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The last day of the 2nd regular session of the 101st Missouri General Assembly, Part 3

  

Editorial Note: This is the final part of a 3-part series on the congressional redistricting process and unrest in the Missouri Senate. To read part 2, click here. To read part 1, click here.

Jefferson City — After the budget was finished, the end game started to become clear. The second map the House passed was a clear attempt to lessen the concerns of some senators running for Congress, and an attempt to get Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, to sit down and stop the filibuster.

Besides the St. Charles County senators wanting 80% of the county in one district, Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Cass County, wanted Boone County split. A split Boone would move two candidates out of the district, and greatly reduce the voter base of Taylor Burks.

Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Boone County, saw her entire caucus turn on her, drawing her out of her district, and ultimately out of the race. 

Some questioned Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Boone County, for allowing his home county to be split. 

“Ultimately it was hard for me to ask other senators to allow their counties to be split if I wasn’t willing to allow mine to be split,” Rowden said. “Leadership has its responsibilities.”

Others speculated that Rowden wasn’t inspired enough to go to bat for the two candidates from Boone County seeking a run for Congress.

Hoskins wanted to see both Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonardwood in the same district to assist the new member of Congress in being placed in the Federal Armed Services Committee

However, Hoskins still planned to filibuster the map with his fellow conservative caucus members, even if his request to place both bases into the 4th was fulfilled.

Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis City, got his changes to the first district as Republicans didn’t view it as a priority, and due to the first district being protected under the Voting Rights Act. Roberts’ changes are expected to help him in a primary run against incumbent US Rep. Cori Bush. 

“Sen. Roberts got the map he wanted because he brought votes in the House for the emergency clause, and he brought votes in the Senate for the emergency clause,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Jackson County said.

“Early in the process he probably helped the conservative caucus because he held the floor during the filibuster,” Rizzo said. “But in the end the conservative caucus empowered him because Republican leadership needed emergency clause votes.”

Sen. Mike Moon, R-Lawrence County, wanted all of Taney County put into the seventh district. Moon saw the seventh as a chance to bolster his chances this summer in the congressional race.

Speaking of the seventh, it seemed that Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Greene County, got caught up in a redistricting vortex.

As a member of the conservative caucus, Burlison wanted to assist his colleagues in obtaining a map more favorable to help them run for congress, but didn’t have any real pressing redistricting needs for his own race. 

Despite having no real pressing needs, Burlison found himself under fire as he took blame for Webster County, a small rural county in Southwest Missouri, being split. 

Burlison took the side of splitting the county after hearing rumors that one of his main opponents, former Sen. Jay Wasson, wanted Webster County solely in the seventh. 

With drama unfolding behind the scenes, the Senate moved some significant pieces of legislation. An AG bill that stalled last year passed, as did an elections integrity bill that was a priority to the conservative caucus.

“If you asked me on March 1st if we could do eminent domain, the AG bill, a huge election integrity package, pass the budget and a map, I would have been skeptical,”  Rowden said. 

Going into the final days of the session, Sen. Jason Bean, R-Dunklin County, saw his eminent domain bill pass. Most thought the bill would get caught up in the redistricting craze and have to wait until next session. 

“We were glad to see the elections bill, one of our priorities, pass. That really lowered the tension early in the week,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles County.

The end of session

As the week progressed the second house map moved to the Senate. A redistricting committee hearing was set for Wednesday at noon. However, that hearing would never take place. 

The Senate erupted in the early hours of Thursday with Senate Pro Tempore Dave Schatz, R-West St. Louis County, in no uncertain terms describing the conservative caucus as “senators that introduce amendments to kill bills and to get attention on Facebook rather than actually affect policy.”

Following Schatz’s scalding words and the fallout after, the Senate recessed, but did not adjourn Wednesday night.

The Senate would never move off Wednesday’s legislative day. As the Senate adjourned in the early hours of Thursday morning, there was a meeting of several Republican senators where the plan to use the discharge petition was settled on. 

“After the long night Wednesday, after the session we rehearsed how we would get there,” said Rowden. “The recess motion and not an adjournment motion was intentional. We knew we could get taken at the journal.”

After passing several non controversial omnibus bills, around 4:00 in the afternoon Thursday the end game began to unfold. 

There was not going to be a Redistricting Committee hearing. The Senate took up the discharge petition signed exclusively by Republicans. Followed by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Cole County, offering his predictably brief introduction of the bill. 

While there were only Republican signatures on the discharge petition, there were going to be Democrat votes needed for a PQ. 

A “PQ,” or moving the previous question, is a procedural move used to cut off debate about a bill and move to a vote. It is seen much less in the Senate and is considered bad decorum. However in the last week of session it was on the table as a way to maneuver around the filibustering of the conservative caucus.

“I didn’t understand the discharge petition, if you want to go around the rules and the majority is willing to force something, then just suspend the rules,” Eigel said.

At that point Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles County, raised a point of order that the bill still must sit on the calendar a day before it can be brought to the floor. It was a predictable motion and Schatz was prepared to deliver his ruling without consulting any of his colleagues. 

“Yes, the point of order decision was all set and ready to go,” said Rowden. 

“There are two rules that apply here. Rule 50 and Rule 52. One governs what happens when a bill is discharged from committee, and is the requirement for a bill to sit for a day —That does not apply to a discharge petition.” 

After being unable to force the bill to sit, Onder made the controversial move of appealing the ruling of the chair. 

The appeal essentially ended negotiation, the outcome was now clear, the house map would pass. The only question would be whether the conservative caucus would force a PQ or let the map go to a vote voluntarily.

There was now a limited number of ways the session could end. The majority could now PQ the conservative caucus on the map at any time and the session would be over. 

The conservative caucus could also agree to sit down on the map after getting a bill they would like to see passed such as a CRT or the Transgender athlete bill. 

“The most conservative thing to do at that point was to sit down on the map, and let us do CRT and the Transgender athlete bill,” Rowden said. “I was prepared for that to be our path to the end. But Eigel and Rizzo cut the deal to not do CRT and the Transgender athlete bill, pass a map, and go home.”

Eigel didn’t see using bills centered around Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the Transgender athlete ban as a way forward. The Senator didn’t believe that his moderate colleagues would support it, even as a compromise. 

“The opportunity to do something on CRT and Transgender sports occurred earlier that day when the majority took a roll call vote opposing adding Transgender sports prohibition to Sen. Washington’s bill in conference,” Eigel said. “That let the Conservative Caucus know where the moderates were on that issue on a roll call vote.” 

In Eigel’s view, moderates in the Senate passed up on early-session opportunities while also complaining about opportunities missed late in the session.

“Every member of the Conservative Caucus is on record supporting that move.  Most of the moderates and our leadership opposed that move. That’s the record,” Eigel said. “Complaining about unknown opportunities in the final 24 hours of session when you avoided them—or actually voted against them—in the preceding 4 months is a bit silly.”

Onder’s appeal of the ruling of the chair was followed by the beginning of a filibuster with fellow conservative caucus member Sen. Mike Moon. 

It’s at this time when Eigel, the leader of the caucus, went for a walk, leaving the chamber through the Pershing Gallery. 

“The discharge petition and Schatz’s ruling against Onder’s point of order were both nuclear events. The chamber was finished at that point,” Eigel said. “We had two final choices at that point; one, filibuster for 24 hours and then likely sustain a PQ, or allow the map to come to a vote and adjourn the session.”

Eigel smelled a deal brewing between opposing moderates and the Senate Democrats. 

“They would not have brought up the map if they hadn’t secured Democrat votes for a PQ—and I assure you there would be a price for those PQ votes,” Eigel said. “We surmised it was likely an assurance the session would not be used further to pass legislation the Dems opposed–including Transgender sports and CRT and several other conservative caucus driven priorities.”

Eigel and the conservative caucus had the gut feeling that Democrats and moderate Republicans had come together prior to the final day of session to secure enough votes to PQ and overcome the caucus’s filibustering. 

The Democrats promised votes to get around the caucus, and the moderates promised to keep Democrat opposed legislation tabled until next session.

“That’s why the conservative caucus forced a roll call vote on Transgender sports on the Washington bill earlier,” Eigel said. “We would at least get everyone on the record knowing the fix was in once the maps were brought up.”

Minority leader Rizzo was the Democrat to cut a deal with, and that’s just what Eigel, knowing the map passing was inevitable, went to do. 

“Sen. Eigel grabbed me and said ‘I want to cut the deal, and you’re not gonna have to worry about killing other bills’,” Rizzo said. “I told him that I want to go home, and see my kids and I think that you want to go home too. He said that he thinks he can get his guys to sit down on the map, but that we should end session after that. He really unburdened himself to me,” Rizzo added.

Eigel went to Rizzo instead of Rowden due to the events that had just happened on the Senate floor, which he described as “two nuclear detonations.”

In Eigel’s view, the caucus had done its job in exposing Missouri’s moderate Republicans to the conservative voter base. 

“The Conservative Caucus had already achieved what the people of Missouri wanted to know. Namely, how would the moderates vote on a motion to add Transgender sports prohibition to state code?” Eigel said.

“The moderates would not fight for Transgender prohibitions and had demonstrated that repeatedly in their votes. There was nothing else to do at this point but adjourn.”

After showing mind-numbing tenacity in a 31-hour filibuster earlier in the session, some were surprised to learn that the conservative caucus would finally stand down on what had become the defining struggle of the session. 

When asked why his caucus stood down, Eigel said, “I didn’t think the senate needed to go through that. The map included a majority of what the conservatives were asking for in a 6-2 map. We certainly could and should have drawn a better map.  We should have passed a 7-1 map.  But we got a vote on that too for interested Republican voters.”  

At that point Eigel went to get some tea and before he could get back to the chamber Sen. Rizzo had come back and told him there was a deal to be made, and to meet him in Rowden’s office. 

“It was a little awkward. All three of us agreed that the session should end once the maps were completed—whether that was now or 24 hours from now right before the constitutional deadline,” Eigel said of the meeting. “We all agreed that there was no reason to put the chamber through this. We all felt this would work so we talked through what the last hour of session would look like.”

“Both Caleb and JJ wanted to know if I could convince Bob to sit down. I think they were skeptical,” Eigel added.

From there Rowden went to hold the floor and begin what would become a couple of hours of goodbye speeches while Sen. Eigel convened a meeting of the conservative caucus.

There was clearly a deal in the works, as all the members of the conservative caucus were absent from the floor and the majority caucus could have easily closed on the map while they were out of the chamber. 

In the meeting, Eigel laid out his reasoning for sitting down and ending session after.

“That meeting was very candid.  We felt we had achieved an overwhelming majority of what we had asked for in a 6-2 map if we couldn’t get a 7-1 map,” Eigel said. “Of course, all of us felt ambushed by the nuclear tactics of the moderates with the discharge and the rules ruling, so certainly there were some hard feelings.”

The caucus was willing to filibuster for 24 hours, even if it could only end in a PQ, according to Eigel. In the end, Eigel decided it was time to end the session, and the hard feelings.

“There was also the willingness to stand with Bob and I to continue the fight for our priorities—these are the kinds of guys you hope to have beside you if you ever find yourself in a fight,” Eigel said. “I’m honored to call them colleagues and friends. But we all knew it was time to go home before further damage was done to the Senate.”

As Eigel returned to the chamber it was clear a deal had been reached. Each retiring Senator gave their farewell remarks, including some blistering rhetoric from Onder, and then the map passed. 

“I’ll give them credit for understanding the situation, and not standing in front of a monsoon,” Rowden said. 

 Impact on next session

After another contentious legislative session fostered even more bad blood between the Senate’s conservative caucus and moderate Republicans, it’s fair to question how the Senate will operate next session.

Many Missouri legislators, on both sides of the aisle, see the problem.

“I’m not the only one who sees mismanagement in how the Senate has been run,” Rizzo said.

For the leaders of the Senate’s three most impactful factions, it may take collaboration to keep legislation running smoothly and 31-hour filibuster free.

“The last thing I said to Caleb before we adjourned was a commitment to work with him over the break to find a better way to get big Republican priorities accomplished by bringing both sides of the caucus together,” Eigel said. “I want that, the conservatives want that—and, I think if they’re being honest, many of the moderates in our caucus want that too. So let’s start there.”

“It’s not inconceivable that it’s a precursor to next session, for the three of us to try and have a dialogue,” Rowden said. “I want to forge a path to try to get things done early next session. I can guarantee you that CRT and the Transgender athlete bill will be done early next session.”

All three senators discussed trust being a lacking element in the process. 

When asked about the lack of trust between him and Eigel, Rowden said, “To be honest, if he doesn’t trust anyone that is a product of the fact that no one trusts him.”

“If you ask the other 32 senators ‘Who would you rather be in a bunker with Eigel or Rowden?’ He won’t like their answer. He should wonder why that is, and it certainly ain’t my fault.”

Rowden concluded, “Wherever he wants to go in the Senate, he won’t get there without my help, and trust me I’m way less combative with Bill than many others in my caucus.”

Reflecting back on the process

Editorial Note: The following is a Q&A style reflection between The Missouri Times (TMT) and some major players in the contentious congressional map making process. Answers have been edited for clarity. 

TMT: Are you surprised that the conservative caucus sat down on the map?

Sen. Caleb Rowden: “No not really. I mentioned this to JJ, I bet you if we get onto the map they will let it go and use it as an excuse to kill everything else, and that is what happened.”

TMT: Was the rhetoric of Pelosi map, 5-3 map, sellout map, etc. regrettable? 

Sen. Bill Eigel: “Well ultimately we defeated that first house map, so I’d say no, not really.”

TMT: Would you have done anything strategically different to get a higher percentage of the third district in St. Charles County?

Sen. Bill Eigel: “No—there was nothing else I could have controlled. We did increase St. Charles’ influence on Congressional elections. But this redistricting process will be remembered for a supermajority’s failure to send another Republican to Congress via 7-1, not how much of a split is in any county.”

TMT: Can you understand former Sen. Mike Cunningham’s displeasure with the way Webster County was treated?

Sen. Caleb Rowden: “I really don’t like the Webster County thing, but that was Vescovo and Burlison working together. Going into this I really didn’t understand how close they were.”

TMT: Was there a deal being made between Democrats and non-caucus Republicans?

Sen. John Rizzo: “Look if they were gonna get Democrats to vote for a PQ, there was going to be an extraction, yes— If it went that far we would have killed the bills we intended this session, and maybe we might have gotten promises for next session. But that was just cream, in the end lots of things blew up for them because of how the last session ended.”

TMT: How did things reach this point between the caucus and the Senate?

Sen. Caleb Rowden: “Their key mistake was to take the position from the start that nothing else is acceptable other than this. It’s the most damning position to take to the Senate. I stand in front of heat from other senators for him to try to get along, but there is a point where I cannot do that anymore, and this was it.”

TMT: Is there anything that went on we don’t know about?

Rep. Dan Shaul, House redistricting committee chair:  “Oh, there’s plenty but I’m not going to. Now is not the time or place. I’m trying to make sure that we work well together and do not attack each other personally. It became incredibly personal for some, which disappoints me. And, you know, I think this process could have been a lot better  if they would have talked to us rather than attacked us on social media.”

 Featured Image: Sen. Bill Eigel addresses members of the Senate Ways and Means committee regarding his tax reform legislation in Jefferson City, Missouri.  (Benjamin Peters/The Missouri Times)