JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Accusations of corruption, airing of grievances, attack ads — it was all on full display this past week as Republican members of the Missouri Senate and House, as well as the Republican governor, took shots at one another in the waning days of the legislative session.
With just two weeks remaining to get a budget to the governor and just three weeks remaining in the session, the infighting has lawmakers on edge and wondering what will be accomplished. The Senate passed two bills Tuesday, but a series of filibusters gridlocked the chamber for the rest of the night and the next two days.
Tensions within the party escalated when A New Missouri Inc., a nonprofit founded in February by campaign staff of Gov. Eric Greitens, sent out online ads Thursday night targeting state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who did most of the filibustering. The ads published Schaaf’s personal cellphone number and urged viewers to tell Schaaf to “stop siding with liberals” and “blocking term limits.”
Voters imposed term limits on the Legislature in 1994. Term limits also apply to the governor and state treasurer, but they do not apply to the lieutenant governor, attorney general or state auditor. The ad referred to Schaaf's opposition to bill that would call for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution to impose term limits on members of Congress.
Schaaf repeatedly derailed Senate debate as he criticized a lack of progress on ethics reform and a pending statewide expansion of Medicaid-managed care that he thinks is unconstitutional.
The ads, although they never mention specific legislation, accuse Schaaf of “attempting to shut down all conservative action in the Senate because of personal political games that he is playing along with the liberals.”
By Friday night, Schaaf said he had received calls from all over the country and state after his number was published. His voicemail box was full, and he tweeted that those who needed to contact him in an emergency should text him.
“He says his voicemail is full, so text might be a better option,” Austin Chambers, New Missouri adviser as well as Greitens’ political adviser, then tweeted with the attack ad attached.
Chambers told the Globe on Friday that Schaaf was killing any hope of getting a “conservative agenda” passed as he continued to filibuster in the Senate. When asked why the nonprofit was targeting a term-limited senator who has said he will not seek office again, Chambers said it was important for constituents to let their state senator hear their thoughts.
“He’s not in the office because it’s Friday, and they’ll want to reach him over the weekend,” Chambers told the Globe when asked why Schaaf’s personal number was airing in the ads. “His constituents need a way to get in touch with him.”
When asked why the governor didn’t do the same and publish his personal cellphone number so constituents could contact him, too, Chambers responded that he stood by the ad.
Schaaf claimed revealing the cellphone number of a sitting state senator on the internet by a governor was “unprecedented.”
“I don’t think (the governor’s) leading by example,” Schaaf said. “Does he think it’s OK to put cellphone numbers out like that? I don’t think so.
“The governor’s attack ad on me will not have any bearing on what I will and won’t do,” Schaaf also said. “It was a total waste of his money and effort.”
Money, he added, that is “dark,” meaning that because A New Missouri Inc. was organized under tax-exempt rules for social welfare groups, it is not legally required to disclose its donors. Chambers also said he would not disclose how much the ads cost.
Chambers took issue with Schaaf’s filibuster of a bill that would establish a “Blue Alert” system, which would get the word out when a police officer is attacked and the assailant is on the loose. The bill was mentioned in Greitens’ State of the State address and is one of his top priorities.
Schaaf said he picked the first bill that came up on the calendar because he wanted to send a message to the House, which had voted down a companion bill to the one he sponsored that would have resolved conflict-of-interest concerns between companies that run highway weigh stations for trucks and state regulators.
When discussion of Schaaf’s bill came up in the House, state Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, said: “The senator from the St. Joe district, the Schaaf district, has the companion bill. Mr. Speaker, with everything going on in the Senate today, this week ... why are we helping forward anything on the senator from St. Joe’s agenda?”
Kolkmeyer was referring to Schaaf’s filibusters earlier in the week. Schaaf had also requested all of the House bills on the Senate consent calendar, which is reserved for uncontroversial items such as naming highways, be kicked off.
Schaaf dedicated his Thursday filibuster of the “Blue Alert” bill to Kolkmeyer, saying that because of the time he took up talking, fewer House bills could be passed before the end of the session.
“I support the ‘Blue Alert’ bill, but I don’t support the House killing an anti-corruption bill,” Schaaf told the Globe on Friday, echoing remarks he made on the floor.
‘We will never know’
Many of Schaaf’s filibusters stemmed from his concern that millions will be allocated for managed care in the next fiscal year budget, which starts July 1. However, May 1 marks the start of the contracts with managed care companies that get funds based on how many Medicaid patients they serve. Schaaf believes that is unconstitutional and a way to “put a gun” to legislators’ head to compel them to appropriate money for the program.
Schaaf has asked the governor to break the contract and for the Legislature to withhold allocating money in the yet-to-be passed budget.
Schaaf also accused the governor of corruption on the floor and again in an interview with the Globe on Friday night. Centene, one of three companies that has received a managed care contract with Missouri, has donated to the governor’s inauguration, he said. However, Greitens has refused to disclose how much the donors gave, breaking with the tradition of past governors.
Schaaf also has sponsored legislation aimed at forcing dark money organizations to disclose their donors. So far, it has not received a hearing.
“Was it such a significant contribution to affect his actions?” Schaaf asked of the donations. “We will never know because we don’t know how much money that was.”
Schaaf also accused House Budget Chair state Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, of corruption as well, which earned the ire of his fellow Republican legislators.
In a tense exchange Thursday after Schaaf’s filibuster was cut short, state Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, asked Schaaf about his ties to a lobbyist from whom he rents a room in Jefferson City. One of the lobbyist’s clients is a company that runs truck weigh stations that Rowden implied would benefit from the bill. Rowden, a freshman senator, shared an office with Fitzpatrick when he was in the House.
The inquiry escalated until state Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, jumped to his feet and “introduced” a painting as a guest to give time for the senators to cool off, urging them not to judge each other.
“If you are going to stand there and accuse me of doing something illegal or immoral or unethical, then I’m going to look at every one of your bills and see if that entity gave you a campaign contribution,” Schaaf told Rowden after the floor was ceded back. “Are you ready to accept that?”
“Sure,” Rowden said.
“Then this interrogation is over,” Schaaf said before throwing down his mic.
‘Share the sandbox’
In an interview Friday, state Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said the Senate is moving slower than normal, but he was confident the budget would get passed. He said he still wished to see education reforms, including charter school expansion, get through the Senate before the session was over.
“The Senate is made to be inefficient,” Emery said. “It’s part of the legislative process.”
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, echoed Emery’s thoughts, saying that it was imperative the Senate renew a soon-to-expire provision for providing prescriptions to seniors.
“It’s not about all about you; it’s not all about me,” Sater said, adding that senators need to move past personal issues.
State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said the idea that the Senate might not be able to pass a budget — the lawmakers’ most important job — is “pathetic.”
“They need to learn how to share the sandbox with each other and with us (in the House), too,” White said.
Senate President Pro-Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, did not return a call for comment on Friday, although he, too, has been the target of complaints from a member of his own party.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Republican from the Kansas City area, suggested that an investigation of Richard — the top Republican in the Senate — was warranted because of a $100,000 campaign contribution from a Joplin businessman, David Humphreys, within days of filing legislation that critics claim might benefit the donor.
Silvey has been targeted by Humphreys, a major donor in Missouri politics, because of Silvey’s previous opposition to a push by Republicans to pass right-to-work legislation. Last week, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group whose members are affiliated with Democrats and with former President Barack Obama, asked the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri to open a grand jury investigation into the matter.
Richard on Thursday canceled a press briefing, citing as a reason that the Senate had not accomplished anything.
Politicians aren’t the only ones waiting for bills to get passed.
“I don’t want to downplay the frustration; that’s part of what you have to have,” Tom Crowder, Missouri Trucking Association president, said on Friday. “Some citizen frustration will be able to get the outcry, the responses you need to get stuff done in the legislative process.”
But without passing legislation that would make Missouri driver’s licenses compliant with federal security standards, truckers with Missouri IDs are having a hard time delivering goods to federal military bases, Crowder said.
“Every year, we say, ‘It’s never been this bad,’” Crowder said. “But generally, (lawmakers) figure out a way to find a solution and work things out.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.