KIRKSVILLE, Mo. — The Grow Missouri van made a stop in Kirksville Thursday afternoon to bring Republican Rep. Nate Walker, community business owners and members from Grow Missouri, Americans for Prosperity, Missouri Club for Growth and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce together in a small, closed-door meeting to discuss the much-debated income tax bill: House Bill 253.
The meeting was intended to give business owners the chance to discuss their thoughts with Walker about the legislation and its impacts, Grow Missouri spokesperson Melanie Abrajano said, as well as to give Walker the chance to discuss his thoughts with his constituents and give those from the traveling organizations the chance to connect with their Kirksville audience.
Much like the comments he made before the House Republican’s summer caucus meeting or the private Grow Missouri meeting in his hometown, Walker said he still doesn’t support the veto override of what he calls “a very flawed bill.”
After the meeting, Walker said the constituents who showed up — some for and some against the bill — said that ultimately, they want a tax cut. Walker said while he agrees, he doesn’t think HB 253 is the right vehicle.
“The reality is today there’s not the votes to [override], and there’s more votes going the other way,” Walker said. “At the beginning, maybe I was the only one who had the guts to say what I said, but the leadership or the Speaker pretty much said we’re going to force a vote and some people were scared. But today I’m thinking the ‘no’ people kind of want a vote because they’re finding out that being ‘no’ isn’t necessarily so unpopular in their districts anymore.”
Walker said he would speculate the House being 10-12 votes short of the 109 needed to override the veto. Publicly, Walker and Reps. Don Phillips and Dennis Fowler are the only three to speak out since the caucus meeting about their opposition.
“If they have the vote, it will be worse for [House Speaker Tim Jones] than if they don’t have the vote,” he said about the current conversations with caucus members who intend to vote against the override.
Walker said he has and will continue to listen to any argument, adding that for the most part he agreed with a lot of the concerns that were raised during the closed-door meeting. He said that he hopes to be one of the first at the proverbial table next year with the governor and a bipartisan effort to craft a new bill to address any problems early on.
Walker said he doesn’t judge the way other people vote on issues as long as it’s what their constituents want, and for him, he said his district doesn’t want an override.
In Kirksville, the City Council recently announced their support of sustaining the veto, as well as the local school district. Walker said Kirksville R-3 is one of many districts within his represented area to do so.
“Kirksville gets all of the publicity, but when I go to Milan, to Unionville or to Princeton, they’re all supportive of what I’m doing,” Walker said, pointing out that those are areas in which he garnered more support during the November 2012 election. In areas where he received less support vote-wise, like the Truman State University campus, he said he’s heard positive things from his decision on HB 253.
Since coming out against the override, Walker said he’s been thanked by a few caucus members for “taking the heat off” of them.
He also expressed concerns of Jefferson City politics becoming too polarized, adding that it is affecting the way leaders are able to work with the governor and citing term limits as a possible cause for these issues.
“If I’m gone next year, I’m gone next year,” Walker said after a separate comment about potentially facing a primary opponent in 2014 who could very well have been in the closed-door meeting too, as well as up to $1 million used against him in a primary.
“We’ll have to see how it all falls,” he said. “But, I see no way the override is going to happen because I think the momentum is going the other way.”
Organizers discuss this event and others to come
In an Americans for Prosperity email, the Kirksville meeting was listed as one of four bus tour events under a “Please join us for a stop near you” heading. Prior to the event, a Club for Growth spokesperson called to clarify that the meeting was closed to media.
“We wanted to allow business owners to be able to open up and talk about the personal aspects of their businesses with [Walker],” Melanie Abrajano, from Club for Growth and Grow Missouri, said.
Organizers acknowledged and apologized for the communication error and allowed media to ask them all questions after the event.
Most of the other meetings that the Grow Missouri bus is traveling to takes place in a different event setting with several being town hall style discussions, like an event in Farmington Tuesday evening, or luncheons, like an event Friday afternoon in Jefferson City.
Patrick Werner, State Director for Americans for Prosperity: Missouri, said the stops were chosen for different reasons, be it population or need for messaging. For Kirksville, he said since Walker was one of the first representatives to express concerns about HB 253, Grow Missouri supporters wanted to better understand why.
“And you know, he told us what concerns he had and he said he was going to keep on listening to each side,” Werner said shortly after the end of the meeting. “Elected officials are getting it from both sides, so they’re struggling.”
Werner added what he saw at the meeting was an example of something he sees statewide: a growing debate about ideologies rather than about the bill number.
About 15 business owners attended the meeting — which was held in the back room of Rosie’s Northtown Cafe in Kirksville, Mo. — along with about 10 statewide group members who are part of the tour.
Walker did say he would support a veto override of the nullification bill (HB 436) and the sex offender registry bill (HB 301). #MOleg
— Ashley Jost (@ajost) August 23, 2013
"I'm not there to be a red [button] puncher or a green [button] puncher. I'm there to do what I think is right." -Walker #MOleg
— Ashley Jost (@ajost) August 23, 2013
Grow Missouri spokesperson Melanie Abrajano called to update Friday afternoon with details of the Thursday night meeting.
She said there was one woman out of the audience who expressed concerns about HB 253 and later voted (by a show of hands) to indicate that she wouldn’t support an override. The other “no” vote, Abrajano said, was Walker.
“Her main concern was if they cut income taxes, maybe they would creep back up some other way as sales tax or property tax,” she said.
Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.