On Wednesday, Missouri’s Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden announced that he was stripping several of his fellow Republican state senators of their committee chairmanships. After calling the start of the 2024 legislative session “nothing short of an embarrassment,” Rowden described members of the newly formed Missouri Freedom Caucus as “a small group of swamp creatures, who all too often remind me more of my children than my colleagues.”
The move comes after weeks of disastrous infighting, both on the floor and on social media. Early in January, Rowden referred to the members of the far-right caucus as “so-called conservatives” whose concept of governance is “to force people to do things that they want them to do.” And last week they proved him right. On Thursday, Freedom Caucus members filibustered for over eight hours, holding up 25 appointments by Gov. Mike Parson, because they said the Senate wasn’t fast-tracking legislation to make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution via ballot measures.
Rowden’s latest move only heightens tensions in the chamber.
Here’s the list of the Missouri lawmakers who just lost their committee positions:
Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, from the Select Committee on the Protection of Missouri Assets from Foreign Adversaries. Brattin was also removed from being the vice chair of both the Committee of Veterans, Military Affairs and Pensions and the Committee on Education and Workforce Development.
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, from the Committee of Veterans, Military Affairs and Pensions.
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, from the Committee on Tax Policy and Economic Development. Hoskins was also removed from serving on the Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, from the Committee on Education and Workforce Development.
On Tuesday, Brattin said that the punishment showed Rowden’s “inability to lead. A pro tem that comes to the floor last week and says he’s never been punitive, yet on full display before you shows the ultimate display of being punitive.” And Eigel preempted a second press conference by Rowden to say the fight isn’t about policy. “It’s been about individuals trying to preserve power at the expense of what we believe are the issues that Republicans sent us to Jefferson City for, he said.”
But Rowden told reporters that every available tool could be used to move debate forward. “Everything is on the table. We are going to get this place working again,” he said. (It’s worth noting that despite his disdain for the Freedom Caucus, Rowden is just about as right-wing as they come.)
The fight with the Missouri Freedom Caucus was telegraphed long ago. Last year, well before the caucus’ creation, the previous legislative session ended chaotically in May after Republican infighting blocked Senate approval of conservative policies to legalize sports betting and create open enrollment in public schools (which would harm public schools). Thankfully, Republicans also failed to pass legislation that would make it extremely difficult for voters to pass progressive amendments to the state constitution via ballot measure, such as an amendment protecting abortion rights.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo told the Missouri Independent that the fracture in the GOP has always been there—just not as publicly.
“This is the civil war within the Republican Party that is showing its face and that has come from outside of the smoke-filled back rooms and is now front and center,” Rizzo said. “This has been going on for years now. The only difference is that now the public is seeing it.”
“They’re gaining seats every cycle, and now they’re sick and tired of having to take orders from someone else and they are pushing towards an authoritarian government, as we’ve been saying forever,” Rizzo said.
On the brighter side, Rowden stripping Koenig, a Freedom Caucus member, of his chairmanship on an education committee may briefly delay the legislature from passing Koenig’s most extreme plans, such as using public funds to pay for private-school enrollment. This is just one of the plans that both the Freedom Caucus and other Missouri Republicans like Rowden mostly agree upon. Unfortunately for many Republicans, fascists don’t compromise when they are trying to take minority control.
Thoughts and prayers.
Is there anything more iconic in American politics than the whistle-stop tour? Author Edward Segal joins us on this week’s episode of “The Downballot” to discuss his new book unearthing the storied history of campaigning by train. Segal takes us through nearly two centuries of rail campaigns, from early pioneers like Abraham Lincoln to the great popularizer of whistle-stop touring William Jennings Bryan all the way up to “Amtrak Joe” Biden. Along the way, learn how politicians’ trains were actually deployed, lessons for today’s campaigners, and the surprising era Segal identifies as the heyday for these tours.