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Patrick Baker is newest Senate administrator

Patrick Baker is newest Senate administrator

October 23rd, 2017 by Bob Watson in Local News

Patrick Baker poses in the Missouri Senate chambers where he serves as Senate Administrator.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Patrick Baker is the fifth administrator in the state Senate's history, and the second to come from California, Missouri.

"I have big shoes to fill," he said last week. "I am very honored and humbled to be a part of the (Senate's legislative) process.

"I am here to serve at the pleasure of the senators. I don't take that for granted."

Baker said he intends to be a behind-the-scenes, "in the background" man.

Baker's been doing the administrator's job since Sept. 1 — but he's been working in the Capitol for most of the last 17 years.

"I interned at the Capitol in 2001 and again in 2002," he explained, "and really enjoyed it.

"The process really intrigued me from the start, so, in 2003, I started working for then-Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin), and I've had various positions over the years."

For a time, Baker was the policy director for the Senate's Republican Caucus.

He left the Legislature to work at the Revenue Department, and for a couple of private associations.

Baker began 2017 as new Lt. Gov. Mike Parson's chief of staff, then moved to Gov. Eric Greitens' office as the state's disaster recovery coordinator, following last spring's devastating storms and floods across south-Central and Southern Missouri.

However, when Marga Hoelscher retired from the Senate administrator's post in June, Baker applied for the vacancy.

"I told the senators in my interview that the Senate has always felt like home," he said. "I was happy for the opportunity to come back."

Baker said his many jobs have been ways to learn more about how government works.

"I'd like to think they were promotions along the way, advancements," he said. "I'd like to think they were moves forward."

Baker's career generally has been with Republicans.

However, he said, his new job is non-partisan, and he doesn't need to make a mental shift to do that work.

"I think I was already acting in a very respectful and non-partisan work atmosphere with the senators and with my colleagues," Baker said. "I have always approached each elected official that I've encountered since 2001 with respect — regardless of their party affiliation or their stance on an issue.

"I've always worked well with members of all parties."

In a Aug. 14 news release announcing Baker's selection, the Senate's administrator's job is described as "the chief executive officer of the Senate (who) oversees all operations of the Senate, coordinating directors and all Senate staff."

However, he also serves as a kind of middle-man between the Senate staff and the Administration Committee — which includes the president pro tem and the floor leaders from both parties.

"Sometimes, I inform the committee on things we're moving forward with," Baker said. "Other times, I have to ask permission."

He said the Senate runs on two tracks — legislative and administrative.

The Senate's secretary, Adriane Crouse, watches the legislative side, including producing the daily journals whenever the Senate is in session.

Baker's work on the administrative side includes the employee relations, operations, printing and the communications staff that work with all 34 senators on news releases, columns and speeches.

"Everything I do, and everything the Senate staff does, is to complement the legislative side," Baker said, noting the Legislature's primary function is introducing, debating and passing bills into law.

"Everything else is extra," he said. "I work to make sure they can convene when they choose to, and that they have the resources available to make a decision to pass a piece of legislation or a decision not to pass it."

Although lawmakers are in the Capitol for only part of the year, the Senate administrator's position is a full-time job, like many other positions in the state Senate.

"I like that I've got a good four months to get my feet underneath me" before the legislative session begins, Baker said. "I don't pretend to know everything the job will entail — particularly when the senators arrive, the job will take on a different tone, with more people in the building and more things that have to be answered or dealt with."

Baker watched two of his predecessors — Hoelscher and Jim Howerton — do the administrator's job, but knows he has a lot to learn.

"I ask all the questions necessary," he said. "I don't want to presume that I know how it works.

"I ask the questions I need to to make the best decisions I can."

And he's been going through the minutes of the Senate's Administration Committee, to see the previous decisions that have been made.

When we visited his office last week, he had several stacks of those minutes, going back to 1983.

"Reading back through there, and seeing the discussions they had, gives me insight," Baker said, "into what previous administrations thought, and what previous committees made decisions and why.

"So I can best advise this Administration Committee."

Ron Kirchoff — the other California native to hold the job — was the Senate's first administrator, serving from 1976-2002. He shifted to the research director's post in early 2002.

When he died in April 2004, the Senate's leaders at the time credited Kirchoff with bringing the state Senate into the modern era.

Baker said his job still involves modernization.

"We work to refine our processes," he said. "Are there things we learned from this last session that we can do better? Are there things we learned we don't want to do?

"Has technology advanced to a point where we can make changes, to do something better or cheaper?

"But it's not as simple as, 'So, we can do that with technology.' It's, 'Should we?'"

Baker said decisions will be made that "will embrace certain changes" while also keeping "an eye to the historical past" in the tradition-filled state Senate.

When he's not working, Baker likes to read and travel.

"I have some very close friends I like to spend time with," he said. "Their children call me 'Uncle.' And then I have my own nieces and nephews that I spend time with."