JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “I think what you saw today was the Senate stand up for the Senate,” Sen. Rob Schaaf said. “And you saw the Governor run away from the battlefield and leave his three soldiers behind to die.”
Schaaf’s description of the events of Thursday morning in the Missouri Senate provides an insight into the ongoing power struggle between the legislature’s upper chamber and the second floor, home to the executive branch’s head.
Senators have continued butting heads with Republican Governor Eric Greitens in his second year, but the manner in which the Governor has handled making appointments to various boards and commissions has crossed the line for more than a few senators.
With the deadline looming overhead, Missouri’s state senators returned to the chambers Thursday morning to see how things would play out. The previous night had proven to be a long one with much debate over the appointments, particularly the nominations of Craig Porter, Alan T. Simpson, and John P. Scariot, to the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC).
On Wednesday, news broke that the Governor had withdrawn the appointments, but the Senate refused to send them back.
After working on several other items Thursday morning, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard rose, saying that the Secretary of the Senate had received an email stating that the Governor’s appointees had resigned and that no further action was needed.
That, however, led to more questions and confusion.
“Are they banned for life?” Schaaf asked.
Richard replied that they had pulled themselves from the running, stating that “based on tradition, they have the ability to send a note of resignation.”
Schaaf pressed further, questioning the process and whether Greitens could reappoint them. The Senate counsel eventually responded by simply stating that it would be “up to the court.”
“This is an interesting turn of events,” Schaaf said, calling it new territory.”It’s essentially a lifetime ban, I think, because I think the courts would uphold this.”
And shortly before noon, the Senate adjourned, and the appointees were not confirmed by the Senate. There seems to still be some confusion on what exactly this means, and at the current time, it depends who you ask.
Sens. Schaaf and Romine will tell you that the names of the appointees were in the possession of the Senate and that the body did not formally accept the resignations. As such, that would mean that, if you side with their view of the proceedings, that as of the end of Feb. 2, those three appointees will be banned from serving on the MHDC.
“The Senate was in possession of those appointees,” Romine said. “And just like the Governor couldn’t withdraw them without the approval of the Senate, the Senate did not accept the resignation of those people. These folks have been banned for life and gone through a process that never should have happened in the way that it happened. The Governor has got to follow the process.”
Sen. Richard, however, says that the appointees resigned, and that should be the end of the matter – unless the Governor tries to reappoint them.
“That depends on reappointments, and I don’t think they’re going to be reappointed. I don’t think the people would actually even want to be reappointed after what we’ve seen with all of these appointments. I can’t believe that anyone would want to be reappointed after what they went through. But it would end up in court if they were reappointed, as some members said.”
But the issue simply boils down to this: Missouri’s state senators believe this is a fight to defend their right to do their duties, and have reached the line with a Governor whom they say is trying to circumvent the rules and procedures in order to further his own agenda. And in that sense, every senator can agree that any interference in their ability to do their job is a problem.
“This goes back to the Board of Education, to governors and the judiciary always pushing in on the legislators’ ability to do their jobs,” Richard said at a press conference. “And I’m always protective of the House and Senate to do out jobs without the interference of other branches.”
The question now is in two parts: will the Governor attempt to reappoint those people once again when the legislature ends their session in May, and will the Governor try to use a similar strategy when the deadline for his State Board of Education picks comes?
Schaaf seems to have an answer ready if the Governor does indeed do both. The answer to the first would quite simply be to let the courts decide the matter. As for the second question:
“Governor, if you intend to deal with the Board of Education nominees in the same way, then call them and tell them to resign now so the Board can get on with business,” Schaaf said. “We need to have people willing to serve and know that they will not be thrown under the bus by the Governor.”
“The Governor always eventually wins. He’ll get his way, and all of the boards will eventually be stacked with his people,” he continued. “But we’re saying that if we see you railroading the process, we’re going to put a stop to that. We’ll win an occasional battle, but we will not win the ultimate war.”
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.