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Tempers flare in public Senate showdown as redistricting fight looms

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — While the congressional redistricting lines have yet to be drawn, the fissures among Republican senators became even wider Monday. 

The upper chamber became particularly fraught during an inquiry between Sen. Denny Hoskins and Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden — which ended with the latter dropping his mic and vehemently walking away from his desk. 

The issue? Yet another rule change. Hoskins proposed adding a rule that would require Senate staffers to publicly identify in the Senate journal if they are working with a registered lobbying or political consulting firm. 

The proposed rule change is just another notch in the increasingly public and contentious congressional redistricting fight that has hampered progress and relationships in the upper chamber.

Hoskins said a Senate staffer who is working on the Select Committee on Redistricting was employed with Palm Strategic while also working for the committee and as Rowden’s staff member last year. 

Hoskins called it a “clear conflict of interest.” 

Hoskins inquired of Rowden about whether those jobs should be publicly disclosed and tempers obviously flared. 

“When people have friends, they do things for their friends,” Rowden said in defense of staffers with other jobs. “It’s called relationships.” 

In a particularly severe exchange, Rowden noted the Conservative Caucus senator previously employed former Sen. Jim Lembke who worked to pass Clean Missouri, something Rowden said was “literally  trying to cause the demise of the Republican Party in Missouri.” Aside from limiting campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts, Clean Missouri also attempted to change who would be in charge of redistricting. 

In a phone call, Lembke said he was never compensated for his support for Clean Missouri.

Rowden castigated Hoskins for “berating” Senate staff members, many of whom are young, and dropped his mic and walked away. 

Hoskins spoke for a few more minutes to discuss his proposed rule change before acquiescing the floor. But the chamber was noticeably quieter after the exchange.

The exchange was another clear example this year of dissolving relationships in the upper chamber as conservatives and Republican leadership clash. 

“I always hope to have good relationships with my fellow senators. Sen. Rowden has already said publicly he’s not interested in passing any conservative priorities. When you have your majority floor leader publicly stating he’s not interested in passing any conservative priorities, it’s tough to build relationships,” Hoskins said later Monday night. 

Earlier this year, Rowden told reporters his relationships with Conservative Caucus members vary. He said if a member “respects the Senate and wants to get good stuff done, I want to help them.” 

“But the notion that we need to go out of our way to overly cater to a relatively small group of people within our caucus, it’s just not something I’m interested in,” Rowden said. 

It was a quick session in the upper chamber Monday night — much quicker than an at times contentious caucus meeting held just prior — as senators have been invited to dinner with the governor. 

During the caucus meeting, Sen. Bill Eigel presented members with alternatives to the House’s proposed congressional map. Conservatives have said they want a map that favors Republicans 7-1. 

The Senate’s Select Committee on Redistricting is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon. 

This story has been updated.