Democrat leaves ethics inquiry into Dean Plocher to avoid conflict of interest
Assistant Minority Leader Richard Brown, like Plocher, is running for lieutenant governor in the 2024 elections
House Assistant Minority Leader Richard Brown, D-Kansas City, speaks during a May floor session. (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications)
A Democrat running for the same statewide office as Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher will not participate in a House Ethics Committee inquiry into the speaker.
House Assistant Minority Leader Richard Brown of Kansas City, who is running for lieutenant governor, was replaced Tuesday on the committee by Rep. David Tyson Smith of Columbia. In a letter to Chief Clerk Dana Miller, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade invoked a rule that allows any member of the Ethics Committee to be replaced temporarily “on the grounds that the member cannot render an impartial and unbiased decision in the case.”
Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, will take Brown’s place as ranking minority member and vice chair of the committee, Quade wrote.
Brown could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.
The change took place a day before a scheduled meeting of the ethics committee, the second in two weeks to discuss Plocher, who is running for lieutenant governor as a Republican. The committee met for four hours Oct. 27 for a personnel inquiry that has now been expanded to include a formal complaint against the speaker alleging “ethical misconduct.”
Plocher has been under fire since September, when Miller, chief clerk since 2018, wrote in an email to a GOP lawmaker that Plocher had threatened her job over her resistance to an expensive software contract that the speaker was pushing for the House to sign on to.
Miller wrote that Plocher made statements “connecting this contract with campaign activity” — suggesting the speaker’s motivation was his 2024 campaign for lieutenant governor — and that she had “growing concerns of unethical and perhaps unlawful conduct.”
On Oct. 17, Plocher fired his chief of staff Kenny Ross, giving no explanation for the change. Ross was hired a few hours later by Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden.
A few days later, The Independent revealed that Plocher filed false expense reports with the legislature going back to 2018 seeking reimbursement for costs already paid for by his campaign.
The Kansas City Star reported the initial hearing of the ethics committee, conducted for four hours behind closed doors, discussed an inquiry from Miller about whether she should continue to pay Ross despite Plocher’s decision to fire him. Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, used her authority under the rules to initiate an inquiry if the committee has information that a legislator may have violated the law or ethical rules of the House.
House rules also require the speaker to refer any formal complaint against a member to the ethics committee within 14 days. The Star reported that Plocher sent the complaint to House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson to refer to the committee, recusing himself.
The filing of a formal complaint obligates the committee to conduct an inquiry and issue a report within 45 days of completion of its investigation.
The committee can find that the complaint is not well-founded, requiring no further action. But if it finds the complaint is valid, it can recommend punishments ranging from a letter of reproval to expulsion.
While ethics committee hearings are closed during the inquiry, the report is a public document.
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Before the committee can get there, however, the House Republican Caucus could force Plocher out. The caucus will meet Thursday in Jefferson City, and a growing number of Republicans are calling for Plocher to step down.
Rep. Adam Schwadron, a St. Charles Republican who is running for secretary of state, became the latest, writing to his colleagues on Sunday that he is worried Republicans will lose seats if Plocher is not removed from the chamber’s top job.
Republicans hold 111 seats in the 163-member chamber. That is down from a high of 117 after the 2016 election.
“At a minimum, all these events and the questions they raise look horrible and will certainly fuel campaign attacks against our Republican majority this coming election cycle,” Schwadron wrote. “Exactly how many seats will this cost us, I don’t know.”
Schwadron also questioned whether Jonathan Ratliff, executive director of the House Republican Campaign Committee and consultant for Plocher’s lieutenant governor campaign, could serve both roles. Ratliff defended Plocher in a radio interview and, Schwadron wrote, said the House caucus supports him staying in office.
That defense “makes this all look and smell like a cover-up of the good ole boys,” Schwadron wrote. “The silence of our caucus makes us complicit in this collusion. By failing to govern ourselves, we declare ourselves unfit to govern.”
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