It’s been a fairly quiet month in Jefferson City as legislators are spending their time in their home districts preparing their legislative agenda for the upcoming session that begins in January, while some are gearing up to run for higher office.
There have been a few newsworthy items coming from the House of Representatives, where a dust-up occurred recently over a proposed contract for some IT related services in the lower chamber. At issue is a software program used by House members to manage constituent information services. In a report released by The Missouri Independent, which is a news organization covering state government, fingers were pointed at House Speaker Dean Plocher who had apparently pushed for the legislature to possibly contract the constituent services program with a private company. The current system used by House members is an in-house program developed by the House IT staff and has been used by members for many years. After reviewing the option to outsource the program, a decision was reached by a legislative committee to continue using the in-house program, but not before staff members made statements that they had “growing concerns of unethical and perhaps unlawful conduct” by Plocher in his desire to outsource the services. The issue drew the attention of law enforcement, as an FBI agent attended the committee hearing when the issue was brought up for discussion. No charges have been brought against Plocher who issued a statement saying that “No one has asked, received, nor will receive, any special treatment in regard to software contracts or any contracts while I am speaker.” Plocher has announced his intention to run for Lieutenant Governor in 2024 and is being challenged by Senator Holly Rehder in what will be a hotly contested Republican primary.
Speaker Plocher made the news again in mid-October, as he fired his chief of staff in an abrupt and unexpected move. In a letter to House members, Plocher noted that the office of chief of staff had been “vacated.” Many in the Capitol were surprised by the abrupt ousting of long-time staffer Kenny Ross. Ross’s experience and institutional knowledge will be hard to replace as he has been a respected House staffer having served under the previous four House speakers. However, that institutional knowledge now will head to the Senate. Less than an hour after the announcement Ross had been let go, Senate President Caleb Rowden announced that he had hired Ross to serve as Director of Strategic Initiatives in the Missouri Senate. Plocher has not issued any additional statements regarding Ross.
The controversies outlined above could point to strained relationships between House and Senate Republicans for the upcoming legislative session. Another complicating factor is the number of current elected officials running for higher office. In addition to Plocher and Rehder facing off for Lt. Governor, Senators Caleb Rowden, Denny Hoskins, and Representative Adam Schwadron are all vying for Secretary of State, while a handful of Republican House members are running against each other for several Senate positions. Many Capitol observers believe this will be a recipe for excessive grandstanding on the House and Senate floor and very little productive legislative activity.
In the meantime, we will continue to provide you with political updates from Jefferson City and around the state. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group