JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As legislative caucuses voted on new leadership roles in the past few days, Gov.-elect Eric Greitens came to Jefferson City to make inroads with a General Assembly he has maligned at times on the campaign trail.
Judging by the reactions of most members of the chamber, you wouldn’t know that he had a major part of his successful message emerged from the promise to rid Jefferson City of corrupt, career politicians – even when his own party holds supermajorities in each chamber.
Speaker Todd Richardson and other members of the House seemed the most enthused by Greitens’ visit. The governor-elect reportedly received a standing ovation when he arrived in the House chamber to address the majority caucus before they voted on new leadership roles. After the caucus, Richardson said that he agreed with Greitens’ calls for a less corrupt government on the campaign trail.
“I don’t think there’s any need of a smoothing over,” Richardson said. “Each and every one of the people behind me embraces that rhetoric. There’s been nobody in the Missouri House that served here for longer than 6 years, each of us ran on a platform of change and taking the state in a new direction.”
Mostly, however, Richardson expressed a mixture of relief, excitement, and jubilation that after serving in the House for six years under Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, he and the Republican supermajority would no longer have a thorn in their side that prevented progress on Right-to-Work legislation, tort reform and education reform.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this room behind me today is disappointed that Eric Greitens won this election,” he said. “This group behind us is excited to have a Republican governor for the first time in our legislative careers.”
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard also noted his pleasure at getting a chance to work with a Republican governor, something he has not done as either House Speaker or as President Pro Tem.
However, Richard had unkind words for the Greitens campaign in September after they attacked the Senate for report from the State Auditor that criticized lobbyist contributions to the Senate paying for Senate staff meals during long work hours.
Thursday, Richard responded to the prospect of Greitens’ campaign talk about corrupt government officials, in his trademark blunt gruffness.
“I’m not corrupt, so I don’t worry about it,” he said.
Newly-elected Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh criticized Greitens’ rhetoric, but she also added that he alone wasn’t to blame for accusations of corruption within the government.
“I think a lot of things are said and done on the campaign trail that to me are purely rhetoric,” Walsh said. “I have seen ads for and against both sides of the aisle, a lot of them I took very personal [sic] because I serve with these folks, and I know most of these people they were aimed at personally, and I consider a lot of them my friends. So I knew it was rhetoric and it wasn’t true.”
However, while that rhetoric may have irked Democratic leadership, they mainly expressed consternation that a Republican will live in the Governor’s Mansion in February. Walsh, a labor leader in Jefferson City, deflated at the thought of what will likely be a losing battle against Republican labor policy reform but insisted her caucus would keep fighting against Right-to-Work legislation.
While newly-elected House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty acknowledged that losses for the Democratic super minority would likely come quickly, she also spoke optimistically about working together with the governor to solve problems that affected all Missourians.
“Since it will be my first time working with a Republican governor, it is going to be different,” she said. “My goal is, whoever the governor will be, it is important to have a working relationship with that person, and I will reach out in an effort to do that.
“There are issues important to Missourians that are important to both sides of the aisle.”