JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In the long list of bills and ballot measures that passed and failed in the Missouri General Assembly this session that are being reviewed by the Governor and debated on the editorial pages of the state, there is one SJR that received relatively little attention, except for in one newspaper in rural Missouri – the Daily American Republic owned by an obscure publisher, Don Schrieber.
In a move that seemed odd at the time, that newspaper covered SJR 42 like none of the other seemingly more substantial issues on the state legislative calendar. A story coming out of southeast Missouri may have shed some light on why.
SJR 42 offered by Senator Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, would have given the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) more authority to scrutinize government department rules they promulgate. Schrieber, widely seen in southeast Missouri as a mild embarrassment to the Poplar Bluff community, has long made it known to local officials his desire to someday be appointed to the Conservation Commission, and took the resolution as a platform to launch several broadsides against Senator Doug Libla, R-Butler County, for not supporting an amendment to carve out conservation from the checks and balances of JCAR.
Several southeast Missourians have informed The Missouri Times that Schrieber has told them that by attacking Senator Libla on an issue that the department was lobbying against would be an avenue toward helping him be appointed to the commission when the local highly-respected Don Bedell finishes his term in July of next year.
Schrieber has reportedly told several locals that Frank Campa, a conservation agent based out Cape Girardeau informed him that attacking the Senator would be a perfect way to “curry favor” with the department and assist in his appointment. Below is the featured image of Campa’s facebook page posing with a dead turkey in a picture taken by the Daily American Republic.
The flurry of stories and editorials directed at Senator Libla included referring to JCAR as a “political power grab,” calling the senator “MIA,” said he was ignoring “little guys,” “nothing more than a politician,” “an insult to outdoorsmen,” referred to the senator’s colleagues as “cronies,” and called for him to be defeated in 2016 all over what was treated by every other media outlet in the state as a second tier issue. The negative reaction was bipartisan including Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, who reacted to the attacks on Senator Libla with a hint of amusement. “Reporting the news is about credibility and this is counterintuitive to that. This type of thing shows a terrible lack of credibility.”
Before being informed of the motivations behind the articles Senator Gary Romine, R- Ste. Genevieve County, offered his thoughts on the coverage. “After having an opportunity to read the articles the publisher went completely over the top and I would think he would be embarrassed to read his own articles.”
Senator Dan Brown, R-Phelps County, was direct in saying, “Doug is a good friend and a great senator.”
When asked for comment, the sponsor of the resolution seemed surprised by the amount of local attention paid to it. “I was glad to have the Senator’s support on the resolution and these are rather bizarre attacks against Senator Libla – who is a great senator with the upmost integrity and an asset to the body,” said Senator Schmitt.
Though SJR 42 didn’t ultimately pass the Senate, there was an amendment offered by Senator Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau County, that would have carved out the Department of Conservation from the SJR. Although Libla did not vote for his amendment, he was very supportive of his colleague. “I’ve seen some of those articles and while we may disagree on some issues, Senator Libla is one of the most respected members of the Senate and does a tremendous job representing our area,” Wallingford said.
After being showed a copy of some of the articles Senator Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County, was surprised. “Southeast Missouri is tremendously represented in the Senate by Senator Libla. He is someone who I truly enjoy working with and he is a great asset to the Senate and the state.”
A representative from the Department of Conservation stated they were unaware of any editorials prior to them being published or being part of supporting anyone to be placed on the commission in to any such plot. “While Director Ziehmer was glad to speak to any media outlet about the Department’s priorities, he certainly isn’t part of any plan to help appoint a commissioner. Frankly, I hadn’t even read the articles until Senator Libla handed them to me,” said Aaron Jeffries with the department’s governmental relations.
Senator Brian Munzlinger, R-Lewis County, who is very active in Conservation Department legislation, understood the issues at play in the situation. “There were plenty of angles on this legislation that senators could support and oppose, and as someone who is very familiar with the department, I’m sure they had no idea where this guy would take this. Senator Libla is a consummate professional, and I agree with him that we have to have checks and balances on these state departments,” said Munzlinger.
Senator Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, pointed out political broadsides against someone’s home senators may not be a particularly effective strategy of getting attention to be appointed or confirmed for state service. “It is customary for any state board of commission appointment to have the support his or her home state senator and the vast majority of this body holds Senator Libla in high regard.”
Senator Kraus, R-Jackson County, agreed, “Senator Libla is a tremendous senator and this type of thing isn’t likely to score you any points with the Senate.”
One of the more outspoken members of the Senate Committee on Gubernatorial Appointments, Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, had some sharper comments, “It’s really unfortunate that you have the owner of some local paper attacking my good friend Doug Libla. He is a man of character who stands on principles and represents them with the upmost integrity. It’s appalling that this Don Schrieber is attacking him like this. He must understand this is not how you get to be on state boards and commissions. If he keeps with this propaganda that he is promoting he will not see the light of day on the committee on gubernatorial appointments,” said Nasheed.
Before publishing the story the publisher of The Missouri Times called Schrieber for comment but upon hearing that a story would be ran on the plot immediately hung up the phone.
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.