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This Week in Missouri Politics Column: The tale of how the 1st session of the 101st General Assembly ended in the Senate


In an unprecedented move, at approximately a quarter after two in the afternoon, nearly four hours before by law all pending bills before the Senate are statutorily required to be tabled, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo made the motion to adjourn. Not one Republican senator took to the Senate floor to object to anything Rizzo said all day — not even to his motion to adjourn. As he would say later at the press conference, it seemed a fitting end. 

Some folks say the road to the early end started when Sen. Paul Wieland attached a pro-life measure to the FRA. The FRA is basically how the federal government sends Missouri taxpayers money back to Missouri hospitals so they can operate. 

Now you have to know two things. No. 1: The sun rises in the east, and No. 2: No matter what the amendment is, if it is considered pro-life by Missouri Right to Life and it comes up for a vote in the Missouri Senate, it passes. 

Wieland is viewed by most all parties as honorable in this situation. He pre-filed his amendment, his support of pro-life causes is seen by all sides as sincere, and he spoke to his colleagues beforehand and had the votes to put his amendment on the reauthorization bill. 

Three Caucuses 

Several senators say that the tale of how the session ultimately ended in bizarre fashion began on March 8, the day that Senator Roy Blunt announced his retirement. 

Up until then, the Senate had moved a series of large bills out of the chamber and had sat back and watched the Speaker of the House somehow find a way to bungle the State of the State address. 

It was then that not only did Sen. Dave Schatz began to consider running for U. S. Senate, but nearly all of the state senators in four of the six congressional seats held by Republicans began to consider runs for what could be open congressional seats themselves. 

While there is no question the potential for state senators seeking higher office adds a heightened sense of political tension and calculation to everything that happens in the Capitol, the fundamental dilemma for Senate leadership has been for the past three years balancing the competing factors of bringing Democrats to the point of letting a bill come to vote while at the same time convincing members of the Conservative Caucus from adding amendments that would make it impossible for Democrats to sit down. 

After two sessions of walking this highline, the members of the third caucus, Republican senators — who as some people are quick to forget are the majority of the majority caucus — were well tired of having their legislation die in search of placating what they consider the egoes members supposed to be in their own caucus working toward shared goals. 

There was even a feeling in the body that the Democratic leadership and the majority of the majority spent most of session trying to assuage the Conservative Caucus on a growing list of issues. 

That camaraderie was destroyed in early September when the Republian leadership floated a PQ motion to break the Senate and bring to a vote a piece of legislation offered by Sen. Bob Onder to provide concurrent jurisdiction on murders in the City of St. Louis. 

At that point, several Democrats felt that the good they had fostered wasn’t real, and several senators in the majority of the majority who up until that point had been the most stalwart supporters of Senate leadership began to feel the leadership they supported was more concerned with placating those who are opposed to them than those who support him. 

Then came the announcement that the House wouldn’t even take up the bill — making the entire process worthless as it was embarrassing and leaving at least 33 senators questioning how a screw up of this magnitude could take place in the Missouri Senate of all places. 

However, several new senators were elected last fall, and it was a new year and most seemed forgiven — but for certain the episode was not forgotten. 

Some senators pointed to the fact that Schatz filed more bills, some with staunch opposition, than most Senate leaders this session — and to be fair they did receive floor time. It’s an interesting difference in the chambers that while the Speaker forced his priorities to the front without much of any concern for his members, House members quietly grumble but most just behave as dutiful House members and vote yes when told. In the upper chamber, there is never an abundance of the “thank you, sir, may I have another” mentality. 

One of Schatz’s priorities he inherited from the past two Senate presidents was increasing the funding for MODOT. It has been attempted in many different forms in many years, all to the same end. As session wound down and his other priorities went down, some in flames, he was increasingly willing to go all in on his gas tax. 

After the bill moved through the Senate, he was forced to negotiate with House Speaker Rob Vescovo. Now, you never know all of any legislative leader’s true priorities, but to his credit the Speaker is pretty plain spoken. He pretty clearly wanted something on education reform, something on foster kids, something to do with some paranoid grudge he has against me, and he wanted the legislature to follow his very loyal House Budget Chairman Rep. Cody Smith and not fund the voter approved Medicaid expansion. 

Well, a bicameral legislature is set up to force compromise, it’s a good thing, and usually happens in some form every session, normally at the very end in a give and take type exchange.

But this time the Speaker got a foster care bill very early, then while Sen. Schatz was behind the move all along, the House led the budget process in not funding the voter approved Medicaid expansion that Schatz already supported, and after that the Senate passed the education bill with no debate and no amendments. 

You read that right; the Senate just took a major piece of legislation from the House and passed it unamended with no debate. Someone should make all 34 of them wear Rs on their licence plates for a month this summer. Most feel that since the measure only passed by a now kicked out child molester earlier in session, they didn’t have 82 votes in the House to do it again. Most bizarre of all, they did it the week before the last week — surrendering most any leverage to negotiate in the final week. 

No one will really ever know the full extent of any legislative deal, but it appeared the Senate cut a deal for a vote, but without a promise of support from the Speaker. He ultimately voted no, but it was his most loyal lieutenants who carried the water trying to attach amendments to send it to the public. 

In the end, it was House Floor Leader Dean Plocher who picked up the House, the governor, and the Senate and won the vote by an overwhelming margin. The Governor’s Office even seemed to find the right feel for dealing with the House by ignoring their detractors and having Plocher and Rep. Becky Ruth to his office the next day to celebrate with a photograph and full social media posts. 

However, there is always a couple times each session when the House Democrats matter. This was one of them. If enough of them voted no or just walked, the measure wouldn’t have passed. So a deal was struck with House Democrats that Sen. Bill Eigel’s SB 26, a pro-law enforcement bill that included a provision where you could hit a protester if they were in the middle of the road, would not be taken up before Friday when conceivably Senate Democrats would kill the measure.

What Happened Thursday Night 

The week was moving on to a pretty normal final week of session. The gas tax passed the House while the majority was making deals with the minority to amend but ultimately pass most of the major pieces of legislation. Apparently those deals were predicated upon ultimately passing a clean FRA. 

There were really two lingering priories hanging in the balance in the Senate for the final 36 hours. A bill called SAPA that has to do with suing cops, or maybe cities, if they enforce federal gun laws and passing the FRA to keep Missouri hospitals open. 

The Democrats were likely to give in on SAPA anyway because some of them see it as a good issue for them in the suburbs where they might be pro-gun but they are more pro-cop. In fact, a late night press conference was held with some cops to celebrate all of the pro-cop legislation that was passing complete with some large guns strategically placed against the podium. But the clean FRA was used as a reason to not force Sen. Lauren Arthur’s amendment to bar those convicted of domestic violence from having guns, SAPA passed, and that press conference was held just a few hours later than they had hoped. 

While this was going on, Eigel arranged to pull the controversial protester provision out of his SB 26 — now known as the police officer bill of rights. So at 12:01 a.m., which is technically Friday morning, Schatz went to the bill, and it passed. 

Now this is where things get complicated. There is no question that Reps. Crystal Quade and Ashley. Bland Manlove did their deal on the gas tax believing that Friday morning might mean like 10 a.m. Friday morning when the Senate would normally convene. However, the most controversial provision of SB 26 was taken out. So you can see where Senate Republican leaders could rationalize that technically they didn’t lie, and you can easily see where House Democratic leaders would feel they were lied to. 

Now Onto The FRA

With Missourians’ Second Amendment rights finally secured, the Senate had to try and get back in the good graces of the police that they spent the entire last year promising to be their best friends — so the police bill of rights was passed. Now at around 1 a.m., the only thing left was to get the FRA passed clean then go home and spend the next day passing the normal final day of session glut of legislation. 

That started to seem doable as earlier in the day the Governor’s Office began to inform Senate leaders they thought they had an idea that might save the day. Senate leadership had previously reached out to the Governor’s Office several times for help with the FRA but had been pretty frustrated with the lack of response until they had the idea that they could promulgate a rule that would accomplish what Wieland’s amendment was addressing. Most felt if leadership could get Wieland happy, then everyone else would fall in line. 

Now he didn’t have to feel any additional pressure to be all that accommodating in the weeks leading up to the final evening. He was a very solid supporter of Senate leadership and — even with that being the case — was rolled on an appointment to the University of Missouri System Board of Curators by Senate leadership and the Governor’s Office choosing to deal with Senate Democrats instead of him. His position was strengthened when web ads and text messages attacking him and other senators who shared his position started landing. However, by the 1 a.m. — on what I reckon Quade would call Thursday night, and what I reckon Schatz would call Friday morning — he was probably willing to listen to a reasonable compromise, especially from a certain member of the governor’s staff who he had a very long relationship with. 

As the FRA was on the floor, Wieland made his case then left the floor to Sen. Bob Onder. It was at that point one of the senators who handles himself on the floor very, very well, Sen. Bill White, took to the floor to debate Onder. They both held their own, and two things became pretty clear to those of us watching. No. 1: White is excellent on the floor, and No. 2: Onder was not in a compromising mood. 

While the Governor’s Office said it thought it could help, it was more of a march than a cavalry charge to get to the fight. It was around 2:45 a.m. that they were really in the mix, and at that point, Schatz felt that he could step away from the negotiations and hopefully come back into the discussion with a deal that Wieland had signed onto and all would be well.  

No Deal

It was around 3:15 a.m. that word was getting around the gallery where I sit that, accurately or not, a potential deal was in the works that could get a clean FRA out of the Senate. 

Well around 3:30 a.m. the chimes rang, and there was a vote called on an amendment that would clearly violate the agreement between Democratic and Republican Senate leadership. 

Now at 3:30 a.m. during a filibuster, Republican senators have a sleep schedule that they have to maintain to ensure there is always at least one senator in the chamber to make sure those filibustering don’t make a motion to adjourn and to make sure there are 18 senators to wake up to answer a quorum call. 

Well when you have an amendment, you need pretty well everyone. Some felt that the Democrats allowed the vote to take place because they felt they had the votes to defeat the amendment, and then the filibuster would continue with another amendment, but it would prove the point that they could perfect the bill cleanly. 

As the chimes rang, Sen. Caleb Rowden, who was spending damn near every second trying to bring senators to a compromise, went to find Schatz from what wasn’t the break he was hoping for. He was also waking up to a situation that hadn’t yet produced a deal between the Governor’s Office and Wieland. 

He went into the chamber and sat at the staff table while the roll was called and didn’t answer the first time his name was called. After the roll was called, the vote was 15-13 so his vote to side with Onder really wouldn’t matter. So when a senator made the motion to call the absentees, he voted with Onder to make the vote 16-14, again making Schatz’s vote meaningless. 

However, the Senate was to the point that almost every rule of the Senate was being used to stretch the process so a motion was made for verification of the roll. It was at that moment that Sen. Barb Washington came into the chamber, of course, voting no, making the vote 16-15.

While there is no meaningful difference to the fate of the amendment between 16-15 or 16-14, there was all the difference to Schatz. Now, if he would have voted no, the amendment would have been 15-15, tied, and therefore not been adopted. 

It was this difference that blew up the Senate and ensured that this would be the last meaningful piece of business the Missouri Senate conducted that session. 

The Fallout 

At that moment, the Senate minority felt it had been lied to. They had for two years worked, oftentimes alongside, the majority leadership to maintain the state Senate and craft legislation and in many ways cater to the Conservative Caucus. They had allowed legislation to pass that they passionately disagreed with in exchange for rather small concessions on other matters. Now, they had kept their end of the deal, their word, and they felt the majority hadn’t. 

From a lengthy conversation with Schatz, when he voted with Onder, he felt that his vote was not going to have any consequence to the outcome of the vote, and his yes vote would maintain his ability to play a role in negotiating a compromise later. If he really wanted to deceive, he could have claimed his vote was in order to be able to make a motion to reconsider if that became a viable option, but he said he really didn’t think of it. He did say at the time he wasn’t thinking of it as the end of the effort but just another roadblock to get over on the way to passing the FRA. 

At that point, a clean FRA was not possible; therefore the Senate minority had given and given and was not going to be receiving anything. Rowden, seeing the reaction from the minority, wisely adjourned the Senate until the next morning. 

The next morning, Sen. John Rizzo met with his caucus and told them that he was blowing it up. He was taking to the floor when they convened and would be filibustering until 6 p.m. He told them that they didn’t have to join him, and he didn’t know what the majority’s response would be, but he had made his mind up. 

Sen. Karla May had a bill that was teed up to pass if they went to legislation, but everyone else in the caucus was on board. It didn’t take long for May to agree and take to holding the floor herself. 

On the floor it was a different Sen. John Joseph Rizzo than anyone had seen before. He seemed to come into his own as he fired at the President Pro Tem of the Senate, calling the Republican leadership dishonest and incompetent and praising the Republican Speaker for working the Senate leadership like fools. He used passion and humor and spoke with an authority and delivery of a Koster or a Callahan or a Nixon who had spoken in that well before him. 

As his Democratic colleagues began to come to the floor and take their shifts, Schatz asked to speak with him. Rizzo said he had nothing to say to him, something to the effect that there would be no good to come from that conversation because he knows himself and knows how Schatz is. 

Schatz again asked to speak to him man-to-man and Rizzo again declined, but Schatz asked if he would listen and Rizzo relented. If you saw the post-session press conference, you would see that Rizzo wasn’t swayed. 

Rowden who has maintained a lot of credibility by not voting for a last fall PQ and several other measures, reached out to Rizzo and was told the one way to start to get back on track would be to get folks out of here because nothing was going to happen anyhow, and they would just be back in a few weeks to pass the FRA anyway. 

Around 1:30 p.m., Rizzo asked for an update, and Rowden asked for a little time to go to the House and inform Plocher that their early adjournment wasn’t meant as a sign of disrespect but was about their own dysfunction. It was sometime around 2 p.m. that Rizzo asked for an update. 

It was around 10 minutes later that the Senate minority leader rose and announced a privileged motion which was the first clue. 

Then he made the motion to adjourn until May 19. (You have to adjourn until a specific date.)

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe took his time before moving forward. 

Then he slowly asked for all those in favor. 

Then he paused again. 

Then asked for all those opposed. 

Then he paused again. 

Then he declared that believed the ayes have it. 

Then he paused. 

Then he declared they ayes have it, and the Senate was adjourned. 

It appeared that right after, Rizzo approached Kehoe and apologized for putting him in a tough situation. However, there is the old Ron Richard rule about always making sure a member of the majority was in the chamber to object to an adjournment motion. 

Not only did no Republican take to the floor to defend their caucus, there wasn’t even anyone there to object to adjourning. 

The Buck Stops With Schatz

In a long conversation with Schatz, he expressed real contrition for how it ended. He repeatedly said that he never intended to deceive Rizzo, that there were a number of balls up in the air at the end, and they didn’t all land as he would have hoped. He stressed that every possible outcome was discussed on how to keep the FRA clean, and his intention was to continue that work regardless of the amendment vote. There were even some Republicans discussing teaming up with the Democrats to force an end to the debate if Wieland’s concerns were satisfied. 

He said it was 3:30 in the morning, and he hadn’t slept a full night in a week, and there was no time to think of a U.S. Senate race or a bunch of multilevel political calculations, but he expressed respect for Rizzo even after his comments and understood why he was angry and hoped to reach out to him this summer and talk. 

Mostly he talked about how there were so many things that all came to a head at once. Eigel changed his bill to make it much easier to pass, SAPA became a huge priority, Wieland’s gravitas on the issue of aboriton, the Governor’s Office’s big solution to the FRA problem never arrived, and in the end, when it was over, it didn’t end the way he had hoped. 

However, the one point he left me with was whether or not someone supported SAPA or SB 26 or the gas tax or the failure of the FRA to pass, the Buck Stops Here. He understood why Rizzo was upset, and he owned it all like a man. Moreover, when he says that he didn’t set out to intentionally mislead Senator Rizzo I believe him.

Rizzo reflected that he probably should have blown things up back in January as retaliation for the PQ debacle from September, but he just didn’t think it was fair to the five new members to start out their Senate careers with that burden. In hindsight, he seemed to feel that if he had done so it might actually have helped Schatz and Rowden better deal with their own caucus and increase overall civility in the chamber. 

He commented how former Sen. Jake Hummel was over in the House working extremely hard and oftentimes alone to get the Democrats to stay on board with the gas tax. He questioned how the House minority can trust the Senate leadership again on anything?  He said what drove him over the edge was that his caucus put its trust in him, and he put his trust in Senate leadership. “When they screwed me they screwed them, and that’s what drives me crazy.”

He said there was no reason not to keep their word. They had previously taken Sen. Mike Moon’s bills and stripped their amendments and could have done so here. Basically his caucus kept their word, the majority lied. 

What’s Next?

Well, there is still the matter of the 1.8 billion of federal dollars Missouri taxpayers have sent to Washington and need returned in order to keep the hospitals they paid for open. 

The House actually looks like the adults here as they can probably pass a clean FRA if they choose to. 

The Senate minority’s position is pretty clear: Either pass a clean FRA with us or pass a dirty FRA without us. Rizzo didn’t seem in much of a position to compromise. There was no question he was angry about being lied to, but he seemed just as frustrated with what he said was a lack of competence in how the majority ran the chamber from ineffective dealing with the House to even kind of pitying them for not having anyone in the chamber for his motion to adjourn. 

As of now, the only way to a clean FRA with Wieland on board would be for the Governor’s Office to prepare the rule and start that process before issuing the call to special session. As of today, no Republicans really know how to get Onder on board with a clean bill. 

The governor will obviously have to call a special session, and in that call he could choose to take a side. 

Rizzo pointed out the easiest move was for the governor and the pro tem to be on the same page from the time they issue the call. Issue a strict call to remove the sunset from the FRA or issue a call to specifically change the date the program ends to 2027 or 2037 or whatever. Then have the pro tem to rule any other amendments out of order. 

It will be tough for Senate leadership to negotiate the bill, but one person who has emerged from this mess with all of his integrity intact is the Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Hageman. 

While he is unquestionably 100 percent pro-life he voted for the clean FRA each time it was brought up, and even an angry Rizzo spoke of him with respect. He is known to be one senator who is very close to the governor. He will unquestionably be the key when the deal is actually brokered. 

The Bottom Line 

However the FRA special session works out, it appears that the Republican caucus has reached the brink internally. Schatz will be forced to confront the Conservative Caucus or risk a complete revolt from the majority of the majority with a Senate Democratic caucus not just standing back and watching but strategically engaging in the fights. Neither option really harms the Conservative Caucus; they are really in the catbirds’ seat either way. 

The real dilemma for Schatz, and it would be for anyone who was pro tem right now, is dealing with such a large caucus and a caucus within the caucus that really has no reason to care about his personal political success. Sen. Ron Richard’s challenge was to find ways to deal with a small number of senators who opposed individual policies the policies the caucus supported. Schatz has to deal with an actual caucus within a caucus pulling it to the right. In reality, it’s probably a real work of political skill that it took two years, four months, one week, and four days to get here. 

Maybe the most telling thing from Friday about where the Missouri Senate stands is that during the press conference, all three caucuses were in the room when Rowden, who carries as much respect as any senator in the chamber from all sides, said he believes he is leaving the Capitol with his relationships intact. It was met with audible laughter from at least one member in both of the other two caucuses.