JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – When freshman Sen. Caleb Rowden inquired of Sen. Rob Schaaf Thursday evening, who had continued obstructing business in the Senate after perceived slights from members of the House of Representatives, it became clear that the chamber, which usually becomes raucous and talkative during long debates on points of order, would not need to be brought to order by Lt. Gov. Mike Parson.
The room was dead silent.
All eyes rested on the two senators as an inquiry devolved into an interrogation and an accusation of corruption as Rowden determined he had enough of the stonewalling Schaaf had kept up for nearly two entire days, freezing all business in the Missouri Capitol’s upper chamber.
Listen to the full audio exchange here:
Rowden began innocuously, asking Schaaf about his life in St. Joseph as the senior senator was fresh off an hour-long filibuster on Sen. Dave Schatz’ Blue Alert bill. Eventually, Rowden asked about Missouri Doctors Mutual Assurance Company (MDMAC), a medical malpractice insurance company in St. Joseph, where Schaaf sits on the board.
Then, Rowden’s questioning on the floor turned towards a lobbyist who had represented MDMAC, but has also represented Drivewyze, a company for which Schaaf had vouched for on a piece of legislation regarding weight stations, which he called an “ethics bill”. A bill similar to Schaaf’s bill had been voted down in the House earlier in the day.
“Are you trying to imply that because of the fact that the company with which I worked has retained a lobbyist in the past and that very same lobbyist also represents…Drivewyze, that there’s some problem?” Schaaf asked.
Rowden did not immediately answer, but he further pointed out that it’s the same lobbyist who rents a room to Schaaf and his chief of staff when he is in Jefferson City for legislative business.
At this point, Schaaf went from mildly defensive and perturbed to visibly upset and angry at Rowden. He defended that he legally rented a room from McIntosh. Rowden then asked how Schaaf came to understand the Drivewyze issue. Schaaf said a lobbyist had brought it to him as is customary. Rowden sounded like he did not understand.
“I’m not a roommate with a lobbyist,” Rowden said.
“Are you trying to imply that in some way because this info came to me by virtue of a guy who rents a room to me and is a friend and who represents my company from time to time that there’s an impropriety there?” Schaaf asked. “How would I personally benefit? You’re raising the issue and casting doubt upon my integrity.”
The argument turned into from there before senior statesman Sen. Bob Dixon, a procedural hawk, called for an introduction of a special guest to provide some pause to the debate. He recognized the painting of Daniel Boone under the judgment tree.
“We’re never going to agree with one another… but I hope we can refrain from impugning the character of one another,” Dixon said. “I would just point out that none of us should sit in judgment of one another.”
Schaaf then immediately went back to defending his professional and personal relationship with the lobbyist with the firm Flotron and McIntosh – who ironically also represent WellCare, a large managed care company – and then challenged Rowden.
“If you are going to stand there and accuse me of doing something illegal or immoral or unethical, then I’m going to look at every one of your bills and see if that entity gave you a campaign contribution. Are you ready to accept that?” Schaaf said.
“Sure,” Rowden replied.
“Then this interrogation is over,” Schaaf said as he slammed his microphone onto his desk.
Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe then immediately ended the session at 5 p.m., despite the fact the body had initially planned to go until 7 p.m.
The night ended a whirlwind day in the Senate where Schaaf definitely demanded the most attention and received egging not only from Rowden but possibly House members for his obstruction, especially as the General Assembly nears the end of the regular session.
Schaaf has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with budget bills designed by House Budget Chair Scott Fitzpatrick on the rollout of managed care expansion. Rowden is a friend of Fitzpatrick’s from his days in the House.
It remains to be seen whether or not this latest attempt to derail one of the most stoic senators in the upper chamber will entrench him further into his positions or cause him to relent.
While the Senate had discussed returning to session on Friday, Kehoe elected that the chamber return on Monday at 4 p.m.
Benjamin Peters also contributed to this report.