Two Republican candidates, vying for the Missouri Senate District 6 seat, each present themselves as deeply Republican.
But incumbent Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, of Jefferson City, and challenger Scott Riedel, of Lake Ozark, have clashed over what it means to be a conservative and about Bernskoetter's voting record.
The district covers Camden, Cole, Miller, Moniteau and Morgan counties.
Riedel accuses the incumbent of caving to liberal ideals because he voted last year in favor of increasing Missouri's gas tax by about 12 cents a gallon, incrementally. The increase was 2.5 cents this year.
Bernskoetter counters that leading Republicans -- including former President Donald Trump and John Ashcroft -- have always supported increased gas taxes when necessary. It was necessary last year, he pointed out, to support the state's transportation infrastructure. Missouri has the sixth-largest road system in the nation, he said.
Riedel said it is the nature of the party to cut taxes and reduce government.
Bernskoetter said he voted for the largest tax cut in state history.
Riedel's entire campaign is based on lies, Bernskoetter said.
The senator is not listening to his constituents, Riedel said Thursday. They are unhappy with him, Riedel said, for his voting record on abortion issues and Critical Race Theory.
That may come as a surprise. Bernskoetter was a darling of Missouri Right to Life for at least a decade.
In previous years, the PAC supported (and endorsed) Bernskoetter. It endorsed the senator in 2018, during his first run for the Senate District 6 seat, according to its archives at https://missourilifepac.org/endorsement-archives. It endorsed him in at least his last three runs for the House of Representatives -- in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Right to Life's online records did not go past 2012, so it was unclear if the organization backed Bernskoetter during his first run for the office in 2010.
But, in a special session in 2021, Bernskoetter cast a vote that caused the organization to toss his long history of serving its cause out the window, and throw its substantial weight behind his challenger.
During the closing days of the session, as lawmakers were putting budgets together, Missouri Right to Life pushed lawmakers to include defunding of Planned Parenthood in a portion of a bill jointly funding the Federal Reimbursement Allowance, through which the state collects a limited tax from hospitals, ambulance providers and other health providers to use as a match for Medicaid funding. Lawmakers included Planned Parenthood in the bill, but removed it after the federal government said the wording would void the funding, he said.
"I am pro-life and have been all my life," Bernskoetter said during a candidate forum last week. "I'm proud of my record on pro-life. We've done done a lot of great things in the last 12 years."
Penelope Quigg, the chairwoman of the Sixth Senatorial District Republican Committee and chairwoman of the Cole County Republican Central Committee, said she couldn't speak for the committees, but as a lifelong Republican, she could vouch for Bernskoetter and his record.
"Mike has been a staunch, lifelong defender of the right to life," she said Friday morning.
She added Missouri Right to Life's decision to throw its backing behind his opponent demonstrated a lack of its understanding of the balances and intricacies involved in getting legislation passed.
Regardless of the nuances of lawmaking, Riedel also erroneously says Bernskoetter voted against preventing transgender students from using bathrooms that are intended for the sex to which they identify.
Riedel also said Bernskoetter voted against Critical Race Theory legislation that would have prevented CRT from being taught in Missouri schools.
His allegations are wrong, according to the Senate Journal.
In actuality, Bernskoetter voted to "table" the amendments because, he said, they would have made passage of the bill impossible.
Riedel's argument appears to revolve around Bernskoetter's agreement with votes to table two amendments to Senate Bill 672.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Greene County, pre-filed the bill on Dec. 1, 2021.
It was intended to modify the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Program (helping adults pursue degrees, professional certificates or industry-recognized credentials) by repealing a sunset clause and letting the Coordinating Board for Higher Education modify eligible apprenticeships as needed.
In the opening days of the past session, it was assigned to and entered the Senate's Progress and Development Committee. Within that committee, it received a number of modifications. An amendment established a permanent Joint Committee on Rural Economic Development -- intended to identify economic, educational and infrastructure opportunities. The committee is also to monitor deployment of rural broadband. And it is to identify contributors and solutions to poverty and unemployment.
The bill was modified to establish certain industrial manufacturing zones, further promoting economic development.
It arrived on the Senate floor Feb. 12. While there, senators adopted a couple of amendments, requiring folks in Fast Track Workforce to have been Missouri residents for at least two years and opening up Fast Track to members of armed forces who have recently transferred to Missouri.
Within the chamber, Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, offered two amendments tying limits on Fast Track enrollment to institutions of higher education's policies on immigration status. Bernskoetter was one of 19 senators who voted against the first and Moon withdrew the other.
Moon then offered an amendment that said students enrolled in the program shall not be enrolled in public or private institutions that allow students who were considered male at birth to participate in athletic teams or sports designated for females. The amendment was similar to some wording in his Senate Bill 781, the "Save Women's Sports Act," which passed the Senate Education Committee, but never came to a vote on the floor.
In a rare move, Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, moved to table the amendment (or set it aside), and the motion passed. Bernskoetter was one of 24 senators to vote to table the amendment.
Riedel is frustrated, he said, because Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, did not allow some bills concerning CRT or transgender sports to be voted on.
"Men are invading the girls," Riedel said. "They are going to a sport that they can't obviously make it in. They're doing the opposite sex because it's easier."
Riedel said he doesn't see as many girls entering boys sports.
Sen. Denny Hoskins offered an amendment that would have prevented students at educational institutions from being eligible for the Fast Track or other programs if those institutions teach forms of Critical Race Theory -- the idea that race is a social construct and that bias is embedded in legal systems and policies.
Hough, in this case, moved to table the amendment, as a way of removing it from the bill. Bernskoetter was one of 23 who voted to table the amendment.
Lawmakers who voted to table the amendments point out that the bill to which they were offered for attachment was intended to be economic development legislation. The amendments would have made it unlikely the bill would have passed through the House (after the Senate) and that it would then need to be approved by the governor and courts.
The bill would not have met state constitutional clauses requiring it to focus on one subject, they said.
Typically, there are three ways an amendment to a bill may go, according to Jim Ertle, with the Senate Research Department. Amendments may pass or fail, or be withdrawn by the sponsoring senator.
A fourth way -- tabling amendments -- is a rare move, he said.
"We don't typically have motions to lay on the table. We did it a few times this year," Ertle said.
Senators offered several bills dealing with both of the lightning-rod issues -- with divisive concepts -- this year, he said.
On CRT for example, Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, offered Senate Bill 638, and Sen. Justin Brown, R-Rolla, offered Senate Bill 676, both of which passed through the Education Committee. Neither were heard in the Senate chamber.
In the days preceding the chamber votes, the Republican caucus had discussed language dealing with some of the issues brought up in the amendments, Hough said Wednesday.
Big, divisive issues need to go through the entire vetting process, Hough said, being heard in committees in the House and Senate (when the public gets to weigh in on them) and then being discussed again on the chambers' floors.
And although he and others may agree with the concepts the amendments offered, the amendments made it unlikely the bills would stand up in courts if they passed.
"You get into the Hammerschmidt conversations," Hough said. "When amendments are added to unrelated bills, the entire thing gets thrown out."
Hammerschmidt is a provision in the Missouri Constitution that prohibits bills containing more than one subject (or containing amendments that change its original purpose).
"We've seen Hammerschmidt challenges in the past when things unrelated to the underlying title in the bill are added to it," Hough said.