Capitol Perspectives: Dealing with legislative misbehavior

February 21, 2023 5:55 am

U.S. Rep. George Santos walks in the House Chamber during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 4, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images).

Members of the U.S. Congress should take a look at Missouri’s legislature on how to deal with New York U.S. Rep. George Santos who is facing a number of allegations.

Santos campaigned falsely portraying himself as Jewish, that his mother was at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and other claims subsequently proven as false.

In contrast to the inactions by Congress dealing with his lies and alleged criminal actions, Missouri provides profound bipartisan examples in the last 15 years at admonishing government officials for unacceptable behavior.

In those years, the disciplinary actions had overwhelming bipartisan support regardless of the party affiliation of the person facing charges of misbehavior or the party in power pursuing action.

In 2017 a Republican-controlled Missouri Senate by a bipartisan vote censured Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, D-University City, for a social media post expressing a hope that President Donald Trump be assassinated.

Even the Senate’s Democratic leader, Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors in St. Louis County, voted in support of the censure.

Just a year later, a bipartisan group of Missouri legislatures pursued action against the state’s highest official.

In 2018 GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson established a committee to investigate various allegations about fellow Republican, Gov. Eric Greitens, involving charges of sexual abuse and campaign finance violations.

The committee’s report, signed by both Republican and Democrat committee members, concluded the female victim was creditable in her allegations.

After that report top Republican leaders ended up calling for the Republican governor to resign.

Although the House committee was not termed an “impeachment committee,” legislators of both parties called themselves into a special session to impeach the governor based on the committee’s findings

Greitens ended the impeachment session when he sent a message to the legislature of his resignation as governor.

Other examples that members of Congress might want to consider was the 2021 decision by Republican House Speaker Rob Vescovo to strip the committee assignments of fellow Republican Rep. Trica Derges of Springfield after she was indicted for federal medical fraud violations.

Vescovo went even further moving her to a Capitol office the size of a closet.

Next on this list for members of Congress to consider is the overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the Missouri House also in 2021 to expel newly elected Rep. Rick Roeber, R-Lee Summit in Jackson County, after his children sent to the Republican House speaker allegations of sexual abuse.

Not one House member voted against his expulsion.

Significant for Congress to consider about that action is that the allegations against Roeber were about his actions before he became a member of the Missouri House.

Missouri House action on Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis City, was a vivid demonstration of the bipartisan ability of Missouri lawmakers to deal with misbehavior.

In 2021, The Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee found Price had lied about an allegation he had a sexual encounter with a legislative intern.

Then by an overwhelming vote of both Republicans and Democrats, the House voted to censure him and expel him from all House committees as fining him for the cost of the legislative investigation.

The difference between these Missouri legislative examples from the “Show Me State” illustrate striking differences about how the U.S. House likely will deal with misbehaving members in particular, especially since the U.S. House speaker’s party has a slim and fragile majority.

I would be remiss in this column if I did not acknowledge the bad behaviors of a few legislators I covered decades earlier.

There were some truly egregious incidents including a male legislator who attempted to assault a female staffer in another room during a committee hearing.

But in subsequence decades, I’ve been impressed at the degree to which Missouri’s legislature has cleaned up its act and become more aggressive in enforcing appropriate behavior.

Maybe Missouri members of Congress could point out to their colleagues from other states how Missouri’s legislature has handled misbehavior of their own members.

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Phill Brooks
Phill Brooks

Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.