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Progress Missouri grows in influence at Capitol


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Progress Missouri inspires discord along party lines, but no group has been as successful at getting the Capitol talking.

The association’s American Legislative Exchange Council trading cards were the buzz in the rotunda as legislators, lobbyists and staffers flipped through decks to find their favorite representatives and senators.

Progress Missouri is known to tape committee hearings, some of which were not intended to be public, in an attempt to reveal what conservative lawmakers are actually saying. Executive Director Sean Nicholson realizes this has had an impact. He said there was a committee hearing scheduled in Jefferson City steakhouse. When Nicholson vowed to tape the meeting, it was moved to a more common venue.

In one of the association’s more creative message delivery systems, the group flew a plane over a Liberty High School football game carrying a banner behind claiming local Republican Rep. Myron Neth had voted against Liberty Schools. Neth was one of several legislators who voted to override a Governor veto on a tax cut bill last year.

While Progress Missouri is a part of network of similar groups throughout the country, using media techniques to guide its message, what the organization has done has been unique to Missouri.

“What we’re doing is not radical in any way,” Nicholson said. “It’s pretty basic stuff but it can go a long way.”

Progress Missouri’s methods, which sometimes border on the outright trolling of Republican lawmakers, have sparked ire with conservatives.

“My biggest issue is that I don’t like folks in the political realm that are bomb throwers,” Rowden said. “I don’t think people take Progress Missouri seriously.”

But Democrat lawmakers, who are often fed valuable talking points and information through the organization, are taking Progress Missouri seriously.

Progress Missouri Executive Director Sean Nicholson

“They have a unique model but they’re true to the issues their members and donors support and a lot of times that lines up with Democrats,” Rep. Jeremy LaFaver said. “I believe they are an important part of the process. Having their watchful eye on our work is a good thing.”

Progress Missouri and LaFaver agree on two important economic issues: raising minimum wage and putting a cap on the interest allowed for payday loans. Nicholson has taken a leading role in decrying what he calls phony reform of the payday lending business in Missouri. Currently the average interest on a payday loan in Missouri is 450 percent; Progress Missouri supports a 32 percent cap.

LaFaver is encouraged that Progress Missouri supports legislation that benefits low-income residents.

“We are fighting all the time to build an economy and a state that benefits everyone,” Nicholson said.

The highest-profile bill currently opposed by the group was offered by Cape Girardeau Republican Senator Wayne Wallingford. SB 916. The bill, similar to recent legislation in Arizona that made national news before a gubernatorial veto, would allow business owners to refuse certain services if it violated their own deeply held religious beliefs. Progress Missouri and opponents to the bill argue it is tantamount to legalizing discrimination against gays.

“We’re really frustrated with the legislation and ideas coming out of Jefferson City,” Nicholson said.

However, that frustration is not targeted at every legislator. Nicholson is pleased though that leadership in both chambers especially Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and Senate Pro Tem Tom Dempsey have not supported impeachment legislation for Gov. Jay Nixon and the SB 916.

Progress Missouri is gearing up for legislative push coming after spring break. Regardless they will continue to fight against a right-wing agenda and push for measures they feel the public wants.