I generally ask around for thoughts of various capitol denizens before I embark on my grading. And I think this year there was a wider diverge of opinions of people’s performances than in year’s past. Midterms are necessarily hard because the second half accounts for 80% of the game. But I think it’s also because of term limits, and lots of people are just starting out in a new position. Anyway, enough chitchat, here they are. (Regular update resumes tomorrow.)
Jay Nixon – B – Solid B from the governor. Maybe I’m grading on a curve here based on his past performance. But this governor is suddenly willing to lead on some issues. He’s meeting with leadership; he’s opening dialogues. But has he tipped his hand too much on Medicaid expansion? Republicans think he’ll sell the farm to get it done.
Tom Dempsey – A- – The Senate has accomplished a lot for the half-way mark. Especially when compared to their last few years. The minus is because the Senate may not be as stable as it appears. They did just pass what will potentially be the largest tax increase in the history of the state. And you can only ask a Republican super majority to do that kind of stuff once, maybe twice a session. It may have been better to save that bullet for later. Also, Dempsey has allowed the full frontal attacks on labor when they will be vetoed with no chance of override. One wonders whether poking labor with a stick for no gain comes with an opportunity cost to achieve other items on the agenda. Overall though, the hallway is amazed by the Senate, and Dempsey gets the credit.
Ron Richard – A – The biggest surprise this session. If I was in the prediction business, I’d have predicted Richard earning a D+ six months ago. But he’s been the man for this Senate – so far. He has the Senate working, and working, and working. The second half will test whether he has other tools in his bag of tricks though. So far he’s had issues with a mostly united Republican caucus – and no coalesced conservative faction. When ISRS comes up, will he be able to finesse the unorthodox coalitions?
Mike Kehoe – A- – As the papa to two of the largest items this legislature will consider this session, he must be given something in the A range. Impact players get high MOScout marks as a rule. But again, the second half is critical. If they both ultimately flounder, will his political capital have been spent for naught?
Bob Dixon – A- – Dixon is doing a surprising good job as the first non-lawyer chair of Judiciary, he hasn’t made any mistake and it doesn’t appear he has made anyone mad up to this point. I would even say that MATA is fairly please with him.
Eric Schmitt – B+ - It’s started as a breakthrough session for economic development. Schmitt laid out a roadmap early, and so far he’s gotten the Senate to stay on course. Pass some priorities apart from the “global” tax credit reform irst, then put forth a proposal on reform and see where that goes without the usual hostage taking. As a result, the governor has already received the first round economic development items. The tax credit reform looks to be typically sticky, messy and spaghetti-like, but at least the precedent has been set that the world doesn’t stop during the annual tax credit intifada.
Kurt Schaefer – B – Schaefer’s shimmied himself into a great position. He has four more years as Appropriations Chair and now has the ability to cherry pick hot issues to jump on. His first cherry appears to be the Department of Revenue. But others wonder why he’s willingly transforming himself from the level-headed moderate he was elected as to a right-wing zealot on guns. Is he willing to sell his soul for the off-chance that he’s going to out-conservative Jones in an AG primary? Your move, Devil, make an offer.
Senate Conservatives – D – The largest tax increase in Missouri history gets through with nary a peep. Meanwhile none of their agenda will get done. Do they know that? The Kraus income tax, Brown paycheck, or other anti-labor bills all get vetoed and not overridden. Losing Crowell and Purgason and Lembke apparently was catastrophic to the senate conservatives. They’ve melted away…
Senate Democrats – B- - It’s hard to grade this minority. On the one hand, they probably haven’t let anything pass that will actually become law. But on the other, they seem to have lacked the political savvy to exploit Republican factions and slow down the majority’s machinery. They need to be more devious before session ends and cultivate the divides in the Republican caucus.
Tim Jones – B+ - Jones has done most everything right. He’s kept his famous temper under control; he’s used a softer hand than most expected. He too is accomplishing all of his goals: to raise money and freeze out Republican rivals for 2016. So why not an A? The House has been plodding along at a strolling pace. And – and there’s concern that Jones is too focused on his next race. That sort of chatter is fine now, but it’s seeds which could spout vexing weeds next year.
John Diehl – B – Yes, the House is running smoothly. But with the majority they have, a monkey could run that chamber smoothly. Hell, I could run the House with this majority. The real question for Diehl is how he’s positioning himself for speaker. “He has successfully played it safe and not made any mistakes, but Kevin Engler and Mike Parson proved that you don’t ascend to leadership by playing it safe.”
Jay Barnes – A – Barnes “has cajones and a brain.” The Republicans might not want a caucus of Barnes, but having this one Jay Barnes has improved their caucus immeasurably. No one else had the guts to tackle the Medicaid issue. And whenever there’s an issue that has people jockeying for the soapbox, Barnes seems like the only state representative with the impulse to try to ascertain the facts first.
Eric Burlison – B+ - The gun video was sophomoric in the long tradition of Missouri politicians pretending they’re running for student council. But you can’t argue that he’s both a bill passing machine, and he’s the conscience of the House conservatives.
Todd Richardson – B – everyone still thinks that Richardson is a rock star. Even without being in leadership or a committee chair, he is a leader on most big issues. But he was clearly taken off the field for the first few months of session in pursuit of the Congressional prize. Now that he’s suited up, look for a stellar second half.
House Republican Freshman – D – In the words of one lobbyist, “OK kids, the game has begun. Where are you? This time two years ago Caleb Jones, Todd Richardson, and Jay Barnes were starting to make their mark.” A valid point I think.
Jake Hummel – B – on the one hand the Dems are nearly irrelevant right now. That would put his grade much lower. But on the other, he was dealt one of the weakest hands in memory, and I believe his early hand-slap of Rep. Penny Hubbard was a helpful reminder to his caucus that they need to stand for something together.
Chris Kelly – A – Is there a sneakier, yet highly visible, state representative in the building? He somehow got the Republican supermajority (that claims to hate debt, and worries about federal debt while the bond market yawns with 3% 30-year rates) to buy into his agenda of issuing a billion dollar of debt. That’s grade A material.
Honorable mention: Freshmen Ds to keep an eye on: Michael Butler, Kim Gardner, and Jeremy LaFaver.
Happy birthday to Trent Summers (34) and Thomas Long (45).