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Missouri Senate leadership: Looking to move past divisions

by Ryan Pivoney | January 12, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
In this March 2018 photo, state Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, testifies at a legislative hearing in Jefferson City, Missouri.

The Missouri Senate leadership is ready to move beyond party divisions.

Following the first week of session, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said they will work with the conservative caucus, but they are more focused on moving beyond past skirmishes and reunifying the majority party.

Schatz said 2022 is a critical year for Republicans, noting the need to tackle congressional redistricting, the state's supplemental budget and various Republican priorities, including abortion reform, parental involvement in education and public safety.

"Missourians sent us here to work, and they're counting on us to deliver," Schatz said. "The decisions we make have real world consequences, and we can't afford to give up on our obligations to the people of Missouri. The stakes are simply too high."

Rowden said he's optimistic for the session and the new opportunities it brings.

Rowden said his relationship with the Republicans in the Senate's conservative caucus is different for each member, rejecting the idea they always vote as a unit.

"I think the notion that each of the now seven -- one left -- but the now seven of those individuals all think with one brain and speak with one voice all the time is not true," Rowden said.

Rowden said he works well with some members, but others are choosing to bring new and old issues to the forefront of discussions.

"I just don't choose to live at that level of bitterness, just because I think it's a terrible way to go through life," Rowden said.

Schatz generally agreed and said he's ready to move on from previous tangles.

"We're not saying we're not guilty for making some mistakes in the past, but again, my goal is to put this thing back together, have a functioning, working Missouri Senate and getting some good things done for Missourians," Schatz said.

Prior to the start of session, several Republican senators were left out of a mid-December meeting to discuss legislative priorities.

Rowden said the Senate Republicans had their usual caucus meeting last November and following those discussions, some members wanted to have another, more selective meeting.

"There were some folks in our caucus who expressed an interest and a desire to get in a room and have a conversation that they felt like wasn't going to be used against them," Rowden said.

He said it wasn't a "top-down" formal meeting organized by leadership.

Multiple senators who were left out, including Sen. Denny Hoskins, R- Warrensburg, and Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said their exclusion will further divide the Senate and make it a more difficult place to work.

Republicans hold 24 of the Senate's 34 seats, seven of which are now considered part of the conservative caucus.

Although Schatz and Rowden said communication is always open, Rowden he's not interested in prioritizing the conservative caucus agenda.

"The Senate is all about building relationships and having friends, and the only thing I would say is I got plenty of friends," Rowden said. "So the notion that we should be going out of our way -- and I want to help those guys ... if somebody respects the Senate and wants to get good stuff done, I want to help them -- but the notion that we need to go out of our way to overly cater to a relatively small group of people within our caucus is just not something I'm interested in."

The division among Senate Republicans began appearing last legislative session and carried over into the special session last summer and the veto session in September.

Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, who is part of the conservative caucus, told Republican leadership they were sidelining the democratic process with "cheap parliamentary tricks," in September and Rowden fired back that members of the conservative caucus were making the Senate a "clown show," and the chamber was taking pointless votes to satisfy children.

Upon the start of the current session, Rowden fielded pointed questions from Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, about a standard resolution to temporarily adopt the rules of the previous session until new, permanent rules are approved.

Wieland questioned the intent of the resolution, asking why Rowden was calling for a temporary adoption of rules and if he planned to change rules this session. He said there have been some trust issues among members of the Senate recently and vowed to read language and track procedure closely.

Schatz chalked the bitterness on display during the first week of session up to some members airing their dirty laundry, but said the place for that isn't always on the Senate floor.

"Hopefully we'll get past personalities," he said.

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