Jones’ bus tour touts legislative accomplishments, discusses political future and stirs Medicaid controversy
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones embarked on a five-day, 16-stop bus tour this week, cutting a wide swath across the state and touting the Republican Party’s legislative accomplishments during the last session.
The trip marks the second time Jones, who will reach his term limit following next year’s legislative session, has toured the state. He made a similar week-long trip during December, praising the new Republican supermajority and promising progress on a number of conservative issues.
Jones talked about the legislative success of the session that included a fix to the insolvent Second Injury Fund, “paycheck protection” and prevailing wage legislation, a sweeping income tax cut and numerous Second Amendment protection bills.
“We managed to pass an income tax cut for the first time in almost a century,” Jones told a small gathering of supporters at his Columbia stop. “I would urge the Governor to sign this bill, because the states around us that have seen success have been the ones that lower the tax burdens on their citizens.”
During the past few months, Jones has openly confirmed rumors that he will be seeking higher office after his time in the House ends. In an interview with The Missouri Times, Jones said the bus tour was “great practice for getting around the state.”
“I’m definitely looking for opportunities that come up as my term ends in the House,” Jones said. “I’m interested in continuing my public service and, while I consider Speaker to be a statewide office, I’m certainly interested in opportunities for a statewide office other than that.”
With Attorney General Chris Koster set to run for Governor, former prosecuting attorney and practicing lawyer Jones has been widely speculated as a potential candidate for the office. His significant fundraising — more than $700,000 on deck — and experience as an attorney could make him a serious contender.
“I do feel as though my background and my experiences would be fitted [for Attorney General],” Jones said. “Now, clearly there are considerations that need to be made before then. I need to discuss it with my family and my law firm, and most importantly there is still another legislative session for me as Speaker, and I’d like to focus on accomplishing some of our agenda before the end of that session when announcements like that might come.”
Jones’ final session as Speaker is not likely to be easy. Jones said he will likely have his hands full with interim work in the House and Senate. Items on the agenda include transportation funding, economic development bills, tax credit reform and Medicaid reform and expansion.
Supporters of Medicaid expansion attended multiple events that Jones held state-wide. At Jones’ final event at his district office in Eureka, more than a dozen Medicaid expansion protestors were barred from attending the event.
Jen Bersdale, Executive Director of Missouri Health Care for All, attended the Eureka event and said Jones’ staff told her fellow Medicaid expansion supporters that the event was a “private event for family and supporters.” Bersdale said they were frustrated by this, as the event was listed as public on Jones’ website.
“We were taking out our smart phones and showing them [Jones’] website and saying that is was listed as the final event on his tour,” Bersdale told The Missouri Times. “But they insisted it was a private event and kept the doors locked.”
Bersdale said there was even police presence to enforce the private nature of the event, even though the event was never listed or advertised as private.
“Eventually a few of us got in by basically acting as though they weren’t associated with us,” Bersdale said. “But eventually they were kicked out.”
Despite the laundry list of issues facing the legislature next term — with Medicaid likely at the top of the list — Jones said he has consistently gotten more questions on one topic during his tour than any other: common core curriculum.
“We’ve had about 14 stops that this point,” Jones told The Missouri Times midway through his final day, “and I think we’ve gotten questions about common core probably seven to 10 times. More than transportation or Medicaid or economic development.”
Jones said he is “very skeptical,” of common core, as he does not feel there has been enough information disseminated to school boards and the general public. He said most school board members he spoke with knew “barely any more than the average man or woman on the street” about the new standards and curriculum set to be implemented across the state over the next two years.
“It’s my understanding that this could potentially take a lot of the ability of a local school district to decide their own curriculum away,” Jones said. “If that’s the case then I’m very concerned with that, because local districts always, always know best what their local students needs are and how to meet them.”
While Jones said he loves touring the state, he and his staff are eager to get home.
“This has been a very busy week and there are so many people working so hard for it to run as smoothly as possible,” Jones said. “One thing it has taught me, running for statewide office for a year is not an easy thing to do.”