JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Representative, Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, is challenging a sitting senator from his own party, citing concerns that that the primary process could be subverted.
Some lawmakers said a rumor was circulating that Nieves and House Speaker Tim Jones — whose House district is also located within Nieves Senate district — were planning to subvert the primary process by allowing Nieves to withdraw after filing is closed, meaning the 26th District Republican Senatorial Committee would select the Republican nominee and not the voters in the August primary. With the district being solidly Republican, the Republican nominee will be overwhelmingly favored to serve as the senator.
“Senator Nieves told me that he had a business opportunity that could be coming together in the next 30 days that would be an opportunity he would have to devote his full attention to. He discussed that if he chose not to run he would plan to withdraw before filing closed,” Schatz said. “I have the utmost respect for Senator Nieves. He is one of the first people I spoke to when I went to run for office.”
Schatz said he believes he can prevent voters from being denied the opportunity to select their senator. The district is strongly Republican and Nieves has easily held it. Whatever candidate gets the nomination for the Republican Party will likely win the seat, making the primary or nominating process the de-facto election in the region.
Both Nieves and Jones strongly deny there is any plan at work.
“That is laughable,” Nieves said. “I’m not interested in what a two-term representative who has decided to challenge his own sitting senator has to say.”
Tom Smith, Chief of Staff to Jones, said that Nieves and Jones were “very good friends” who discussed both their political futures, but that no such deal was ever cut.
“Of course they have both discussed their future, and since their districts overlap then obviously there is discussion about who might succeed [Senator Nieves],” Smith said. “Tim won’t challenge an incumbent. If Brian decided to run then he’ll have Tim’s support, if he decides he isn’t going to fight in a primary then Tim will file for the Senate. But there’s nothing secretive happening here. This is just two friends talking about their future.”
Rep Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said he met with Jones and the possibility of the Speaker stepping in if Nieves withdrew was presented to him as a “possibility.” Hinson already agreed not to challenge Schatz for the seat, citing friendship, not unlike Nieves and Jones.
“We are not politicians, we are friends,” Hinson said of Schatz. “I just cannot accept it if there is a possibility that there was a backroom deal. That is why people hate about politics. [Nieves] told me he was intending to file and if something happened within 30 days with one of his businesses, he’d withdraw and let the party figure it out.”
Hinson said he felt compelled on filing day to step in, “I am not willing to see a backroom deal deprive the voters of the district the chance to choose their senator even if it ends my political career,” Hinson said.
Hinson said that on filing day, as of 7:30 a.m., he was prepared to file for the senate seat. Hinson and Schatz reached an agreement when re-districting placed them in the same Senate district. Schatz would have the first right-of-refusal on running, something Hinson agreed to. When Schatz told Hinson Tuesday morning he intended to file, Hinson decided not to run against him.
“Both of us are at peace with that decision,” Hinson said.
Schatz, who serves as chairman of the House Transportation committee and vice-chair of the House Utilities committee, says he is plenty conservative for the district. Schatz voted for last year’s tax cut override, as well as Nieves’ gun nullification bill. Schatz is pro-life, and serves as vice president of Schatz Underground, Inc., a utility construction company. Schatz resides in the town of his birth, Sullivan, with his wife Chara and their five children.
While many lawmakers speculated that Schatz would not continue his bid if Nieves remained on the ticket, Schatz said he is committed to run.
“I am running to be the senator in the 26th district and I intend to win this race,” Schatz said. “Especially because the 26th district was redrawn and the new district hasn’t had the chance to elect their senator.”
Justin Alferman, current legislative aid to Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summitt, and Alderman in Hermann, has filed for Schatz’s former seat in the 61st District.
Jones, who has also worked to emphasize his conservative chops, is considered a top candidate for a down-ticket primary, given his recent conservative-backed legislation and fundraising ability.
In recent days issues have emerged over Schatz intent to move his residency and run in his new district. Schatz claims he rented an apartment in his new district and did everything “legally required” to establish residency. However, a source in House leadership claims that he was told repeatedly that he would have to move into his new district and never did, leading some to speculate he has always intended on running for senate.
However, Jones will have to contend with being from St. Louis County in a senate district that is predominately Franklin County and widely held speculation, that he has confirmed, that he is considering running for statewide office in 2016. Thus, its possible that he would not be able to complete his term.
Former state senator Jane Cunningham, also of St. Louis County, has also mentioned running for the seat. However, Cunningham is a close ally of Jones, although she was very critical of a bill dealing with the political rights of firefighters that passed the legislature overwhelmingly, included with support from the Speaker. Cunningham recently won a high-profile fire board election to the Monarch Fire Board, but, after spending her time on the board fighting thus far unsuccessfully to reduce firefighters pay, training, and staffing levels, seems poised to run for St. Louis County Executive.
Schatz and Nieves both have respectable fundraising numbers. Schatz has more than $42,000 cash-on-hand at the end of the fourth quarter. However, since his announcement, he has received nearly $300,000 in contributions including a $250,000 contribution from himself while Nieves had more than $65,000. Both have more than Hinson’s $19,000 on hand, but pale in comparison to Jones, who reported more than $900,000 cash-on-hand in January.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.