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Will interests return the support of legislator-candidates?

During the 2016 session, interest groups representing broad swaths of Missouri asked legislators to support them in big ways. Legislators fought on all sides a multitude of complex issues, but now the question is whether they can expect that support during the election season.

Rep. John Rizzo, Rep. Anne Zerr, Sen. Kurt Schaefer and Sen. Scott Sifton all staked out tough positions on high profile issues. While some will get help from groups they supported, some have already felt the cold shoulder in the heat of the summer.

Labor and Rizzo

Despite Republican super-majorities in both chambers, Missouri’s unions and their supporters managed to stave off significant legislative setbacks to organized labor, including right-to-work in 2015 and paycheck protection this year. But while anti-labor forces write big checks to support their candidates, the labor alliance has shown some signs of a lack of direction, especially in the primary for the 11th Senate District.


Despite a 100 percent pro-labor voting record, Rep. John Rizzo has not received two significant labor endorsements in his race against first-time candidate Jessica Podhola. The AFL-CIO left their endorsement for the seat open while the Greater Kansas City Building Trades Council endorsed Podhola, an official with the painters union.

“I am truly disappointed. I think it is a bad decision by the AFL-CIO and the Greater Kansas City Building Trades Council to not endorse somebody that has been with them 100% of the time and will continue to have a 100% pro-labor record,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo emphasized that he was disappointed with the decision of just these two groups. He’s been endorsed by the firefighters and the carpenters union gave him $50,000 for his campaign.

But a week after labor opponent David Humpreys gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates challenging pro-labor legislators, Rizzo questioned why some labor groups were encouraging infighting.

“I think it’s more embarrassing for their leadership than it is to anything,” he said. “It’s not going to change my mind. It’s not going to change the way I support labor. It is going to change the way people view their word or trust them.”

That trust could be instrumental, as seen in House and Senate veto override votes for paycheck protection in 2016. Rep. Ron Hicks, a pro-labor Republican from St. Peters, cast the deciding vote in the House to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. If labor groups want to prevent those kinds of defections, they’re going to need to prove they’ll support legislators who support them.

Its a lesson some anti-labor advocates seem to know. In the Senate, Republican Sens. Ryan Silvey of Kansas City and Gary Romine of Farmington voted to sustain the paycheck protection veto. Last month, Silvey’s Democratic opponent received $25,000 from Humphreys.

Similarly, two Clay County Republicans who voted against paycheck protection in 2015, Reps. Kevin Corlew and Nick King, have found themselves in primary fights with opponents well funded by Humphreys.

For most labor supporters, including Rizzo, a lack of endorsements won’t cause them to rethink their support for working families.

“I fight for pro-labor issues, for working families, for the blue collar workers, for the person trying to put their kids through college, the person that’s trying to make ends meet. Those are the people I fight for and that’s why I’m always going to be 100 percent pro-labor,” Rizzo said. “Those people deserve somebody in Jefferson City that’s going to fight for them. They shouldn’t be penalized because of bad leadership decisions.”

But the infighting could give anti-labor leaders another log for the fire when trying to convince legislators on the fence to join their cause, arguing that just because they support labor, doesn’t mean labor will support them come August.

Schaefer and pro-life

Last year, Sen. Kurt Schaefer co-chaired the Interim Sanctity of Life Committee, which investigated, among other things, claims that abortion clinics in Missouri were illegally disposing of or selling fetal remains. The committee inspired a host of pro-life legislation during the 2016 session and more is expected to be introduced in 2017.

Schaefer’s actions included pushing for contempt hearings for Planned Parenthood officials who refused to comply with a Senate subpoena.

But, Schaefer also received a lot of criticism from abortion supporters, including legislators and pro-choice groups. He was also skewered by liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post, the Post-Dispatch, MSNBC and Al-Jazeera. 

As Schaefer seeks the Republican nomination for attorney general, there was a question as to whether the substantial amount of effort he put into supporting pro-life causes would be returned. The answer, with Missouri Right to Life PAC’s endorsements this week, was sort of.

Schaefer at attorney general debate, February 27, 2016 TRAVIS ZIMPFER
Schaefer at attorney general debate, February 27, 2016

Schaefer has received the group’s endorsement and the PAC’s chair, Dave Plemmons, said his role on the Sanctity of Life Committee helped him to secure that endorsement.

“His work with the sanctity of life committee, obviously was a good factor with the things that he’s done in the last year,” Plemmons said. “I think the fact that there’s a lot of publicity that was brought up on the issues concerning, not just the Columbia situation, but that conversation is going to help foster more discussion on the need for more frequent statutory requirements for inspections.”

But, his opponent, University of Missouri Law Professor Josh Hawley, also received the Missouri Right to Life PAC’s approval.

“We believe that both candidates would be compatible with our goals, whether it be the record that they have or public statements,” Plemmons said about the dual endorsement.

Hawley has been critical of Schaefer’s role in the sanctity of life committee, saying it did not go far enough to hold Planned Parenthood accountable.

“Senator Schaefer has always played politics with abortion, campaigning as an effectively pro-choice candidate in his last two general elections,” Hawley said in January. “This issue should not be about politics – it’s about saving lives and changing the law.”

Missouri Right to Life PAC’s endorsement of multiple candidates is not uncommon. The committee endorsed three of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates this cycle. In that case, the fourth candidate, Eric Greitens, didn’t return the PAC’s survey.

“If you don’t get an endorsement, either you refused to return the survey or your your record is such that it is questionable or adversarial to our position,” Plemmons said about what would disqualify a candidate from getting the endorsement. Normally, the PAC seeks to endorse all candidates whose views align with theirs and would benefit the cause, not which candidate would help the most.

Sifton and SJR 39

Sen. Scott Sifton became a champion of the LGBT movement last spring when he led a 39 hour filibuster against SJR 39.

While Sifton’s personal life, he has gay family members, may have provided inspiration for the filibuster, he said he would have fought the battle anyway.


“I would oppose this amendment just as vigorously even if I didn’t have immediate family members who are potentially implicated by it,” he told the Missouri Times during the filibuster. “I honor who my father is, I honor who my uncle is and I stand and fight not just for them, but also for the thousands of constituents I have that are very much targeted by this amendment.”

PROMO, Missouri’s most prominent LGBT advocacy group, has not yet completed their endorsement process this election season. However, they have endorsed Sifton in the past and he was honored, along with the other seven Senators who participated in the filibuster, at their annual gala in May.

“In the past we have definitely endorsed him,” said Katie Stuckenschneider, PROMO’s communication director. “We definitely consider Sifton a champion of the LGBT community.”

Should Sifton gain their endorsement, and there’s no reason to believe at this point that he won’t, he can expect promotion from PROMO. They also occasionally hold house parties for candidates, fundraisers and some candidates walk with PROMO in parades.

Zerr and the Business Community

By the time SJR 39 moved to the House, it had begun to encounter serious resistance from the business community. It eventually became a full-scale lobbying effort against the resolution, resulting in a schism between business conservatives and social conservatives.

Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles , stayed true to her business roots and voted against the legislation in the House Emerging Issues Committee, one of three Republicans to join Democratic opposition in defeating SJR 39 which killed the bill.


“I did the right thing, both for my constituents and for the state of Missouri,” Zerr said about her vote. “I think business recognizes that. They recognize the threat that it was to Missouri.”

With Zerr running in a three-person primary for the GOP nomination in the 23rd Senate district, her opposition to the measure could cost her with some segments of the party. The National Organization for Marriage will be utilizing its political action committee against Zerr during her primary because of her vote on SJR 39.

“This election, I’m going to need business support more than ever before,” Zerr said. “I face an extremely difficult campaign. We anticipate the attacks on me to be extreme. I remain extremely optimistic.”

She said she’s continued to receive supportive feedback from the business community both before and after session, and their support is more vital than ever because of her vote on SJR 39.

“They can’t let up because my opponents are going to use this bill, the SJR 39 against me,” Zerr said. “I’m going to need business’ support because one of my opponents is funded by a billionaire from the southwestern part of the state, not by local businesses.”

Business has supported Zerr with significant financial contributions, the campaign said, knowing she would be a reasonable senator who makes good decisions for Missouri.

In addition to her support on SJR 39, Zerr points to a consistent pro-business record from her eight years in the House.

“I’ve always supported business. I’ll stand by my business votes, people can look at my voting record, and I’ve won several awards from business organizations,” she said. “I believe my constituents believe in a conservative common sense Republican and that’s me.”