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With special session looming, some senators skeptical of conservative caucus “olive branch”

Jefferson City, Mo. — Over the last several years, Missouri’s Senate has been characterized by bickering and public attacks on social media among senators in the Republican supermajority.

On Aug. 15, the group often found at the center of the bickering, the conservative caucus, disbanded.

The disbandment comes after multiple GOP candidates that would be assumed to align with caucus leader Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles County, and his allies did well in the Aug. 2 primaries. Including Jill Carter winning a major upset over the more moderate incumbent Sen. Bill White in Senate District 32.

The addition of the new senators will likely help former caucus members push for Senate leadership positions when they’re voted upon after the general election in November.

Eigel framed the disbandment as an “olive branch” in a press release, as well as calling for the Republican caucus to unite and “go fully on offense.”

“This is absolutely an attempt by the former conservative caucus to move away from divisiveness,” Eigel said. “We want to mend some of those fences.”

Some of his colleagues aren’t so sure.

“Honestly, it almost feels like there’s a not-so-veiled threat,” Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said. “That if they (former caucus members) don’t get what they want, then they’re going to take that olive branch back.”

Hough is in line to chair the Senate’s budget committee come next session, though he has been at odds with the former caucus members repeatedly during his first term. Hough defeated Angela Romine in his GOP primary Aug. 2, Romine was the farther right of the two, branding Hough as inadequately conservative.

Hough also killed a gun bill sponsored by former conservative caucus member Eric Burlison, making him a frequent target of Eigel and his allies. Burlison will leave the Senate to seek election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This small group of individuals has been obstructive to conservative policies,” Hough said of the likelihood the former caucus members unite with the rest of the Republicans. “The proof will be in the pudding, but I’ll be surprised.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Jackson County, has adopted the same skeptical outlook.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Rizzo said of the caucus’ call for unity. “They believe in getting along until they don’t.”

Rizzo cut a deal with Eigel during spring session to get Missouri’s congressional redistricting map passed and end session a day early.

Democrats in the Senate often stood to gain from fractures in the Republican caucus. Operating as a super-minority, the ten Democratic senators often jumped in on one side of the discord or the other, blocking conservative legislation either way.

Rizzo said it was “too early to say any of that” when asked about the possibility of the caucus’ disbandment being a political ploy to push for Senate leadership roles.

Eigel himself didn’t specifically call for a former caucus member to take a place in leadership in his press release. Instead saying the caucus members would commit themselves to any Senator who will empower each member of the Senate to have their voice heard.

“I look forward to them empowering my Democratic colleagues,” Rizzo said in response.

Eigel defends the caucus’ disbandment, and believes that a majority of the Republican caucus will work with him, skepticism or no skepticism.

“In an environment where trust has been lacking, I can understand the cynicism,” Eigel said. “I’m looking for colleagues who want a scenario of peace.”

It seems as though that scenario of peace is going to take some time to come to fruition. With a special session on an income tax cut and agricultural tax credit programs starting Sept. 6, the former caucus members will have some time to avail themselves and their “olive branch” mindset to their colleagues.

Hough said that the caucus’ very public disbandment feels like “more of the same” from the group of senators. Even so, Hough’s words on new Senate leadership match Eigel’s, time will tell if actions do.

“I’m looking for someone who wants to continue building this state — not dismantle it — not throw rocks,” Hough said. “We are all better off when we work together.”

Featured Image: Sen. Lincoln Hough on the Senate floor in Jefferson City on March 2, 2021. (Provided)