Are Missouri lawmakers career politicians?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Governor Eric Greitens is a leader. You could see that in the campaign. I don’t know if it’s his Navy Seal training or just what – but he oozes leadership. With the leadership vacuum we have in this country, when someone shows up who has the right stuff, people will gravitate to him. Enough Missourians saw that in November that he pulled off the upset and defeated a well organized and well known opponent.

Greitens often used the term “career politician” to paint his opponent as an insider who had lost touch with what average Missourians wanted from their leaders. I’m not sure just how much Chris Koster had lost touch, if at all, but the term stuck to Koster enough that he had to brush off his resume.

Let’s face it, Donald Trump’s coattails helped Greitens. Trump won Missouri easily, and I think voters overall saw Greitens as something of a younger Trump – brash and confident. Also, it didn’t hurt that Greitens had never held political office, something else in common with Trump. The Trump train rolled through Missouri and carried Grietens to victory with it.

In the first few months of his term, I’ve seen nothing that would change most Missourians minds about Greitens. Sure he’s used Facebook instead of the capitol press corp. Who cares about that other than the traditional news outlets, mainly in St. Louis and Kansas City? Yes, he got a little more vocal that I thought was necessary when he went over to the Capitol to personally lobby against a vote to raise legislators’ pay. I thought – no problem. He’s just trying to flex his muscles a little bit as the new guy on the block.

I applauded his call for the first special session to get the bill passed that might bring jobs to the Bootheel. He was right. The Senate should have dealt with that issue before the end of the session. They dragged their feet, as they often tend to do, and he then held their feet to the fire. Good for him.

Yet the rhetoric he used in calling the session bothered me. He blamed career politicians for holding things up at the Capitol. He’s been critical of career politicians during this second special session as well.

While it might make good campaign rhetoric, it’s hard to label lawmakers in Missouri as career politicians. A 1992 amendment to the Missouri Constitution states that members of the state legislature can serve only eight years in either chamber of the legislature, thus no legislator can serve more than 16 years total.

Now I don’t know about you, but 16 years hardly fit my definition of career politician. Prior to 1992 that might be true of many in Jefferson City; it is not today’s reality and hasn’t been for a long time. In fact many legislators have careers outside of the time they spend in Jefferson City.

A few legislators have pointed this fact out, some not so subtlety. Ash Grove Republican Rep. Mike Moon recently posted a video of himself on Facebook as he butchered a chicken at his farm, work he said was interrupted by the current special session. “But like any career politician,” he said, “When I get the call, I’m going back to work.”

Some senators, including Doug Libla, have pushed back, calling for an investigation into the relationship between the governor’s campaign and The Mission Continues, the charity Greitens help found. That didn’t get much traction (at least not yet), but it shows how some in the Legislature are tiring of the Greitens label, believing it is “poisoning the well” as one lawmaker told the Associated Press. I wonder if we would have been a call for this investigation at all if Greitens had reached out more and spoke out less.

Overall, this has not hurt Greitens. He got what he wanted in the first special session and appears to be headed for that in the second. His agenda is by and large the same as the majority of Republicans who control both Houses. As far as I can tell, they mostly embrace each other enthusiastically.

Yet, all I see with Greitens’ continued use of the term is a governor placing an unnecessary wedge between himself and the men and women he needs to pass his agenda. It’s not hurt much yet, but what about as his term unfolds? I would urge him to lower his tone, quit using a term that really does not describe those who serve in the Missouri Legislature.

How about building bridges instead of blowing them up?

Until next week . . .

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