We still do a lot of things in the labor community the same way we’ve done them for years. I doubt whether we can continue to do that and succeed like we all want to succeed. We need to learn to play chess, not checkers.”
But looking back over his career in public office, it is not Sen. Green’s successful tussle with the anti-union business interests that threatened to wreck Missouri’s union community that he is most proud. That was important, he says.
But most important to him now that its over is the help he was able to bring to the developmentally disabled children and adults at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center, to the Missouri Veterans Home in Bellefontaine Neighbors, to a residential center in Spanish Lake for troubled teenagers, “the only real home they’ve ever had,” he says.
He worked with the state Conservation Department to open a recreation area and historic visitors site at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers at the northeastern tip of his district. He helped cut a deal to continue financing for a trauma center at DePaul Hospital.
He leveraged his friendship with Bill McKenna, the former chair of the Missouri Highway Commission and a former state senator, to bring about a complete makeover of Highway 367 going north to Illinois. Today, it has four lanes and two-lane outer roads that have reduced traffic bottlenecks and spurred business growth along the route north of Interstate 270.
Along the way, he was honored by numerous professional, trade and business groups, including the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the St. Louis and Missouri Association of County Developmental Disabilities Services. His work on behalf of social justice by ensuring that low-income Missourians have access to legal assistance was recognized by Legal Services of Eastern Missouri in 2005. His other honors and awards were from the Missouri Library Association, Missouri Police Chiefs Association, Missouri Association of Counties, City of St. Louis, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis-Alumni Association. He has been consistently recognized by the Regional Commerce and Growth Association for his efforts at spurring economic development and helping bring new jobs to Missouri.
“Obviously, I’m honored to have received recognition from so many interest groups, Green says. “But in reality, my greatest honor has been that the people of my district have allowed me to serve them for the past 24 years.”
It all took money and an ability to work with others to reach common goals. Green, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, and a member of the senate budget committee for his entire eight years, was not shy about using his influence on state budgets to help his district. But even that took a lot of give and take with other legislators, the governor’s office, and state agencies.
“When it’s all over, you want your legacy to be helping the people and the communities in your district. My priority was on helping people who can’t help themselves. And I did my best to work with our communities to make our area a better place to live and work. We have made a lot of progress in our area. But there’s still much to be done.”