Greitens Tactics Grate on Some Missouri Lawmakers

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens addresses the crowd during an anti abortion rally in the Statehouse in Jefferson City on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Lawmakers were called back to special session by Gov. Greitens with the intent of modifying abortion laws in Missouri. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • After eight years of haggling with a Democratic governor, the Republican-controlled Legislature was primed to have a GOP ally on the second floor of the Missouri Capitol.

But after just six months, some Republican lawmakers are revolting against Gov. Eric Greitens and his tactics.

From his attacks on so-called career politicians to his calls for the Legislature to return to the capital city for special sessions, the mood in the Legislature’s upper chamber has soured.

On Tuesday, four Republican senators teamed with two members of the Democratic minority to call for an investigation of the political newcomer, arguing that the secretive fundraising activities of his campaign team and a nonprofit established to promote him needed to be investigated.

Though the resolution they introduced will go nowhere during the latest special session on abortion issues, it signaled a new chapter in the burgeoning tussle between some Republican lawmakers and the newly minted chief executive.

Greitens is brushing off the rebellion.

“That stuff doesn’t bother us because we’re here to fight for the people of Missouri,” he told reporters last week. “It’s very clear you’ve got a few politicians who don’t want to be here for a pro-life special session. Some of them are throwing a temper tantrum on the Senate floor.”

While lawmakers complaining about a governor is not necessarily remarkable in any state, the latest dust-up is notable because of who is expressing concern against the governor: Some of the leading figures are not typically considered firebrands within the Capitol’s marble-lined corridors.

“Teddy Roosevelt said it best: ‘No man is above the law, and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it,’” said Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican considered one of the more principled senators in the building. “The interests of the governor and the people are best served by answered questions that clear the darkness from the air.”

Others who joined in the uprising included Sen. Doug Libla, a Poplar Bluff businessman who has made transportation funding his key issue. Two other GOP members who signed their name to the call for a probe were the outspoken Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph and Sen. Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, who has called out Greitens for his attempts to ridicule the Senate.

After winning a hard-fought, four-way Republican primary race to become the party’s chosen successor to Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, Greitens has not relented in his populist bashing of the Legislature as an ethically challenged, self-serving group of politicians who are standing in the way of boosting jobs and improving the atmosphere under the statehouse dome.

On Wednesday, Greitens said he didn’t run for office to hobnob with politicians.

“Look, I came in as an outsider. We didn’t come to join the insiders and the lobbyists. We came to beat them,” Greitens said. “That’s why we’ve pursued this agenda.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said he was not bothered by the governor’s sniping. He described it simply as “politics.”

But his attacks, including accusations that lawmakers acted like grade school children during the most recent session, are not sitting well with others.

After refusing during the campaign to release his tax returns, Greitens chided senators for considering raising their pay from the $36,000 annually they’ve received since their last salary hike in 2009.

He called on them to stop taking gifts from lobbyists, even though he has not been forthcoming on how he is paying for his own air travel between Jefferson City and Washington.

And, after being bashed around by senators during his first legislative session, his nonprofit launched social media attacks against GOP lawmakers, accusing them of working against the will of the people.

After a vote in the Senate to reject the pay increase, Greitens gloated in a post to Twitter.

“Great victory for taxpayers tonight — no pay increase for politicians!” he tweeted. “It’s time to focus on more jobs & higher pay for the people.”

Some senators say the governor has crossed the line from chief executive to a ruler who is attempting to diminish the power of the legislative branch of government.

“Every single member of this body has to be able to have a free and fair discussion, not a discussion in which we are afraid of doing the right thing because we fear the governor running $30,000 worth of ads in our home district to stop us, to push us to do his work, his agenda, when it may not be ours. That is not OK,” said Schaaf, during one of his trademark rants against the governor on the Senate floor.

Schaaf has been Greitens’ most outspoken critic, particularly after the governor’s nonprofit put out social media advertisements that included Schaaf’s personal cellphone number.

During the spring legislative session, Schaaf repeatedly called on Greitens to return a $1 million campaign contribution from mega donor David Humphreys, the owner of a Joplin roofing company who poured millions of dollars into the governor’s campaign fund.

Schaaf stalled Senate business several times as the session rolled toward its finish on May 12, railing against an expansion of managed care health insurance and the corporate donors who might be influencing Greitens to not interfere in the expansion.

Whether it is his newcomer status or an outright snubbing of lawmakers, Greitens has played into the growing frustration lawmakers are having with him.

On Monday, as lawmakers were returning to the Capitol to deal with his call for a special session on abortion issues, he held a press conference at Whiteman Air Force Base to sign legislation giving Missourians the option of a federally approved driver’s license to get onto planes, military bases and into federal buildings.

Silvey, who co-sponsored the measure, told his colleagues on the Senate floor that day that he had not been invited to the bill signing.

Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves has come to Greitens’ defense, issuing a statement on Tuesday slamming the senatorial attempt to investigate the governor.

Graves, a former prosecutor, said their allegations amounted to nothing.

“This baseless and ill-informed political stunt is a desperate attempt to distract Missourians from the work the governor is doing to shake up Jefferson City and put an end to politics as usual. These stunts won’t work — Missourians support Governor Greitens’ fight for true conservative reforms,” Graves said.

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