Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, speaks on the Senate floor on Feb. 10, 2021 (screenshot courtesy of Senate Communications).
Tension among Republicans that has mired the Missouri Senate in gridlock over the last two years bubbled up again this week, as a GOP state senator and an adviser to the conservative caucus took aim at each other in dueling radio interviews.
Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, took the first shot, laying into the Senate conservative caucus during a Monday interview with KCMO Talk Radio’s Pete Mundo.
“They call it the conservative caucus,” Cierpiot said. “It’s more accurate to call it the chaos caucus.They are dead set on being obstructionists.”
He accused the caucus of being duplicitous in how it handled congressional redistricting, publicly saying the fight was over a more GOP friendly map when instead “they wanted things to help their potential political goals at some future date.”
Conservative caucus members offer amendments to bills, Cierpiot said, because “they just want Facebook clicks and don’t care about getting things done.”
And Cierpiot said the caucus is being bankrolled by trial attorneys, who are dead set against having a functioning Senate in order to block any tort reform from passing.
They call it the conservative caucus. It’s more accurate to call it the chaos caucus. They are dead set on being obstructionists.
– Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit
Cierpiot said he’s been called a “RINO,” or Republican in Name Only, based on a scorecard put out by a political action committee seeking to expand the conservative caucus in GOP Senate primaries called 100 PAC.
The 100 PAC is run by Jim Lembke, a former conservative caucus staff member.
“It is full of lies,” Cierpiot said of the scorecard. “Jim Lembke lies as easy as he breathes. But people back home don’t understand that.”
Cierpiot also heaped scorn on Missouri Right to Life, which sided with the conservative caucus by endorsing challengers to each incumbent Republican senator on the ballot this year, including Cierpiot. He singled out the organization’s legislative liaison, Susan Klein, and chairman, Dave Plemmons.
“For the next four years,” Cierpiot said, “Missouri Right to Life is not welcome in my office until they fire Susan Klein and Dave Plemmons. Those people have no trust amongst the majority of senators.”
The next day, Mundo interviewed Lembke, who said trial attorneys support the conservative caucus because they’ve found commonality over defending the 7th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to trial by jury.
“We’ve passed all kinds of tort reform in the last decade,” Lembke said, adding: “We have to be careful to protect the rights and access to courts for the people.”
Lembke said he was “saddened” by Cierpiot’s interview, because he “sounds like an angry man.”
He noted that while Cierpiot emerged victorious in the GOP primary last week over two opponents, he failed to win more than 50% of the vote.
“People are waking up,” he said. “It makes a difference which Republicans we elect. Our problem in Missouri isn’t that we don’t have enough Republicans. We don’t have the right Republicans.”
A lot of Republicans “said one thing during campaign season,” Lembke said, “and went to Jeff City and voted a different way.”
Lemkbe’s 100 PAC supported four candidates in GOP Senate primaries last week, winning all four seats — including knocking off incumbent Sen. Bill White of Joplin.
In recent years, Lembke said, GOP super majorities have increased the gas tax, enacted a prescription drug monitoring program and funded Medicaid expansion.
“Those are not Republican things,” he said. “There would be no need for a conservative caucus if the Republicans were working together to do Republican things.”
Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate.
But as GOP infighting intensified over the last two years, the 34-member Missouri Senate became split into three factions — the seven-member conservative caucus, 17 senators aligned with Republican leadership and 10 Democrats.
Throughout the 2022 session, conservative caucus members used parliamentary maneuvers to gum up the Senate and, with their priorities failing to get traction, turned otherwise anodyne bills into vehicles for controversial amendments pertaining to transgender student athletes and vaccine mandates.
The acrimony between the two factions became so bad that the Senate adjourned a day early for the first time since a fixed adjournment date was set in the state constitution in 1952.
The radio skirmish this week between Cierpiot and Lembke is also not the only time the two have quarreled.
In February, Cierpiot rose during Senate debate to introduce a special guest, a custom in the Senate that normally involves announcing visits from school groups, constituents or perhaps family.
Instead, Cierpiot lashed out at Lembke, calling him the “puppet master” of the conservative caucus.
Cierpiot’s words so enraged a member of the conservative caucus, Republican Sen. Bill Eigel, that the two got into a shouting match later that day and had to be physically separated.
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