Seemingly involved in every bill now that the legislative session is in full swing, the new Missouri Senate Conservative Caucus has taken to the floor – and to social media.
The caucus has six members: Sens. Eric Burlison, Bill Eigel, Denny Hoskins, Andrew Koenig, Cindy O’Laughlin, and Bob Onder. The members are geographically from all over the state, ranging from Springfield to the St. Louis suburbs and exurbs, to outstate Missouri. Some members have only served in the Senate for months, others, years. Some are chairmen of powerful Senate committees – the others likely will someday be.
They range from accountants to doctors and small business owners. A couple of them are foster parents. All have children. One is a grandparent. They’re all active in a local church, some protestant, some Catholic.
Their platform, posted on their Facebook page, cites the Missouri Republican Party platform for life and liberty, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and less government and taxation.
They’re closing in on almost 1,000 followers less than two months after page creation – all organic growth with no boosts or advertising. Their page even has original, branded graphics. The social media is polished and professional, and the intentional coordination – regardless of whether those looking in understand – carries to the floor.
The page weaves between campaign and elected official, sharing from campaign pages, news articles, personal profile posts, and official legislative business. The appearance echoes the way of many federal officials: an elected is always a candidate and there’s always a strategy.
During the first half of the session, the Senate Conservatives successfully reached a compromise on a housing tax credit after a deliberate and noticeable, but mostly painless, filibuster.
The next week, the Caucus came together to slow a bill offered by a fellow Republican, claiming big tax breaks to corporations for job training was wasteful spending. The move landed one of the Governor’s priorities on the informal calendar in what many are speculating is forcing a hand at compromise.
SB 16, the Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant bill sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine, was taken up in the Senate for perfection, only to get hammered with six amendment proposals from members of the Senate Conservative Caucus over several hours. One of those amendments, offered by Sen. Bill Eigel, proposed an income tax cut – one of Eigel’s legislative priorities – and was hit with a point of order from Sen. John Rizzo due to topicality.
Eigel’s amendment was not welcomed by Romine, who said, “This is a ruse to take control of the floor away from me and my bill.”
The point of order did exactly that, automatically moving the bill to the informal calendar for perfection with the point of order pending. Once the point of order is ruled on, the bill can be removed from the informal calendar. There is no time frame in which a pending point of order must be ruled on.
The move, perceived as one to force a compromise between the Conservative Caucus and the rest of the body to pass SB 160, which would create Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), which is a priority of Caucus leader Sen. Andrew Koenig.
Romine is also opposed to ESAs. Oddly enough, in the past, Caucus member Hoskins has been opposed to ESAs.
Quick to form, quick to learn, quick to act, the Senate Conservative Caucus is a group to watch this first regular session of the 100th General Assembly.
But what do they want? Keep an eye on their Facebook page and listen to their inquiries. They’re making their push for reducing taxes, government, and abortion. They also hope to improve infrastructure and access to healthcare. The priorities of the caucus may sound similar to that of statewide officeholders and many other Republicans, but the way they’re hoping to get there is completely different.
In a post on her own Facebook page on February 23, Caucus member O’Laughlin wrote, “So this week our Conservative Caucus in the Senate will offer details of a road funding plan that does not involve borrowing money. The plan will provide funding without a tax increase or borrowing. We feel if this can be implemented it will be more beneficial to the state and will avoid the potential $100 million in interest charges from bonding. We hope the Governor and his staff will seriously consider the plan and we commit to working together for the benefit of all Missourians.”
In a turn of irony, the caucus has assisted the super-minority party in slowing down the legislative process of so-called supermajority priorities.
Across the building, the House Conservative Caucus has met for their first meeting of the 100th General Assembly with many new freshman members.
Democracy is a slow process and the addition of a Conservative Caucus in the Senate seems to have effectively shifted the Senate further to the right, one legislative day at a time.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.