During the third quarter of the school year each year, my eighth grade students at South Middle School in Joplin research and write a paper about some aspect of the civil rights movement. We spend time going over the proper way to cite source material for their papers, and I stress, above all, that the students must write their own papers and not claim others' work as their own.
That is called plagiarism. My students have a clear understanding of what plagiarism is, though they are only 13 or 14 years old. Apparently, members of the Missouri House of Representatives do not have that same understanding.
In the Feb. 7 Turner Report, I ran a column by Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, praising the work of the Missouri Department of Transportation. It included the following passage:
As hard-working Missourians we realize the value of a dollar and the importance of getting the most bang for our buck. Whether we’re buying dinner at a restaurant or paying for a trip to the doctor’s office, we want to know our money is well spent. We demand good service and quality products because we provide the same in our own jobs where we work to earn the money we have to spend. It’s a simple concept and an idea we’ve done our best to make an integral part of our decision-making process in the legislature. One of the places where we’ve applied this principle with the greatest success is to our Missouri Department of Transportation and its effort to improve our roads and highways.
Imagine my surprise when I read a column written by Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, in the Feb. 13 Lamar Democrat which begins with this passage:
"As Missourians, we realize the value of a dollar. Whether you're buying dinner at a restaurant or paying for a trip to the doctor's office, you demand good service and quality products, because you provide the same in your job. One of the places government has applied the principle of value with the greatest success is to our Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and its effort to improve our roads and highways."
With the exception of a few words here and there, the passages are identical.
The rest of the columns also almost totally match up.
Who wrote the column? Even though both Hunter and Emery are sending out the columns under their own names, which should assure readers that they wrote them, odds are neither man wrote the column. It was probably done by some House staffer and then offered to the legislators, allowing them to claim it as their own.
To support that supposition, I refer to an e-mail sent to me on Dec. 14, 2005, by Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, after I had written about the similarities in columns written by Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and Jetton:
While I sympathize with our legislators for having such busy schedules, when constituents read columns that have their elected representatives' names attached to them, they have every right to expect that those officials are the ones who are doing the writing.
"I remember being in school and the rules for copying. In the House, it is a bit different. We openly share our reports with each other. If a Rep feels like I wrote something that they agree with they are free to use it in their districts at the same time; if I like what they are saying and a agree with it I may use it in mine.
"Of course, we may change it slightly to better reflect our exact thoughts. I can assure you all the Reps have a mind of their own but many times we vote with each other on key issues and when we find a rep who is communicating the same thoughts and feelings on a issue we will use that report.
"We have given each other full authority to copy, change or do whatever the other rep wants to do with the different reports folks write. Another point is with over 2,000 different bills introduced each year on all different kinds of subjects there is no way one person can be an expert and write about each one. This way if one rep who is an expert in a certain subject writes about it and a Rep agrees or likes it can save them valuable time. We do the same when it comes to getting advice on voting on issues.
"I trust a fellow rep or constituent before I trust a lobbyist.
"Just thought I might try to clear this up. Each Rep only has one assistant who usually works on taking care of constituent problems and doesn't have time to write capitol reports for the Rep."
Anything else is not fair, is not right, and most importantly, is not honest.