Columnist Bill McClellan on tobacco lobbyist John Britton, aka “Mayor of Jefferson City”

John Britton in his Jefferson City office (Photograph courtesy & copyright: Parker Eshelman)

John Britton in his Jefferson City office (Photograph courtesy & copyright: Parker Eshelman)

I came across the following story recently in my file on the tobacco lobby in Jefferson City which I hadn’t viewed in years. It reminded me again why, after over a decade lobbying for a statewide smoke-free air bill, I had concluded that damage control was our main role in the state capitol and Missouri GASP’s focus should be on promoting strong local ordinances.

It also brought back vividly an early encounter with John Britton, lobbyist for both The Tobacco Institute and Anheuser Busch in Jefferson City. It was during a February 1986 public hearing before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, chaired appropriately by the late pipe-smoking Senator J.B. “Jet” Banks, as shown in this old newspaper photo.

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Sen. J. B. “Jet” Banks

Following testimony from supporters of a fairly weak bill, John Britton rose and started talking about the court of King Arthur and the days of chivalry. What this had to do with secondhand smoke I don’t recall but I do remember thinking his testimony was so garbled the bill was certain to be voted out of committee.

Instead it died in committee.

A similar bill was only voted out – and promptly – a couple of years later once it had been fatally altered with an amendment insisted on by Britton, the so-called preemption amendment, to make the proposed weak state law the strongest allowed in the state. I hope to write more in a subsequent blog but for now please read Bill McClellan’s insightful piece below, published March 11, 1990.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, Bill McClellan, March 11, 1990

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, Bill McClellan, March 11, 1990

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