Missouri House tucks lawmakers cast out of caucuses into tiny offices

State Rep. Tricia Derges, R-Nixa, lower right, sits Feb. 11, 2021, at her desk on the House floor. She, Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, (top left), and Rep. Rick Roeber, R-Lee's Summit, (not shown) have been ousted from their party caucuses and seated together. Also shown are Reps. Michael Person, D-Ferguson, (upper right) and Sean Pouche, R-Kansas City, (middle right). (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

For most Missouri lawmakers, a fourth-floor office is about the best perch in the Capitol Building, absent a stint in the much larger offices of the legislative leadership.

On the north side of the building there’s a panoramic view, with the Missouri River in the foreground framed against limestone bluffs a mile across the floodplain. To the south, Jefferson City stretches out from one of the highest points in the area.

But for two of the three lawmakers booted from their party’s caucus in recent weeks, the fourth floor is a place of exile. 

Republican state Reps. Rick Roeber of Lee’s Summit and Tricia Derges of Nixa have been moved to tiny, windowless rooms, not much larger than closets.

The third lawmaker who is an outcast, Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, is also in an isolated, windowless space on the first floor.

And, like the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the three have their own space on the House floor, where seating is normally arranged by party and seniority. They are together in three desks in the southwest corner of the chamber, near the Speaker’s dais.

The tiny fourth floor office assigned to state Rep. Tricia Derges, R-Nixa, after she was ousted from the GOP caucus. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

“I respect their decision,” Derges said Thursday when asked about her new office and desk assignment. “That’s all I want to say is that I respect their decision. I am still going to work very, very hard and do my job.”

Derges, a medical doctor licensed as an assistant physician, is scheduled to go to trial May 3 on 20 federal felony charges alleging she sold fake stem cell cures, improperly prescribed narcotics and lied to federal investigators. 

She declined to discuss those charges when approached Thursday at the Capitol Building. She also would not discuss why she falsely claimed on a Florida medical license provider profile that she held a faculty appointment at the University of Missouri  

Roeber was the first of the three to lose support of his fellow party members. He won his Jackson County seat in November despite being accused by his adult children of physically and sexually abusing them when they were minors. 

In early December, House Republicans announced Roeber would not be allowed to attend GOP caucus meetings and vowed the Ethics Committee would investigate the allegations. Ethics investigations are closed, so it is unknown how much work has been done since lawmakers began meeting Jan. 6.

Roeber was not in his office when The Independent visited Thursday and could not be reached for comment for this article.

Along with isolated offices and seats away from fellow Republicans, Roeber was not named to any committees and Derges was removed from her committee assignments after the indictment.

The Democrat in the trio, Price, was also removed from committees after he was censured Jan. 13 by the House.

Where he is given an office and the location of his desk on the floor are matters of no importance, Price said in an interview Thursday with The Independent.

“I feel like any office in the building is a good office,” Price said. “Any seat on the floor is a good seat.”

Price became the first House member ever censured after the Ethics Committee reported findings that he lied to the committee about his contacts with an intern and retaliated against his legislative assistant for reporting that he told her about having sex with the college student.

A push from Republicans to expel him on Jan. 13 fell short of the two-thirds majority needed when it drew support from only one Democrat and 16 Republicans voted against it.

Price maintains he never had sex with the intern and never said he did to the legislative assistant. 

He said he thinks the push to expel him was intended to give Republican leaders cover, because the allegations against Roeber came before his election and Derges claims in emails to Speaker Rob Vescovo that she told House Majority Leader Dean Plocher about the investigation during the summer.

“They intended me to be grouped in with those two other individuals,” Price contends.

Price is in his second term and intends to run for re-election in 2022. If he succeeds, he said, he expects “1,000 percent, without hesitation” to be welcomed back into the Democratic caucus. 

Office and seat assignments are made by the Administration and Accounts Committee. Each of the 163 House members has an office, with freshmen and minority members generally grouped into crammed, stacked spaces on the first floor. 

Aside from offices assigned permanently to lawmakers based on their leadership role, larger offices with desirable views are assigned based on seniority in the majority party. 

Roeber has been in his windowless office since the session began. To find room for Price and Derges, caucus staff was moved out of their offices, House Chief Clerk Dana Miller said.

The stacked first floor offices are not handicap accessible, and plans for expanding the space for lawmakers has languished for years.

Finding space on the House side of the Capitol is not easy, Miller said.

“It is always a problem,” she said.