JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Republican senators are blaming each other for problems within the Missouri Senate, leading some to say Senate leadership should step down if not up for the job.
Business in the Senate has been stalled for weeks due to redrawing the state’s congressional map, and for the time being, the plan is to step away from debate. Senate Majority Leadership says Missourians have a right to be disappointed.
“Hopefully, we can get past this kind of embarrassing start that’s we’ve encountered, and all grow up a little bit and get back to business,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said.
After working all last week and through Saturday, members had Monday off, but when they return Tuesday, they don’t be debating the congressional map.
“It seems like we’re just kind of stuck in the mud,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) said. “This is about as contentious as I’ve ever seen it in the Missouri Senate in my time there and really my time in the building.”
Rowden tweeted out a statement from Senate Majority Leadership Saturday night after members adjourned, saying:
Over the last several weeks, we have watched as business-critical to MO citizens has been delayed by a small group of senators willing to send our congressional map to federal courts if they do not get districts that suit their ambition.
Let us be clear – we will continue to do everything possible to ensure a small group of self-interested senators doesn’t give left-leaning judicial activities full control over our redistricting process.
These senators are also standing in the way of critical policies Missourians are asking for – election reform, banning Critical Race Theory, providing more choice for Missouri parents, the list goes on.
To further complicate the Senate’s task, in the last 48 hours the Missouri congressional delegation has engaged with members of the Senate over redistricting.Missouri Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden
For the time being, we will step away from this debate on the Senate floor. It is my hope that the congressional delegation will work to unify rather than divide and be part of the solution and not just add to the problem.
It is past time for everyone involved to put the best interest of the state above their own political ambition.
In an interview Monday, Rowden said this process has been tough on the upper chamber and he’s embarrassed for what it’s done to relationships.
“Session is still session, we still have these issues, there are still things that we want to accomplish, and I think anybody that wants to punitively and arbitrarily shut things down for no reason or with no path to an outcome, it’s just foolish,” Rowden said.
Starting last Monday evening, through Tuesday night, the Senate filibustered for more than 30 hours, most of that time the Conservative Caucus held the floor.
Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis), a member of the Conservative Caucus, has fought for weeks for a 7 Republican – 1 Democrat map and for putting the county he represents in one district, instead of being split by the 2nd and 3rd districts.
“St. Charles County should absolutely be in one congressional district,” Onder said. “Our county has been divided for over 40 years.”
Onder said he was disappointed in Rowden’s tweet, saying he was blaming the issues on others.
“Sen. Caleb Rowden believed that not getting a congressional map drawn was the fault of the Senate conservatives and our congressional delegation, in other words, he was blaming everyone but himself,” Onder said.
Onder’s 7 Republican – 1 Democrat map was voted down last Monday night by an 8-24 vote. He feels Senate leadership is leaving the Conservative Caucus out of negations and wants Rowden to rethink his leadership position.
“If Caleb Rowden isn’t up for the job, then he ought to step down,” Onder said. “I’m not saying I’m calling for his resignation, but I’m saying it’s time for him to stop excluding us conservatives.”
The Republican from St. Charles County thinks it’s a good idea to take the map off the floor for the time being but says the Conservative Caucus won’t stop fighting for 7 Republican – 1 Democrat map.
“I think that’s not an altogether bad idea, but it is an important responsibility that we draw a congressional map that represents Missouri,” Onder said. “Unfortunately, Missouri Republicans have seemed to be playing patty cake while Democrats around the country are playing hardball.”
Rowden said that behind closed doors, Conservative Caucus members have committed to voting for a 6 Republican – 2 Democrat map.
“Folks who have been pushing for the 7 [Republican] – 1 [Democrat] aren’t really pushing for a 7-1,” Rowden said. “They are pushing for a 6 [Republican] – 2 [Democrat] that helps them and that’s been pretty clear as all of them have committed to vote for 6-2 behind closed doors.”
The map still on the table for Senators is 6 Republican – 2 Democrat, similar to what the state has in effect now. Rizzo and Rowden both believe they have enough votes for the map that passed out of the House but haven’t been given the chance to pass it.
“It doesn’t make any sense in the grand scheme of things,” Rowden said. “There’s clearly stuff that everyone wants to accomplish, including the guys who are currently keeping us from doing anything.”
Across the aisle, Rizzo also agrees with the move Rowden is making, saying it’s time to take a step back.
“I think that some of that will carry over into whatever the next piece of legislation is,” Rizzo said. “How much of it, I don’t know but I would say people are pretty raw from last week, emotions ran pretty high, attacks got pretty personal.”
He said this puts Democrats in an awkward position, as Republicans work to fix relationships among themselves.
“I definitely think that it may be time to move on for a bit, but at some point, maybe go back to it,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo said the western part of the state has been “a lot easier to draw.”
“If you take one part out of a district, you have to put it in other districts and we just haven’t run into that type of contention on the western dies of the state,” Rizzo said. “When it comes to the eastern side of the state, it really comes to a situation of too many chefs in the kitchen.”
Filing for the November election is a week away, Feb. 22 and without a map, congressional candidates would not know the exact lines of the district they want to run in. Rizzo has previously said if the Senate doesn’t pass a map and send it to the governor for approval, it could be in the hands of the courts. Rowden said that’s the last resort for the upper chamber.
“I think the court is the very, very last path that we would want to explore,” Rowden said.
This past weekend, dozens of Republicans and supporters gathered at Lincoln Days in St. Charles. Rowden said that up until then, he had not spoken to any congressman or woman.
“As these new compromises came about, there started to be some rifts in the delegation of who supported which compromise and who didn’t,” Rowden said. “I just think it’s been 48 to 72 hours that there started to be some conflict within the delegation itself.”
The Senators will be back to work in Jefferson City Tuesday.