My latest This Week in Missouri Politics column: Plocher takes command to pass the ag bill
Most floor leaders who become speaker have a day or an accomplishment that you can point to that was when they took over the leadership of their caucus.
You can think back to the day that then House Majority Leader Todd Richardson gave a floor speech that literally turned around what was about to the first time a budget bill went down on the floor in recent memory.
Or the day that then House Majority Leader John J Diehl Jr brought along a dozen of his skeptical members and delivered the votes to pass the first tax cut in a hundred years.
On Wednesday, the current House Majority Leader, Dean Plocher, waded into a sea of pettiness, elitism, paranoia, and self interest, and when it was over, the man from the country side of Town and Country in urban-as-hell St. Louis County emerged with 82 votes for the ag bill and took his seat atop the Missouri Republican Party.
The drama began early in the day when Plocher had to step in and protect his members from a toxic vote while keeping the ag bill alive so that later in the day he could, through sheer force of will, rise 83 legislators above their own personal pettiness and deliver an ag bill, a huge win for Missouri’s leading industry.
Nothing about a special session is ever easy. Governor Mike Parson took a bet that would have tested the nerves of even the most experienced riverboat gambler. He had two years of MASBDA credits already in hand, and everyone including the ag groups to the few remaining people in his party that give a damn about rural Missourah were encouraging him to just stand pat, pocket sign the bill, and come back for more in January.
Well the at the blackjack table the ol’ Sheriff while showing 19 asked the legislature for one more card, and thanks to the gentleman from the country side of Town and Country he is on the verge of being dealt a 2.
If there is one thing the Governor has a reputation of getting his dander up over, its elitism. I don’t know this, but I’ve suspected from the start that one of the reasons he went all in and vetoed the original ag bill is the fact that you get six years of an eco devo program to build a Starbucks in St. Louis, but that you could only get two years of an ag program for a family farm in St. Clair County — and that has the stench of urban elitism all over it.
It was a tumultuous day from the start. The House could have just set aside their rules, there aren’t really rules in the House anyway outside of having 82 votes, and taken up the Senate bill. Then this would be over and the state would have a huge win.
However, it’s the Speaker who determines what is sent to committee and ultimately put on the calendar. So in a very shrewd legislative move, the House sponsor of the ag bill, Rep. Bradley Pollitt mirrored his bill to be the same as the bill the Senate passed the day before.
With two bills on the board, some people took it as a cue that they could play politics with it, so seeing as this is politics, of course they did.
After talking to everyone involved it appears there was a lack of communication between the leaders of each caucus as there were a handful of amendments filed by some House Democrats late in the process.
In the Democratic caucus meeting that morning it seemed that the vast majority of the caucus was prepared to support the bill, and no one in their caucus seriously expected their amendments to actually be added to the bill anyway.
However, one of the amendments filed was the foreign owned farmland bill. The vote last decade to allow the foreign owned Smithfield corporation to purchase a hog farming operation in north Missouri has been controversial from day one. In fact it’s one of the best issues to use against any Republican in a primary. You wouldn’t know it by looking at Governor Parson and soon to be US Senator Eric Schmitt but it really moves the needle in a Republican state Senate primary.
The amendment was taken very seriously for two reasons 1) Most members of the Republican caucus would have had to vote for it if it came to a vote, and 2) putting that on the bill would likely kill it and send special session into an open civil war of K-1 Republicans vs. W-2 Republicans.
No one seriously questions if this fight is coming, it’s just a matter of when. To date the civil war has been put off by K-1 Republicans, most of who are from rural Missourah, giving in and making frankly some pretty bizarre laws in order to pacify, or honestly just try to shut up for a minute from their near constant compalining, the W-2 Republicans who are mostly from the suburbs.
Think of it like this, there are two kinds of House Republicans; 1) those who would rather drink a Bud Light and talk baseball with Eric Schmitt and Mike Parson at a road side bar like Sputs Place near Rolla, or Chumbley’s in Trenton, and 2) there are those who would rather have a glass of wine and discuss some right wing “think tank” opinion with Josh Hawley at some place in the Central West End that my hillbilly dialect prolly can’t pronounce.
Now neither are right or wrong mind you, but they are certainly different approaches to life.
The lack of communication between the caucuses, the lateness of when the amendments were filed, and the toxicity of the foreign ownership of farmland issue led to the republicans not recognizing any Democrats during the discussion of the bill’s perfection.
Now, this did not set well with the Democrats or their leader Rep. Crystal Quade, and she began to see an opportunity unfolding to exploit a divided Republican caucus that had just disrespected her.
This first of all begs the question, why would Republicans be divided on an ag bill? Well this ain’t exactly your conservative republican party of John Ashcroft and Matt Blunt anymore. It’s far far more suburban and therefore far far more moderate.
The suburban Missouri Republicans had already began turning on their more conservative members from rural Missourah years before this ag bill. Many of them had already decided to sink a dagger in the hearts of their rural Missourah colleagues and kill the ag bill before they arrived in the City of Jefferson last week.
Now of course they would still expect those rural Republicans to shut up, sit down, and stay in line with the St. Louis agenda on a whole host of issues next year. However, the reason they have that expectation is because rural Missourah has given in time after time to St. Louis always trying to go along to get along. Not wanting a bunch of suburban wackos blowing up their Facebook page they just kick the can down the road weakening their schools, their law enforcement, etc.
Regardless of when the fight is comes in the house between the reps who have stars from riding in ubers as customers, and those who have stars from driving them in ubers as employees, a trend will have to change in order to see the rural Missourah reps, who are the majority of the caucus remind their colleagues of that fact and tell them no.
For Wednesday, keep in mind that without the votes of the suburban Republicans, Plocher was going to have to rely the Democrats to get to 82. The Democrats he had just refused to recognize in order to protect his caucus, including those suburban Republicans.
Look, being a House Democrat is tough. Keep in mind they spend five months a year getting beat on every issue every day. They serve in a chamber where literally every rule is set to make sure they never, ever win. Handing someone in that situation leverage is always a dangerous game.
Their first opportunity to use that leverage came on the Fiscal Review Committee. It’s a committee that has to approve every bill perfected before it can be sent to the floor for final passage.
The problem here is that committee, as with most all of them, wasn’t set up with the needs of rural Missourians in mind. Further, one of the Republican members was absent and another had just lost a senate primary to a farmer and didn’t seem interested in participating in the committee’s work or helping the ag bill along.
At that point House Democrats on the committee, fresh off not being recognized during the debate, decided that they wouldn’t help move the bill out of fiscal review. Now remember earlier when I mentioned that the House has rules, but not really. Well the Speaker, in a commendable act of friendship, something to his credit he is known for, to his friend Rep. Don Rone simply added three more Republicans to the committee thereby making the Democrats’ votes unnecessary.
Still, it seemed apparent that in order to pass this bill Plocher was going to have to do a deal with the Democrats on third read. It seemed that the suburban Republicans decided their dislike for the way of life of their fellow members who live on county roads instead of cul-de-sacs was more important than their party being forced into deals with the Democrats.
You see there is a common belief in the city that the only livelihood and values worth protecting are the ones of folks driving a Prius and drinking some foreign concoction from Starbucks while writing something homophobic on their Facebook page. If you think everyone with that opinion is a Democrat or works at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, well then your just naieve.
So now Plocher was faced with two options 1) go to the Democrats hat in hand with concessions, or 2) put on a performance worthy or Richardson or Rod Jetton, or Steven Tilley, or Ron Richard and grind it out to 82.
He chose the second option.
There was a meeting called in his office with several of the Republican members who were on the fence, and some who entered the office a no on the ag bill.
During the meeting Plocher put on what was called by most everyone in the room a masterful performance laying out not just the case for the ag bill but the case against making him have to go negotiate with the Democrats over the bill. It was a risky strategy seeing them as a group instead of one on one, and a lot was on the line. If any one rep would have spoke up first saying that he just couldn’t vote in support of rural Missouri the entire group might have followed. Then who really knows what would have happened next.
Instead after a performance worthy of a Mike Kehoe or a Dick Webster, Plocher left the room with enough votes to carry the bill across the line.
It’s an odd thing that Dean Plocher who is from Town and Country in St. Louis County has to be the one to stand up for rural Missouri….in some cases against those from rural Missouri. Last I checked not one those folks from rural Missouri filed legislation to end the urban exclusive historic tax credits.
On the floor the Republicans lost some members who had previously been in support of the ag program. In a surprise, a very professional legislator and representative who is moving to the senate next year, Rep. Curtis Trent, was a flip on a bill he was previously in support of.
However, they were offset by five Democrats sticking with their yes votes on perfection including Reps. Mark Ellebracht and Wes Rogers, who everyone will miss. Of course the always savvy Rep. Tracy McCreery who will also be going across the rotunda to the Senate next January refused to flip flop and courageously stood in support of the rural part of the state. She will be an absolute statewide star by spring break of next session.
The board closed with 83 votes in favor, and a huge sigh of relief from rural Missouri and their biggest defender, Dean Plocher.
There are several questions that will come out of this very telling day in the house.
1 – Will rural House members continue their trend in electing House leadership that is committed to the entire state like Dean Plocher and not those who are obsessed with the whims of St. Louis, or Facebook, or urban interest groups.
2 – Will this wake up folks on school boards, Missouri Farm Bureau boards, county fair boards, etc. and have them ask themselves this one simple question: “Does your representative care as much about your friends and neighbors as Dean Plocher does?” If the answer is no, then what the hell are you gonna do about it?
Folks in Jefferson City are afraid of the loud angry right wingers in the suburbs. Maybe rural Missouri would get a better shake if they were a little afraid of us too?
3 – This was the House bill so its not passed yet, and I tend to doubt that was an accident. It will have to be passed by the Senate as well. Now a more skeptical hillbilly might surmise that the House is hoping to find a senator to be their boy and hold up the ag bill that they just allowed to come to a vote last week, in order to force the senate to pass the house tax cut bill. Further it could be that that there will be an effort to force K-1 House Republicans to vote for a house tax cut that they might find poorly crafted.
Can you imagine the joke a senator would become who volunteers to carry the jock of the house? They might make him address the chair as Mr. Speaker the first couple months of next session.
4 – If there are games played with the ag bill, will it lead to Senators Lincoln Hough and Andrew Koenig getting fed up and going to Rep. Plocher next week and start negotiating a package they can just take up and pass in January when the Gentleman from the paranoia district is lobbying.
5 – Its generally thought that Rep. Plocher was too important to reforming the reputation of the house to be considered for Attorney General. However, after this performance where he literally personally saved Governor Parson’s special session it might be that he is too talented to be allowed to leave state government in two years.
As always it will be interesting.
Check out the show this week. Senator Lincoln Hough is our featured guest, with an opinion maker panel of Reps. Ashley Aune, Keri Ingle, Kurtis Gregory, and the TWMP debut of the favorite son of the bootheel Rep. Jamie Burger.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.