Rush Limbaugh's comments last week about a young law school
student have caused some advertisers to flee his radio show. But if the leader
of the Missouri House has his way, the broadcast icon soon will be in the
company of Harry Truman, Walt Disney and Stan Musial.
House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, intends to honor Limbaugh with a place in the Hall of Famous Missourians, a ring of busts in the Capitol rotunda recognizing prominent Missourians.
The unveiling is not expected until closer to the end of the legislative session in May. But word of the honor leaked Monday, just as the furor over Limbaugh's remarks continued to build.
Although the statues are commissioned with private funds, Democrats are already expressing anger at the decision to enshrine Limbaugh next to luminaries of science, culture and politics who have called Missouri home.
Tilley, who, like Limbaugh, hails from southeast Missouri, acknowledged that while not everyone may like the decision, it is difficult to deny the radio commentator's status as a titan of the communications field.
"It's not the Hall of Universally Loved Missourians," Tilley said. "It's the Hall of Famous Missourians."
The conservative radio personality has long courted controversy, but his latest comments have provoked sustained outrage.
On his radio show last week, Limbaugh turned his focus on Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law School student who had spoken before Congress in favor of including birth control in employer-covered health care plans. Limbaugh called her a 'slut" and suggested that "if we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex," Fluke should post pictures of herself online.
Limbaugh has since apologized, but that has not stopped a handful of sponsors from leaving his radio show. Nine had dropped the show as of Monday evening, according to the Associated Press, including AOL Inc.
The decision to enshrine Limbaugh was made well before his comments, but the House speaker did not waver Monday.
"I'm not going to go through it and review every comment he's ever made," Tilley said. "Just like the people who inducted Mark Twain, Warren Hearnes or John Ashcroft didn't."
Hearnes and Ashcroft are former governors. Twain, who took his place in the Hall in 1982, was the first inductee. He has been followed by, among others, astronomer Edwin Hubble, game show host Bob Barker, journalist Walter Cronkite, Cardinals announcer Jack Buck and Native American guide Sacagawea.
On Monday, Tilley confirmed that he has also chosen to recognize Dred Scott, whose pivotal slavery case was heard at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis.
Limbaugh grew up in Cape Girardeau, where his family has deep roots in the political and legal community. The federal courthouse in Cape Girardeau is named after Limbaugh's grandfather; Limbaugh's uncle was a longtime federal judge in St. Louis. Limbaugh's cousin, a former state Supreme Court judge, is now on the federal bench.
Still, his Missouri pedigree is unlikely to quell Democrats in the Legislature, who circulated a letter Monday in protest.
"We are doing everything we can to stop this," said state Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights. "If it's something I have to lay down in front of, I will."
It's unclear what, if anything, Democrats can do to block the move. They are in the minority in both the House and the Senate. The ability to choose Missourians to induct into the Hall is an informal privilege passed down by House speakers on both sides of the aisle.
The money to build the busts, which cost $10,000 each, is generated by the speaker's annual golf tournament.
Kansas City artist E. Spencer Schubert, who was commissioned to create the busts for Limbaugh and Scott, could not be reached for comment. But in an entry on his website on Feb. 13, he posted a picture of Limbaugh alongside the famous ex-slave Scott.
"What do these two guys have in common, you ask?" Schubert wrote. "Well, turns out that they are both in the process of being sculpted by E. Spencer Schubert for the Hall of Famous Missourians."
After a Democratic-affiliated website reported the news Monday, it quickly became fodder for Limbaugh's critics.
Speaking on MSNBC Monday evening, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill -- herself a target of Limbaugh's barbs -- said he did not deserve to be enshrined.
"I supported naming the federal courthouse after his grandfather. I supported his first cousin to be a federal judge," McCaskill said. But, McCaskill said, "I draw the line" at putting Limbaugh's bust in the Capitol.
On his radio show, Limbaugh recently referred to McCaskill as a "commie babe liberal."
Bill Lambrecht and Virginia Young of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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