BLACKOUT: A handful of African-American civic leaders were so outraged this year by Missouri Attorney General Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon's relentless drive to end the state's involvement in the voluntary school-desegregation program that they decided to lead an effort to work against Nixon's run for the U.S. Senate, instead supporting the Republican incumbent, Christopher "Kit" Bond. Never mind that Nixon's record overall, on issues of concern to blacks, was far better than the conservative record of Bond. The issue, as Nixon's critics saw it, was the Democratic Party's taking for granted the black vote. If they crossed party lines this time, the critics figured, perhaps the Democrats with ambitions for higher office would learn a lesson. Led by Donald Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American, and James DeClue of the NAACP, the anti-Nixon campaign did cut into Nixon's support among blacks, although Nixon might have lost to Bond anyway. Will the Democratic Party heal this wound before Nixon's next attempt at public office? Look to the upcoming settlement in the deseg case for clues. (SA)

RINGIN' THE BLUES: In Missouri's epic tale of insurance conversions, 1998 was the year of climax. First the courts restored our faith in justice by finally ruling that Blue Cross and Blue Shield had broken laws when it converted from a nonprofit to a for-profit insurance company and therefore owed the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars it had saved from its tax-exempt status for years. Next, Jay Angoff, the state's insurance director and the man who led the fight against Blue Cross' conversion, announced his retirement, saying that the years of battle had taken their toll. Money collected from Blue Cross will presumably be used for the creation of a health-care foundation, but that's still being debated in the courts. (MR)

PAGE AVENUE FREEZE-OUT: It was a long, bumpy trip on the highway to hell this year for Taxpayers Against Page Freeway, opponents of the $1 billion Page Avenue extension project. Concerned that the 10-lane extension through Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park would accelerate the urban exodus from St. Louis and St. Louis County to St. Charles County and ruin the park to boot, opponents gathered enough petitions last summer to get the issue on the November ballot in St. Louis County. But the concrete cartel -- homebuilders, developers, contractors and others who stand to profit from the new highway construction -- spent hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning under the Astroturf (as opposed to grassroots) name of Citizens for a Livable St. Louis County, leaving their opponents far behind in the political dust. Taxpayers Against Page Freeway, like most out-spent ballot issues and candidates, lost soundly. (MR)

HE TAKES A LICKIN' AND KEEPS ON KICKIN': It was just too good an idea to win the approval of the conservative Missouri Legislature, yet the proposal to fold small-business owners and farmers into the existing state employees' health-insurance pool made its way fairly far up the political ladder this year. The idea, sponsored by the Marathon Man himself, Rep. Tim Harlan (D-Columbia), scared the daylights out of conservatives, who thought it smacked of socialized medicine, and insurance executives, who figured it would hurt the industry's profits somewhat by creating larger pools and lower premiums. It was approved by the House after five arduous days of floor debate but failed in the Senate's insurance committee, chaired by the now-retired Sen. Phil Curls (D-Kansas City), who has since gone quietly to work for the insurance industry. Harlan promises Round 2 in the coming session. The smart money says Harlan will win this time. (MR)

CASH BAR: Missouri's attempt to clean up the money in politics by passing a true campaign-finance-reform law didn't fail this year, it simply became the ironic victim of its own enemy. After gathering more than enough signatures to place public financing on the November ballot, Missourians for Clean Elections pulled back on their efforts because the group didn't have enough money to compete with potential opponents. In fact, business interests, which are quite content renting and buying politicians, threatened a media blitz so large that reformers found themselves having to decide whether to try and probably fail or to wait and really try. They decided to wait and really try. Maybe in 2000. (MR)

INSURING TROUBLE: The moral this year was, don't look at the industry that's running, unfettered, an increasing proportion of our lives -- because if you do begin to write about insurance companies and how they operate, you'll learn what Corey Weber and the Mead family (whose stories the RFT chronicled in 1998) learned: that these companies judge and punish "crimes," then deny coverage, without any help from the legal system. You'll also realize they're profoundly altering not only the methods and values of health care but the kind of people attracted to the healing professions. And your phone will ring off the hook, logging more horror stories than you can begin to report. (JB)

FITTING THE BILL: When we wrote seriously about the problem of sex addiction, we didn't know we'd see a president impeached for behavior that just might fit the diagnosis. It's not about sex, though, oh no it's not. It's about lying, something people never do about sex. Let's face it: Our puritan country doesn't have the healthiest attitude toward privacy, morality, sex or emotional need. And now we're getting a taste of the consequences. (JB)

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