Republican senator asks Missouri governor to resign

Sen. Rob Schaaf admonished his party’s leader during a floor speech Tuesday evening

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, is losing support from his own party after a television station’s report last week of his extramarital love affair that occurred before he assumed office. In the report, the mistress, secretly recorded by her now ex-husband, also claims the governor sought to blackmail her with nude photographs to keep the affair quiet.

Greitens has offered an apology for the affair, but has said the blackmail allegations are false. He now faces a criminal investigation from a St. Louis circuit attorney.

Several Democratic lawmakers sought the governor’s resignation last week, but, for a while, Republicans seemed to hold their tongues.

Not anymore.

On Tuesday, as many as five Republican members of the General Assembly went public, asking Greitens to willfully step down.

One of those lawmakers, Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican from St. Joseph, gave a speech on the Senate floor. In the Tuesday evening address, Schaaf outlined other areas in which he has previously admonished the governor. The senator has frequently butted heads with Greitens on issues including education and government transparency.

At the close of his oration, Schaaf spoke directly to the camera as if addressing Greitens himself.

“No matter how you spin it, you cannot escape the stench of cover-up,” Schaaf said. “So governor, I’m asking you, please resign.”

Watch Schaaf’s speech below.

Missouri General Assembly kicks off 2018 legislative session

The part-time legislature will meet from January to May

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri legislature is back in session, ushering in a new year of conflict, compromise and co-operation.

State lawmakers traveled to the capital this week for the start of the second regular session of the 99th Missouri General Assembly. Session officially began Wednesday afternoon.

In the Senate, newly elected Sen. Mike Cierpiot was sworn in by the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. The Lee’s Summit Republican takes over from former Sen. Will Kraus in representing the 8th Senatorial District. Kraus, also a Republican, resigned from the Senate when Gov. Eric Greitens appointed him to the Missouri Tax Commission last summer.

Another Kansas City-area Republican, Sen. Ryan Silvey, is also leaving the Senate. On Tuesday, the governor appointed Silvey to the state’s Public Service Commission. A confirmation hearing was held Thursday morning for Kraus and Silvey, with both receiving full Senate confirmation shortly thereafter.

Silvey, though of the same party as the state’s chief executive, was a vocal critic of the governor. As a senator, Silvey was often a thorn in Greitens’ side during last year’s legislative session. As the Kansas City Star reports:

Silvey routinely criticized Greitens’ reliance on so-called dark money — campaign contributions routed through nonprofits to conceal the origin of the money. He was part of a bipartisan group of senators who called for the creation of a special legislative committee to investigate whether the governor engaged in illegal activity during his 2016 campaign as well as during his time as governor.

“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the unprecedented games being played by Gov. Greitens and his political machine,” Silvey said last year. “You can’t ignore possible unethical behavior by the governor or his campaign, just because you share the same party label. Missourians deserve to know what happened and it’s the duty of the Senate to find out.”

During the opening session, the Senate addressed a few housekeeping duties and offered a preview of what’s to come. Republican Sens. Rob Schaaf and Gary Romine vowed to oppose confirmation of five gubernatorial appointments to the State Board of Education — the same members who, in December, voted to fire former Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven. The governor later withdrew his interim appointees, then resubmitted them Wednesday as in-session nominees, giving the Senate more time to act on their confirmation but meanwhile removing them from the board.

On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed brought up the costs of opposing the nominees, saying doing so might have the effect of shutting down the Education Board until May. Without the five appointees, the board lacks a quorum to conduct business. Sen. Romine said the board’s hiatus would be unfortunate but bearable, and that the governor could remedy the situation by selecting nominees that are less controversial.

In Wednesday’s end-of-day press conference, Senate Republicans, who currently hold a super-majority in the chamber, addressed potential changes to the Missouri tax code, measures to stimulate economic development and working with the governor to improve state infrastructure.

Democratic leadership discussed filing amendments to last year’s Senate Bill 43, which raised the bar for proving workplace discrimination and altered whistle-blower protections. Sen. Gina Walsh, the minority leader, criticized the governor’s controversial Education Board appointments, but said she cannot speak for other members of her party.

As part of my duties as a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I compiled a short video on the start of the new session. The package features Cierpiot’s swearing-in and quotes from Senate leadership during Wednesday’s press conference.

Lawmaker proposes ‘largest tax cut in Missouri history’

Republican Sen. Bill Eigel wants to cut taxes while upping infrastructure funding

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Weldon Spring, has pre-filed a bill that would offer a major overhaul of the state’s tax system. He said the measure would cut taxes for a majority of Missourians while streamlining the collection process by doing away with some deductions and exemptions.

What’s different about this bill is that it also calls for a raise in the state’s fuel tax — currently one of the lowest in the nation — to increase infrastructure funding. Eigel, who hails from a growing suburban community, said he realizes the importance of maintaining Missouri’s transportation systems. Even though he has opposed raising the fuel tax before, he believes such a measure is acceptable when included in a larger package that reduces the overall tax burden on Missouri citizens.

Eigel said the bill dovetails with like-minded proposals currently making their way through the Republican-controlled United States Congress.

Some worry the measure is too extreme, as it proposes a slow elimination of the income tax in its entirety. Others simply believe now is the wrong time for Missouri to consider cutting taxes that pay for important public programs that are already underfunded — things such as education and health care.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I had the opportunity to create a video package on the proposed legislation. Watch it below, and be sure to visit senate.mo.gov for the latest updates on this specific legislation, Senate Bill 617, and other notable bills.

The Missouri General Assembly is set to convene Jan. 3 to begin its 2018 regular legislative session.

Taking a closer look at the New York Times’ Missouri story

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Jesse Hall at the University of Missouri [Zachary Reger]
UPDATE (7/11/17): School administration has replied to the New York Times’ story. In an official statement, university leaders denote specific material omitted from the Times’ report, which, had it been included, may have provided much-needed context.

UPDATE (7/10/17): MU Student Body President Nathan Willett has addressed the New York Times’ story in a guest commentary for the Kansas City Star. Willett says the report paints “an unreasonably and inaccurately bleak image” of the university.


Sunday night, the New York Times released an interesting piece cataloging the recent decline in enrollment at the University of Missouri, linking it to a series of racially motivated protests that occurred on the campus in fall 2015.

The result is a decent article, but I can’t help but think the Times is oversimplifying the issue to fit a preordained narrative. (For transparency’s sake, it should be noted that I just recently graduated from MU’s journalism program, myself.) That’s the difficulty a national outlet faces when covering a local story, especially one as controversial as this.

Regardless, the Times is correct in noting the financial trouble MU now faces, and that this strain was brought about in large part from a decline in student enrollment following the tumultuous protests.

But lower enrollment could have multiple (and concurrent) causes, including:

1. A decrease in statewide high school graduation totals (link)
2. Cuts to higher education funding from the state legislature (link)
3. A perceptual deficit, stemming from years of enrollment growth followed by backsliding (link)
4. Losing sports teams (seriously: link)

The public — and journalists, too — should be careful in implying direct causation from a mere surface-level correlation when many variables ought to be considered in tandem. Context is key.

What is the Missouri Plan?

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City [Zachary Reger]
Missouri’s most notable claim-to-fame in modern legal philosophy is often overlooked.

The state’s constitutionally guaranteed system of merit-based judicial selection — the “Missouri Plan,” as it’s often called — marked a seismic shift in the process of court appointment, one that swept the nation in a grand revision of how we populate many of our appellate and high courts.

By forgoing popular alternatives of direct election and nomination-confirmation of state judges, Missouri ushered in a new “nonpartisan” era of judicial selection.

After the Plan’s initial adoption in the mid-1900s, dozens of states followed, creating merit-based systems of their own. Newly democratic nations across Europe and South America drew inspiration from the Plan in writing their own constitutions, as did even a few established democracies during historic reformation votes.

And Missouri started it all.

What follows is a brief overview of the philosophy and origins of the Missouri Plan, a lightly edited excerpt taken from my undergraduate thesis work at the University of Missouri.

Continue reading “What is the Missouri Plan?”

UM System audit reveals millions in ‘inappropriate’ payments

“Inappropriate” bonus payments to university employees — totaling over $2 million — were sometimes marked as incentives but had no specific criteria, according to the Missouri state auditor in a report released Monday.

Funds were also dispersed for luxury vehicle allowances, even though a mileage reimbursement system might have been more efficient.

Read the full story from the Columbia Missourian, KOMU 8 News and the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Revisiting Columbia’s shantytown legacy

The University of Missouri has a long history of protests.

In 2015, a group of students under the banner of “Concerned Student 1950” camped out on the Carnahan Quadrangle to protest racism at the school’s flagship Columbia campus, confronting what they saw as an inappropriate silence from university officials.

Jonathan Butler, a graduate student and leader of the movement, staged a week-long hunger strike. This triggered support from the football team, which began a boycott of all sports-related activity to undergird Butler’s effort.

The national news media caught the story. Soon, the entire country had its eyes on MU.

Continue reading “Revisiting Columbia’s shantytown legacy”