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End of session awards

It was a strong session for 

Missouri’s agriculture groups: From Farm Bureau to the Soybean Association to the Cattlemen, and really all of the Missouri ag community, the groups came together to not only get their MASBDA tax credits going again, but passed an eminent domain bill that they have been working on for years. One of the best sessions for ag in a long time — and that bar is high. 

Senator Jason Bean: He passed several bills, including a gambling bill, but the big-ticket items were his leading voice on MASBDA and working with Rep. Mike Haffner on the eminent domain bill. 

House Floor Leader Dean Plocher: He had a tough hand this year, but in the end, he carried a paranoid and dim-witted leadership partner and a Senate at war with itself to a surprisingly productive session. He was tough — sometimes real damn tough — when he had to be while keeping his reputation as an honest and willing deal maker. In the end, he was able to use his influence, which increased greatly Friday afternoon to force a congressional map out of the Senate and establish the House as the reasonable chamber for serious public policy discussions. 

Senator Brian Williams: He brought in a haul for St. Louis County in the budget, a big haul. It really makes no sense how he delivered that haul from his position in the minority party. It just goes to show that relationships matter. 

Senator Lincoln Hough: Speaking of the budget, this was another year of the Senate leading the budget process, and the senator leading that was Senator Hough. While this wasn’t the clear stomping that the three previous budgets have seen, the senate was clearly the leading chamber, and that dominance over the past four years has been led by Senator Hough. 

Rep. Travis Fitzwater: He made his case as the serious candidate in SD 10 with a strong session highlighted by his legislation on workforce development. All the yelling and moaning from the outside of the real conversation doesn’t accomplish much; his work to bring consensus did deliver a big boost for Missouri employers.

Department of Social Services: Under new leadership, DSS is turning a toxic relationship with the legislature into a partnership. It wasn’t that long ago that DSS was seeing the General Assembly launch investigative hearings, make punitive cuts to the director’s office, and put Medicaid funding and the FRA in perpetual limbo. This year, DSS advocated loudly and successfully for the governor’s supplemental pay plan, received restoration of prior cuts, got funding for numerous technology upgrades, full funding for Medicaid, and the new Children’s Division Director Darrell Missey has been well-received by lawmakers. 

Senator Rizzo and his Democratic Caucus: They deftly took every advantage of a Republican Caucus at war with itself.

Casinos and gray machines: The fight will continue next year on gray machines with no clear law to regulate them. Today, a gray machine is either legal or illegal based on how a local prosecutor reads an ambiguous law, and the casinos have continued to win by stonewalling VLTs and sportsbooks. 

Rep. Jon Patterson: He will be a hero back home for navigating the legislation that puts Kansas City in the running for the World Cup. 

Senator Caleb Rowden: What a tough hand he was dealt this year. No question it was messy, but he ended the session with a pretty solid list of accomplishments and having done what was necessary to make himself the overwhelming favorite to become the Pro Tem next session. 

MOCANN: The group of businesses in the medical marijuana industry were able to stand pat on the existing law and watch their political opponents go from sheriffs and pastors to Cheech and Chong — while seeing the law enforcement and the religious community become some of the biggest defenders of the current regulatory system. Not a bad five months of work. 

House Budget Committee: Last year it was pretty lopsided, but the House was able to sink Medicaid expansion funding … only to see the Supreme Court take back its win a couple of months later. This time the Senate position and House position weren’t nearly as lopsided, and against all logic, the House was able to pry $50 million for a series of highly questionable education programs that could have only been secured with some savvy legislating and skilled dealmaking. In short, they are moving in a positive direction to restore budget balance. 

Senator Greg Razer: There was a specific bill that the majority was very eager to pass; it didn’t. 

Rep. Dan Houx: He navigated some choppy waters on gaming and HB 2400, which will be the biggest economic development bill of session.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli: He delivered a number of significant budget wins for eastern St. Charles County. He passed legislation expanding access to virtual schools, and used his position as Rules chairman to negotiate compromises on some of the session’s thorniest issues.

Jorgen Schlemeier: He is fundamentally changing not just the tone, but the very vocabulary of Missouri Republicans. 

Drew Dampf: He might be the most talented staffer in the Senate. His relationships bridge the partisan divide and the Senate and House’s physical divide. He navigated Sen. Dan Hegeman through every one of his budgets and acted as a trusted advisor to Sens. Caleb Rowden and Dave Schatz along the way. I’m not sure where he’s heading next, but someone is going to acquire a lot of talent when they land him. 

Rep. Jim Murphy: The most quotable man in the Missouri Republican Party had a busy session, but his work calling on the state to do more than just run their mouths or post Facebook videos on illegal immigration paid off. There is money in the budget to actually do something reasonable to put some action behind the rhetoric. 

Senator Doug Beck: He has been able to become a senator who kills legislation and be a senator who Republicans seek out to help pass legislation. 

Rep. Kurtis Gregory: The former Missouri Tiger really came into his own in the last month of session moving several pieces of legislation, including the NIL legislation that has become so crucial in college recruiting. He crafted a reputation that will have several lobbyists making the trip to the farm in Saline County to ask him to carry their complicated legislation next session. 

MATA: How about a session where no one took a serious run at them? Ken Barnes may want to run for presidencies after this. 

Rep. Curtis Trent  Despite having few bills referred to his committee by an inexplicably hostile Speaker, he finished having a strong session. He delivered on several Greene County priorities. Also teaming with Rep. Bruce DeGroot they passed the prison nursery legislation that is something reps in every district in the state can tout. In many ways it looked a lot like an audition for the Senate in demonstrating his chops as a workhorse, quietly helping move policy behind the scenes. This session showed the need for Senators who can work well with other personalities and navigate the precarious internal politics of the upper chamber. He made his case that he has the demeanor to be a calming and constructive addition to the Senate. 

Palm Strategies A company that doesn’t exist but got hours of free press.

Missouri School Board Association: After being the first state association to drop the national group after their bizarre antics toward parents they led the discussion on fair compromises on some very challenging issues during what will likely be the toughest session public education will ever  have to face. Before session was over senators were back to defending their school boards over frivolous lawsuits being flung at them.

Senators Rick Brattin and Eric Burlison: In what was a brutal congressional map process they both came out big winners. Burlison was able to get Webster County mostly axed from his congressional race, and Brattin was able to get Boone County, the county of the sitting floor leader, cut in half for his congressional race this summer. You can tweet all you want whining about gerrymandering; these two senators were just worried about winning.  

Thomas Robbins of SCC: You know how you can tell when a lobbyist is making a legit difference in the Capitol? When the liberal papers start taking shots at him. A couple more Post or Star stories, and he will have to up his retainer fee. 

Missouri Right to Life: You might be wondering what MRL will do now that Roe vs. Wade is on the way to the ash heap of history. Well, Susan Klein showed this session she can make any bill in the legislature about aboriton and bring a handful of senators with her. MRL has already had a good year, and they haven’t even got to the time of year when they are the most popular: campaign endorsement time. 

Brian Grace and Kate Casas: They have the client that caused an eminent domain bill to be filed for nine years in a row. Ultimately, their client wasn’t impacted by the eminent domain reform that the legislature passed. That’s masterful. 

Senator Mike Bernskoetter As chair of redistricting, he took on a seemingly impossible task and when all seemed lost, on the second to last day of session, executed pretty big win over the conservative caucus who had attacked his efforts all session. If he decides to run he has put himself in a position to be a top contender for floor leader.

Utilities It was a very successful year for utilities racking up several small good government regulatory changes that continue to keep rates low. 

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver: He’s still in Congress, ain’t he?

Those who had a bit tougher session 

Sportsbooks: About the time they finally came to an agreement with Senator Denny Hoskins … they found out the casinos were there in opposition the entire time and proved to be an even bigger obstacle. 

House Speaker Rob Vescovo: After being kept from embarrassing himself all year by the floor leader, sometimes it’s the smallest thing, like whitewashing an Ethics complaint, to get people to start asking questions … or reading personal financial disclosure forms … or bankruptcy filings … or start asking what day he agreed to go on the payroll of that not for profit. 

St. Charles County Republicans: 35 percent. That is roughly the amount of the vote in a Republican primary that will come from St. Charles County. All that rankor and all those hours on the floor, and in the end 35 percent. They can’t be happy about that in Wentzville. However, a tip of the hat and I know I may be in the minority in giving one to Senator Onder for at the very end not forcing a PQ on a map I know he hated. 

IP reform: Initiative petitioners might have escaped House Floor Leader Dean Plocher, but will they escape House Speaker Dean Plocher?

The Attorney General’s Office: After an overwhelmingly popular effort to cut the masks off Missouri children, they ultimately lost a budget increase after continuing to sue school boards after the mask wars were over. The question swirling around the big brick building is how far down will they let Justin Smith drag them into the vortex of making skinny east coast triggered republicans happy while pissing off republican school board members in Mountain View?

Casinos: They make both lists because for years they have played the VLT/Gray Machine/Sportsbook issues like total pros. However, now Senator Hoskins is going to make them take the lead on opposing some pretty popular legislation. 

Webster County They somehow got caught up in the congressional map mess, and ended up getting stuck in the same congressional district as Blue Springs. In other words they got the shaft, and I wish Senator Cunningham the best of luck in court.