Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Senate Situation

Yesterday in the halls there were rumors that the Republican Senate Caucus was coming apart at the seams.


Such was the tension that one person suggested that votes were being counted for a potential leadership showdown.  Others acknowledged a simmering discontent, but dismissed the likelihood that it would boil into a “coup” and the ouster of Pro Tem Rob Mayer.


My own back-of-envelope count showed that there ware at least as many “replace” votes as “retain” votes if matters swerved in that direction.  There are two factors though mitigating that outcome.  First, it would potentially create as much dysfunctionality as already exists.  Second, there’s no one who wants the job enough.  The most obvious candidate, Floor Leader Tom Dempsey, doesn’t possess the heart of a mutiny leader.


The Grievance

The unrest has its roots in the divisive leadership race after the 2010 elections.  The failures of last session and the special session added to the sentiment that the Senate was being poorly run.  But this session the unhappy mood has been exacerbated by Mayer’s refusal to refer a large number of bills to committee.


A look at the Senate calendar as of yesterday showed that there were only eight bills up for perfection – many of them considered “anti-labor” bills like employment discrimination, prevailing wage, paycheck protection.


Meanwhile some hundred (I counted 103 but could be off) bills are sitting, waiting for the pro tem to refer them so they can get a committee hearing and even have a chance of being voted out of committee to return to the floor for debate.


In others words, every senator in the Republican caucus has bills which are sitting, not moving.  And those senators feel that Mayer isn’t promoting the agenda of the caucus by only advancing a tiny few issues.



At last night’s caucus, there was a discussion about this and we’ll see if there’s movement.



Gubby Appointments

Yesterday the sentiment on former Democratic state senator Steve Stoll’s appointment to the Public Service Commission was very negative, while sentiment for Stoll personally is very positive.


It’s said that Sen. Brad Lager is requesting that the governor’s office to give some clarity about their Republican appointment to the PSC (to replace recently resigned Jeff Davis), before clearing Stoll (a Democratic appointee).


Republicans fear that Jay Nixon might get his Democrat confirmed and then leave the “Republican slot” open creating a 3-1 advantage for Democrats on the powerful commission.  (It was pointed out to me by a lobbyist yesterday that the partisan “slots” on the commission are not statutory, but rather by tradition.  The implication is that a governor could pack the commission, and is an additional reason to “confirm, but verify” to paraphrase the towering Ron Reagan.)


Now, another observer imagined more to Lager’s position than this.  He said that Lager was pushing for his colleague Sen. Luann Ridgeway to take the Republican slot, as it would remove her from the lieutenant governor’s race and give him a one-on-one against Peter Kinder.




The appointment of Jason Hall to DED is also floundering.  The Post-Dispatch’s Virginia Young covered it.  Read it Here.


There were backroom dealing which appeared to be working to negotiate a solution to the above PSC stalemate with Lager and the governor’s office to free Hall up in the mix.


Supporters are outraged that the governor can’t appoint his own cabinet, while detractors dismiss Hall as inexperienced, a charge which falls like veil over simple ageism.  Apparently no one under 50 is fit to lead a department in their view.



The Future is Now in Gubs

All of these appointments have clocks ticking, and if this morning’s Gubernatorial Appointments Committee fails to move them to the full senate, the governor will likely have to withdraw their names or lose them as appointees.



Complaining About Campaign Sunglasses

I glimpsed a copy of the Ethic complaint filed against Sen. Robin Wright Jones.  It was filed on January 17 by Whitfield Montgomery.


It alleges that Wright Jones converted campaign funds for personal use citing purchases listed on her expenditure reports.  These included $141 from Sunglass Hut.  The complaint asks, “How can a pair of sunglasses not be a personal item?”  And also $1,800 at Distinctions, which the complaint refers to a “boutique that sells formal gowns.”


It also alleges that Wright Jones grouped expenditures together to avoid transparency.  For example, the complaint cites her August 2011 listing of $1,744.05 for “campaign gas/food/parking/incidentals.”


It also alleges that Wright Jones misstated her cash on-hand, noting that her original August 2011 report showed $95,000 on-hand, and her amended report showed only $12,000 on-hand.


It also alleges that Wright Jones had her campaign pay phone bills that she had already been reimbursed for through her office’s expense funds.  It’s cites a Jake Wagman Post-Dispatch article in this allegation.


Finally, it alleged that Wright Jones didn’t properly disclose payments to her staffer John Bowman.



What it Means

The real issue for Wright Jones is: will the Missouri Ethics Commission fine her?  How much?


If it’s a substantial fine, Wright Jones might have trouble raising the money to pay it off in time to file again for the senate seat.  She has not had strong fundraising this cycle and only has $1,206 on-hand.



Thomson’s Consent Bill

Yesterday Dems knocked a Republican bill off the consent calendar leading to speculation that there might be a new move afoot by House Dems to be more aggressive in keeping Republican bills from sliding through the consent process.


One Republican marveled at the move saying that the bill – Rep. Mike Thomson’s HB 1041 (See it Here) – passed the House unanimously last year.


Dems say it’s not part of a new offensive, and good government types worry about bills getting fast-tracked on the consent calendar and not going through the proper vetting.


One Dem noted that Democrats allowed a bill to create “Don’t Tread on Me” license plates go to consent, so they’re hardly taking a hard line on ideological grounds.



Lobbyists’ Principals Changes

From the Pelopidas website:


Shirley Breeze added Missouri Women’s Network.

Polsinelli Shughart added Construction Delivery Coalition.

Ray Hefner added SMACNA St. Louis.

John E Bardgett Jr, Kim Tuttle and Brian Millner deleted Choice Administrators Insurance Services Inc.

Kathryn Ann Harness deleted Missouri Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons.



$5K+ Contributions

MO Republican Party - $10,000 from Realtors Political Action – Missouri.

MADA Dealers Interested in Government - $36, 896 from Missouri Committee of Auto and Truck Retailers.