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TWMP Column: The real state of the Speaker address

Tomorrow the Speaker and the Pro Tem will open their chambers for legislative business.

Speeches are inherently boring, and in the Senate it’s almost malpractice for the leader to state his real priorities in a “private” caucus meeting much less in a public speech.

While the house has some clear drama going on behind the scenes I thought I would give you a real state of the speaker assessment as of the day before, and what the next Speaker Jon Patterson can take from all the drama.

Let’s break down the issues into four buckets:

#1 Screwing up his house expense account.

#2 Firing his chief of staff.

#3 Improving the software program in the house.

#4 The rest of the drama

#1 He did screw up his expense account. He just did. 

Plocher has admitted it and paid back the money. The facts are pretty clear, Dean Plocher got reimbursed for expenses for attending conferences by the state, that his campaign had paid for.

It’s a screw-up, and he has taken well-deserved lumps for it. Does anyone believe it was a multilayered scheme to squeeze the state out of a few hundred bucks…of course not. It was sloppy and dumb, the kind of thing you take lumps for.

Now there is an ethics complaint filed, and let’s see what they do with it. Because whatever they do with this complaint I can assure you that if they come hard here then folks like myself will look into everyone else’s accounts and rightly expect the same punishment.

At this point, I’d reckon the house has spent more money on the hearings and the lawyer they are trying to hire than Dean has paid them back in the first place.

What Speaker Patterson can take from this: Easy one, skip these worthless conferences. However, if you want to go to a worthless conference, pay for it either on your own dime or on your campaign dime. 

#2 Firing his chief of staff.

This was a mistake from the beginning, a mistake by Dean Plocher.

I’ve been a staffer myself and I can tell you that believing in and respecting your boss is the paramount foundation of a successful staffer/elected official relationship, and I don’t think that ever existed here.

Kenny Ross is an experienced staffer who is well-spoken of by his last two bosses. However, these jobs are typically done for one speaker then the staffer moves to a different office and begins the climb back up the ladder.

You can’t be the perfect fit for everyone’s staff and be the perfect fit for anyone’s staff. Here while he was a good fit for the last two speakers he simply wasn’t a good fit for this one.

When you lose your job people come out of the woodwork with old grudges, and some of those are probably deserved, but I think the real issue here is the impossible position staffers are put in with the new “ethics” laws.

In a better world not too long ago Kenny Ross, who whatever anyone thinks of him is smart, has experience in the legislative process, and has some strong relationships, would already be a highly paid successful lobbyist with any one of the three firms he is very closely aligned to.

However, the reformers, most of whom never spent a solid week working as a staffer, decided to lump the staff in with the elected officials on the lobbying ban. It’s patently not fair to penalize staffers for taking some of their 20s and learning a system and not allowing them to take that knowledge and earn money with it.

It creates a system where you have a job for two years. It inherently means that after the first year of that two-year term, you are forced to look for your next job while doing your current job.

If you’re successful in getting that next job you get a year to serve your new boss before doing it all over again.

The current system keeps quality people from wanting to serve the state and is just simply unfair. You would hope someone would have the guts to change the law to opt these staffers out of this ridiculous system, but that would take guts, and this is the house.

One undeniable fact is that this drama started when the Speaker let his chief of staff go.

He shouldn’t have hired him in the first place, but it was his right to hire him.

In Missouri, thanks to some of the laws this house has passed, it’s also his prerogative to fire him for whatever reason. I can’t see how firing a staffer gets you kicked out as Speaker.

However, it has raised the question of who does the staff work for?

Dear Representatives, let me help you out, if the staff doesn’t work for the elected officials then don’t be surprised when #LOLHouse trends again.

What Speaker Patterson can take from this: Hire YOUR staff that is loyal to YOU, and only YOU. 


#3 Improving the software program in the house.

Look I’m just a simple hillbilly, and the current system is functional, but in my professional tech opinion: it sucks.

However, you really don’t need a top-end software system to keep track of the few legitimate constituent contacts you receive.

It’s also true that there is nothing even remotely corrupt about the Speaker wanting a better and more professional software system.

As I understand it the former house counsel wants to tell an outside investigator that Dean wanted to have the new system in place before the election, and this new system could download information that could be used for campaign purposes and that quote is somehow a reason to boot him.

Look I can understand how the Independent could take that quote and hit a Republican on it, but I’ve worked in an office and traveled a district holding office hours, and I’ve run a state rep. campaign. Here is the reality:

  1. Most calls to a State Rep. office are for things they have to transfer to their congressional office for.
  2. The information has zero value to any campaign, or really anyone, ever.

Here is a way you can tell if a Rep. is wanting attention: they tell you that their office is barraged with their constituents calling them.

No one in this state besides Aaron Dorr can get actual constituents to call a state rep. office.

Do this for your ol’ hillbilly pal. Next time you’re at a bar or a grocery store, or church ask a normal person if they have ever called their state representative’s official office to help with a problem with state government.

For the same reason there aren’t that many of them is probably a good reason to not spend more money on keeping track of them, but again is that a reason to boot a speaker?

What Speaker Patterson can take from this: Make your reps.  prove to you they are getting more than 20 legitimate constituent issues with state government a month before you spend money on updating the software. 

#4 The rest of the drama

The current state of play is that the house clerk and the former chief of staff are 100% in for seeing Dean Plocher removed as Speaker.

Now, I’ve known Dana Rademan-Miller for a long time. I’ve always known her to be a very rational actor and a good person who truly cares about the house, which is why she wanted proper furniture placed in the house. Some of these stories circulating are things I cannot really believe are true.

The bottom line is that if it’s accurate that all of the house staff works for her, then that is the fault of the legislators, and they should fix it…tomorrow.

The next bottom line is that if it is true that the chair of the ethics committee really is in close contact coordinating with those wanting the Speaker gone then that is on the chair of the committee.

The next bottom line is that I believe Senator Rowden was trying to do something nice for someone who was having a tough day, and had a lot of experience when he hired Kenny Ross, but now that is becoming a problem for him. No good deed goes unpunished.

The next bottom line is that it is not good for anyone including the house itself for the ethics committee to drag this out, and have the staff, and now the senate staff, feeding tidbits to the democrats pr outlet, the Independent to try to blow up every small thing the Speaker does, like remodeling an office with the help of the Chief Clerk, into a scandal. Or any thirsty rep who is seeking attention to run for Senate to take free shots at the Speaker to get a headline.

The last bottom line is that just like any two reasonable people can disagree on if the house’s current crappy software is worth updating then folks can disagree about what should happen to Dean.

Regardless of which line is the bottom one, the one thing I really don’t see is that with what is known or even suspected to be known there is enough here to remove a speaker, and that the ethics committee owes it to the members of the house to get going and make a decision.

What Speaker Patterson can take from this: The buck stops with you. That’s what you ran for. Make it clear that the staff works for you, give them clear direction, and if they aren’t on board with your direction then fire them. 

In the end, I suspect there isn’t much more here than I’ve laid out. Dana will finish session with Dean as the speaker.

If they both care about the house as much as they say that they do then they should after work one day next month break out a bottle of that liquor from their new pantry and hash it out. Don’t come out until they are determined to enjoy the rest of session.

Being that I’m white trash I would have long ago brought in a gunslinging lawyer to put my enemies on their back foot, but Dean is much much more professional than I am.

In the meantime, I am sure that Rep. Patterson, who is a lot smarter than I am, will learn a lot better lessons from this than I could point out, but I hope he at least considers taking steps to let the staff out of this ridiculous lobbying ban, and maybe consider doing it this year while Dean can take the heat from the Independent.

In the meantime, the stocks of Matt Thompson and Hampton Williams are skyrocketing in their chambers.

Catch our annual start-of-session show Sunday with the leaders of the legislative chambers on This Week in Missouri Politics.