JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “Beware the Ides of March.”
March 15th has always been associated with the betrayal and assassination of Julius Caesar, and has, for more than two millennia, served as a stark warning of caution to politicians.
But in the year 2018, the Ides of March carries another reason for concern in the Show-Me State.
As of March 15, the terms of three members of the Missouri Ethics Commission – Bill Deeken, a Republican from Jefferson City, and Democrats Eric Dirks of Kansas City and Nancy Hagan of Springfield – have all expired.
Without those three members, the six-member commission does not have a quorum, and cannot meet or issue any decisions following March 15. That’s because, unlike other boards and commissions, MEC commissioners cannot serve beyond their four-year terms.
“Our statutes require there to be at least four commissioners to conduct the business of the commission, in terms of taking complaints and taking other matters, advisory opinions,” MEC Director James Klahr told the Missouri Times in early March. “There are some things that we have to have four commissioners to be able to do.”
However, Klahr explained that the commission has been in this type of scenario before, and that it usually means that complaints would potentially need to be refiled.
But members of the Senate are concerned about one thing in particular: to return the quorum to the MEC, Gov. Eric Greitens must make at least one appointment.
And that, to some senators, is not OK.
“I have been told by Mr. Klahr that, as of tomorrow, they won’t have a quorum, and they won’t be able to look at any complaints,” Sen. Rob Schaaf said while inquiring of Sen. Bob Dixon.
Dixon then discussed the fact that a new ethics complaint had been filed against the Governor this week.
Former state Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple said on Wednesday that he would be filing a new complaint that alleged Greitens had falsely reported how his campaign got a hold of the donor list from The Mission Continues, the charity he founded.
Temple’s complaint asks the MEC to refer the case against Greitens to a prosecutor and demand that a fine be paid from his campaign.
“So you’re telling me, Senator, that there’s an ethics complaint filed against the Governor, and that as of tomorrow, there won’t be a quorum on the ethics commission… and that in order for there to be a quorum to look at the ethics complaint that was filed against the Governor, the Governor himself will have to appoint someone to the ethics commission,” Schaaf said.
Dixon replied with an affirmative.
“There was one phrase that came to mind: kangaroo court,” Dixon said. “Even if someone is appointed, my concern at this point is that we have a constitutional crisis on our plate. He would have to appoint someone to decide his case.”
Schaaf pointed to the State Board of Education, saying that history shows that the Governor would appoint those who would do his bidding.
Dixon said that letting the Governor appoint someone to the Ethics Commission would “violate all principles of checks and balances to allow the accused to appoint the judge.”
“How in the world does that work?” Dixon exclaimed.
“What can the Senate do to help solve the problem of the Ethics Commission?” Schaaf asked.
Dixon said he believed it would be a good idea to find some piece of legislation to serve as a vehicle to allow those appointments to be made by Lt. Gov. Mike Parson.
“We need to figure out how to do that,” he said, saying that it was necessary to defeat airs of impropriety.
“I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with governors who do not want our advice and tried everything to get around our consent,” Dixon said. “This is the farthest thing from leadership that I have ever seen in my entire life.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.