Divide among Missouri Senate Republicans reopens in run up to legislative session

GOP leaders excluded the conservative caucus from session strategy meeting

By: - December 20, 2021 5:55 am

A few stragglers collect their papers in the Missouri Senate after the body adjourned four hours ahead of the constitutional deadline on May 14, 2021 (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).

A meeting last week among GOP state Senators that excluded members of the conservative caucus has reignited the Republican factional infighting that’s been dormant in recent months only because lawmakers are not in session.

Part of the discussion, organized by Senate GOP leadership about the upcoming session, was how to deal with the conservative group, which includes seven of the 24 Republican members, sources told The Independent.

“I think there are some folks who would like to see the session be productive,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, who was present at Wednesday’s meeting.

Asked if holding meetings without significant portions of the GOP caucus was a path to success, Hegeman said: “I don’t have an answer for you.”

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, and a member of the conservative caucus, said the meeting will make the Senate a more difficult place to work.

“Some Republican senators want to get stuff done and some Republican senators, including the conservative caucus, want to get conservative things done,” Hoskins said. “I would say that’s one of the differences. I wasn’t at that caucus meeting, and don’t know what moderate or liberal positions they wanted to support.”

Neither Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz nor Majority Leader Caleb Rowden responded to requests for comment from The Independent.

Lawmakers return Jan. 5 to Jefferson City with a packed agenda.

An appropriation bill to distribute almost $2 billion in federal education funds to school districts must be passed by March 24. Gov. Mike Parson wants them to pass a pay raise for state workers in the first month. 

Funding Medicaid, with an expanded eligibility forced on Republican opponents by an initiative petition, will also require an early supplemental appropriations bill. The state holds an unprecedented general revenue surplus and has other money on hand that the expense can be covered in a variety of ways.

And candidate filing opens Feb. 22, putting lawmakers under pressure to finish a new congressional map for the state’s eight districts.

The Republican factionalism will be overlaid by ambition. 

Schatz is running for U.S. Senate. Sens. Mike Moon and Eric Burlison are both seeking the 7th Congressional District nomination. Sen. Rick Brattin is running for the 4th Congressional District nomination, and Hoskins is considering it.

Many bitter words passed between the GOP leadership and the conservative caucus this year. The most recent, and among the angriest, was the debate over a rules interpretation during the September veto session.

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, accused GOP leaders of “subverting the democratic process with cheap parliamentary tricks” that create an “oligarchy where a couple folks in leadership” make all decisions.

Rowden shot back that Onder and the conservative caucus were turning the Senate into a “clown show,” later saying the chamber was being forced to take pointless votes to “appease children.”

Passing a bill in the Senate requires 18 votes. By the end of the 2021 session, the partisan split in the Senate was 17 Republicans generally aligned with the leadership, seven in the conservative caucus and 10 Democrats.

The strength of the conservative caucus minority was most apparent on the bill to extend Medicaid provider taxes vital to funding the state’s share of the program. Conservative members demanded language limiting the choice of contraceptives for women on the program and barring Planned Parenthood from serving as a Medicaid provider.

The result was a stalemate, accusations of treachery during negotiations, and the fight carried over into a special session. On a crucial Senate vote, 11 of 24 Republicans sided with the 10 Democrats to defeat both proposals.

Appropriations bills are the only thing lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and Hegeman said his job is to bridge the factions.

“I like to work with all of my colleagues in the Senate,” he said. “I work with all of them. We will agree on some things, and not agree on other things.That is part of the process.”

The conservative caucus wants to put its stamp on the early legislation, Hoskins said.

One aim is to undermine Medicaid expansion, he said. Discussions about the Missouri Supreme Court decision that found the state was obligated to pay the cost out of existing appropriations are focused on whether language barring use of the money could succeed, Hoskins said.

“I believe some attorneys have offered language we could use that would meet the goals if we tried to do that,” Hoskins said.

The pay raise proposed by Parson should be taken out of funds already appropriated for jobs that are not filled, he said. Hoskins is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Departments should be required to justify keeping slots that have been unfilled for months or years, he said.

If everything was in one supplemental spending bill, the total would be several billion dollars. Hegeman said he prefers to combine all early spending items in one bill.

The pay raise is urgent, he said.

“We have got to do something to try to attract and retain state employees where we desperately need staff to help the most frail and fragile people in the state,” Hegeman said.

The factional alignments on redistricting could be the most complicated. Some Republicans want to rearrange the districts so it is likely the state would elect seven Republicans instead of the current six.

The district that would be targeted would be the 5th District, currently held by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City.

Hegeman, who is vice chairman of the Select Committee on Redistricting, said he would oppose that effort.

“I am a classical conservative,” Hegeman said. “I think the districts kind of form up and represent Missouri very well the way they are.”

Last week’s meeting will erode any remaining trust between the conservative caucus and leadership, Hoskins said.

“If the Republican leadership that was elected by the entire Republican caucus is scheduling meetings and not including the entire Republican caucus, that will obviously  be detrimental to getting things done this session,” he said.

That could enhance the position of Democrats as majorities form issue-to-issue.

“Philosophically we are pretty far apart,” Hoskins said of Democratic Floor Leader John Rizzo. “But we both know that we are men of our word and if we say something we will follow through and do it.”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.