Can Governor Greitens and the legislature find some common ground?

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s no secret that there’s a good amount of tension between some legislators and the Governor’s Office, and it’s only been increasing as time continues to pass.

Over the first legislative session in Governor Eric Greitens’ career, the legislature, in particular, the Senate, and the executive branch have clashed several times.

While on the campaign trail, Greitens continuously pledged to “clean up Jefferson City”, touting his status as a political outsider. Greitens famously railed against corruption at the Capitol on the campaign trail, warning those in Missouri’s political realm by saying “I will defeat you. I will expose your lies. I will root out your corruption. I will see you out of the people’s Capitol, even if in sight of the statue of Thomas Jefferson I have to throw you down the steps of the capitol myself.”

The first moments appeared to be early in the session when senators debated a potential raise for the lawmakers, with Greitens pulling senators aside to try and lobby their votes to shoot down the measure. In the end, the pay raise didn’t happen, but legislators bristled at the so-called “strong-armed tactics” of the Governor.

After the end of the legislative session, the attacks did not end; when asked about a potential special session, Greitens referred to the legislators as third graders, saying that sometimes

One of the things that have proved most frustrating for Missouri lawmakers has been Greitens’ continued usage of the phrase “career politicians”, a notion which might not carry the same meaning it used to, now that Missouri’s legislature is firmly entrenched in a world of term limits.

Sen. Bob Dixon

“These are not politicians, regardless of the Governor’s poll-tested rhetoric. These are principled public servants,” Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said. “These are people who have been school teachers, small business owners, local city council servants, farmers, realtors, former coaches, or pharmacists. I mean, I can just go down the roster of the House or Senate and come up with at least 30 or 40 different professions. And that’s their primary profession.”

The governor’s call for a special session for a second time ruffled some feathers, as evidenced by Rep. Mike Moon’s controversial video, which was posted while he was working on his farm.

“Like any good career politician, when I get the call, I’m going back to work,” Moon said while butchering a chicken.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, has been perhaps the most vocal critic of Greitens, which only makes sense, as Schaaf is the only legislator who has been publicly attacked by the governor’s non-profit, A New Missouri. Robocalls went out in another senator’s district, but did not go on social media. 

A New Missouri made headlines this past session when they accused the senator of blocking the Blue Alert bill and posting his personal cell phone number on social media.

The senator has vocally continued to call for ethics reform from the legislature, including his repeated calls for a “dark money bill,” and he hasn’t made any attempts to rein in his opinions on the Senate floor.

Sen. Rob Schaaf

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In the first day of the second special session, Schaaf continuously referred to Greitens as the “Great Seal of Missouri”, sarcastically playing on the name of the state seal and Greitens’ service career.

The latest item in the ongoing feud flared up during the current extraordinary session when a bipartisan group of state senators put forward a resolution calling for an investigation into Greitens, his campaign, and the coordination between his office and A New Missouri.

Greitens’ spokesperson Parker Briden said that the call for an investigation was nothing more than a “temper tantrum” from the senators.

“We put out a call for a special session to protect lives and the health and safety of Missourians, and this is the response from these politicians? They’re angry that the Governor is shaking up Jefferson City and won’t accept their excuses for failure any longer,” Briden said. “Temper tantrums from career politicians don’t bother us. It’s just more evidence that Gov. Greitens is an outsider who is doing what he said he would do: taking on politicians in both parties to get results. When career politicians are whining, Missourians are winning.”

And while the legislature continues to work on the abortion bills that the extraordinary session is based upon, the real question is this: can the Governor and those legislators repair the bridge and work together?

It’s a question that may be difficult to answer, but the fact of the matter is that both sides need the other.

The legislature needs Greitens to sign the bills they pass, while Greitens needs the legislature to pass his agenda. And while the two entities continue to spar, the symbiotic relationship between the two is one designed to be that.

‘There’s got to be a healthy level of tension because the citizens elected the members of these two branches to have a healthy debate,” Dixon said. “They did not elect him to represent them, they elected those principled public servants to do that. They elected him to govern and work with the people they selected and elected as the representatives of their area and their beliefs.”

Dixon says that the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would them do unto you, is the best way that they can find some common ground and bridge that gap between the senators and the executive office. And to do that, he says, the “ad hominem attacks” and the name-calling has to stop.

“Common decency is what comes to mind. When I see common decency and basic respect for the values that most Missourians have as far as treating one another, that’s what makes the process work, and the people want to see it work,” Dixon continued. “Obviously, it’s been a central point of discussion among legislators and Missourians for several months. I’d like to put it behind us, and when we reconvene in January, I’m very hopeful that the atmosphere will be much different and it’s more productive.”

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Benjamin Peters

Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email benjamin@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.

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