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Heated whipping process on display in education reform vote

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Senate Bill 125, backed by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and touted as a way to improve public schools, failed Wednesday by a vote of 76-82 after a long night in the chamber and an extremely contentious vote-whipping process.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis

Tensions came to a head on the bill when Senate sponsor Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, confronted Democrats on the floor. Rep. Keith English, D-Florissant, yelled at Nasheed on the floor to “stop threatening people” before Nasheed was removed from the chamber as the two came close to a physical confrontation.

Nasheed was in the chamber for the entire debate on her bill, which began after 10 p.m. and did not end until midnight. Nasheed was in both side galleries, first whipping reluctant rural Republicans to support her measure before pressuring her fellow black caucus members to fall in line.

“She was telling [Representative Michael] Butler that if he didn’t vote her way, he wouldn’t be coming back,” English told The Missouri Times. “Whether you support this bill or oppose it, it’s not right for someone to lobby on the floor and threaten a fellow member of the General Assembly. That’s not how you do business.”

Butler declined to comment on the incident.

Nasheed spent much of the week lobbying black caucus members in the House to support the bill, telling The Missouri Times that the bill — which included evaluations for principles and changes to the state intervention of failing districts — would benefit black communities the most, and said political pressure shouldn’t stop her members from “doing the right thing.”

Rep. Keith English, D-Florissant
Rep. Keith English, D-Florissant

Nasheed cheered and applauded when fellow black caucus member, Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant, gave an impassioned speech urging support for the measure before offering an amendment carving out evaluations across the board.

Webb’s amendment was replaced with a substitute, which carved out all evaluations except for principals, and was a test balloon for what the vote on the overall bill would be.

The vote on the amendment took more than twenty minutes, with several members changing votes frequently throughout the process while sponsors and detractors worked vulnerable votes in their favor.

The incident between Nasheed and English highlighted the intense nature of the arm-twisting and the closeness of the vote. During the vote on the substitute amendment, the handler of the bill, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, was seen speaking to Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Platte County, for several minutes, clearly attempting to convince Marshall to change his no vote. At one point during Barnes’s wrangling, Marshall, who never changed his vote, simply rose and left his desk.

Jones, who served with Nasheed in the House and considers her a “close ally,” is seemingly personally committed to passing the bill at all costs. Over the last few weeks, as the measure struggled to make it through committee, Jones removed members of education and fiscal review committee’s that voted to block the bill, replacing them with members who voted in favor, which ultimately led to the bill arriving on the floor for debate.

Jones’s push didn’t appear to be enough, however. While the amendment vote passed 82-74 with support from the black caucus, the final bill vote lost by six votes. All six members that voted yes on the amendment and no on the final bill were Republicans.

The incident highlighted Jones’s continuing struggle to wrangle his fellow caucus members to support an education reform bill largely opposed by rural school boards and administrators.

Jones became frustrated after the loss and recognized Majority Floor Leader John Diehl, R-St. Louis, to move for adjournment. However, the motion to adjourn lost by a voice vote, the first time an adjournment motion has failed during the session. Jones, then recognized Diehl who — after two attempts to reach the Speaker on the direct line phone — quickly recognized floor-savvy Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, to motion on a bill before moving for adjournment, which was finally successful.

The vote represents the most contentious and one of the closest votes all session, and the struggle of Jones to pass even a motion to adjourn was significant, as Burlison said he had “no idea” they would recognize him for a motion.

Ultimately, the loss represented a major blow to Jones’s education agenda, which has been defeated twice on the House floor. A House bill with similar provisions, HB 631, lost a vote by a wide margin of 55-102 earlier this year.

In the last moments of the vote, Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Peters, switched his vote to a no, potentially to preserve his ability to make a motion to reconsider, which could bring the bill back to the floor.

Jones appears to have been personally hurt by the loss of the bill, hanging his head before declaring the vote closed and even taking a seat for several minutes, as though exhausted. Jones also did not attend his regular press gaggle at the end of the week on the day the House passed the budget for the state, instead dispatching Budget chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood and majority floor leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, to answer questions about the business of the week and a preview of the coming week’s activities.

To contact Collin Reischman, email, or via Twitter at @Collin_MOTimes.