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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 10, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's decision not to support Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, for senate minority leader indicates a possible gubernatorial run in 2016, according to MU political science Professor Peverill Squire.

Squire said her opposing Reid aligns with Missouri constituents after the results of the November midterm elections.

"The decision to not support the reelection of your long-time leader is not something that is done lightly," Squire said. "But from McCaskill's perspective, it sends a signal back to her constituents that she's independent to some extent of the Democratic leadership and that would position her both for running for governor in 2016 or for reelection in 2018."

McCaskill announced Thursday she will not support Sen. Harry Reid in the race for Senate minority leader.

Despite not having McCaskill's vote, Senate Democrats elected Reid as the Senate minority leader Thursday for the next congressional session beginning in January. Reid currently serves as the Senate majority leader, but after the November midterm elections, the Democrats lost their majority to the Republicans.

McCaskill, in her second term, announced her opposition to Reid, who has led the Democratic party since 2005. Before the Senate leadership votes, she said she chose not to vote for him because that's not what the citizens of Missouri want.

"Yesterday, I met with Harry Reid and told him I would not be supporting him for Minority Leader," McCaskill was quoted as saying in a statement. "I heard the voters of Missouri loud and clear. They want change in Washington. Common sense tells me that begins with changes in leadership."

McCaskill could not be reached for comment.

An online petition called for the attorney general not to appeal court rulings on gay marriage.

PROMO, a statewide organization advocating for equality for all Missourians, sponsored the petition after Attorney General Chris Koster's announcement to appeal a Missouri federal court ruling that declared Missouri's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.

PROMO Communications Organizer Katie Stuckenschneider says the group collected more than 3,000 signatures.

"The ultimate goal with the federal decision is for [Koster] not to appeal," said Stuckenschneider. "And if he does appeal, then it will put an end to the ban once and for all."

There was no immediate response from the attorney general's office.

In 1994 Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting campaign contributions by a 74-26 vote.

However, lawmakers unraveled the amendment step by step.

In 2006, lawmakers voted to repeal the limits, but the state Supreme Court struck down the repeal on a technicality.

Then in 2008, lawmakers again repealed the limits and the bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, voted for repealing the limits when he was a state Senator.

He said they didn't make sense and weren't fair.

"By getting rid of the limits, people could give you whatever you want," Engler said. "All you had to do is know what was given to somebody and you could decide whether you agreed with that person or not."

Secretary of State Jason Kander said he has made reinstating campaign contribution limits and lobbyist gift restrictions one of his causes because the lack thereof makes the state look bad.

"When you have an environment that allows unlimited contributions and unlimited gifts to lobbyists, then what you end up with is a situation where it's a much more volatile environment for business and that's not a good thing," Kander said.

Republicans will have supermajorities in the House and Senate when the 2015 legislative session convenes on Jan. 7th.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the chair of the committee investigating allegations against Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster hopes to issue a report before the end of the year.

Jones announced the committee Wednesday, which he created in response to a New York Times investigation alleging that Koster participated in questionable behavior involving campaign contributions and company investigations.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, will chair the committee and intends to hold a hearing before the end of the year, Jones said.

"His desire and hope was to come up with some recommendations for the attorney general's office by the end of the year in the form of a report as to how to address all of the issues raised in the New York Times piece," Jones said.

Jones said Barnes wanted a "serious group...that would not be on a witch hunt of any sort."

The commission includes Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, and Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, who will both leave office come January due to term limits.

Cox, a former prosecuting attorney, said he participated in a special investigative committee on the Department of Revenue regarding alleged wrongdoing during the summer of 2013.

"The facts are more important than what someone reports them to be," Cox said. "I think that we as a legislature need to be more involved in legislative oversight and reviewing the actions of the executive."

Jones said House Speaker-elect John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, will be able to replace Cox and Kelly if he feels the committee needs to continue after the new year. He can also create a new committee during the general session beginning in January.\

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday, Nov. 11, said the National Guard was available if necessary to deal with protests after a grand jury decision is announced on the police shooting of Michale Brown.

Nixon held a news conference at a Highway Patrol facility the adjoining county of St. Charles to announce plans for dealing with any potential unrest in response to the decision.

"The Guard will be available when we determine it is necessary to support local law enforcement," Nixon said. "As Governor, the most important part of my job is keeping the people of Missouri safe."

The St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch has said a grand jury decision was expected by late November.

The grand jury is investigating the shooting by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson of Brown on August 9.

Subsequent protests led to large units of police armed with automatic weapons and riding military vehicles.

Nixon subsequently called out the National Guard. Nixon's decision and the militarization of police tear gassing protestors brought nationwide criticism.

On the other side, store owners complained of damage and looting that occurred during the protests.

At his Tuesday news conference, Nixon said more than 1,000 police officers had undergone more than 5,000 hours of additional training.

Booker Shaw, a former judge and member of the Missouri Citizens' Commission, suggested judges are not looking for a pay raise.

The commission has the power to change the salaries of elected officials.

In the past year judges' salaries were increased to 73 percent of a federal judge's salary.

After a brief discussion between lawyers and judges the commission agreed not to touch the judges' salaries.

"Our focus needs to be really on statewide and elected officials," said commission chair Charlie Schlottach. "As well the legislature."

The commission's decisions will take effect starting in July 2015 unless rejected by the legislature.

The commission will have their salary decisions by Dec. 1, 2014.

A St. Louis area legislator has become the first Democrat to formally announce their bid for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, announced his candidacy in an email distributed the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 9.

Sifton has served one term in the state House and is in the middle of his first four-year term in the Senate.

The only other announced candidate is the Senate Appropriations Committee chair -- Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Schaefer, so far, is unopposed for the GOP nomination after House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, announced he was dropping out in order to spend more time with his family.

The office, now held by Chris Koster, is up for election in 2016.

Last Week

The Western Missouri District Court has ordered the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds Department to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Judge Ortrie Smith held that the ban on gay marriages passed by Missouri voters violates both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The judge wrote that there was "no real reason for the State's decision to dictate that people of the same gender cannot be married."

The case had been brought by two same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses, one a male couple and the other a female couple.

"Sharing this news will be almost as exciting as when we got engaged," Angela Curtis was quoted as saying in a release issued by the Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The federal court decision follows a similar state circuit court decision two days earlier -- Wednesday, Nov. 5 -- authorizing the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couple.

Like the federal district court decision, State Circuit Judge Rex Burlison held that the ban approved by Missouri voters in 2004 violated the U.S. Constitution.

The St. Louis case had been initiated the state attorney general's office which sought an order by the court to stop the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds from issuing licenses to gay couples.

The attorney general's lawyer filed an immediate appeal. Chris Koster's office said they also will appeal the Kansas City decision.

Last month, Koster announced he would not appeal a Jackson County circuit court decision requiring Missouri to recognize same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states.

Attorney General Chris Koster had sought an immediate stop

The Missouri Department of Transportation said it will begin preparing for winter with a statewide drill on Nov. 12.

MoDOT will spend six hours running snow plows throughout the state to practice snow removal, despite the lack of snow on the ground.

"It gives our drivers the opportunity to drive their routes and get familiar," said MoDOT Customer Relations Coordinator Linda Wilson Horn.

Horn said MoDOT spends $46 million on average "to treat and clear roads" throughout the winter.

Weeks before the legislative session is set to begin, two St. Louis Democrats were chosen as minority leaders in Missouri's House and Senate.

Senate Democrats elected Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, to be the chamber's minority leader. Keaveny said Ferguson will be among the top issues in the Senate.

"I'm expecting to have a very in-depth conversation not only about Ferguson. Ferguson happens to be the flash point. Those are some pretty entrenched issues we need to have a very frank discussion about. I hope to have it in the Senate," Keaveny said.

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, was voted to continue as the House minority leader. Despite losing eight seats after the election, Hummel says they will continue to stand for the things they believe in.

"We're still not going to violate our principles. We're still going to stand for the things we stood for -- Medicaid expansion, raising the minimum wage, issues that effect Missouri citizens daily lives," Hummel said.

Hummel said he doesn't think they will have to change their strategy in the House in order to pass legislation.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, issued a statement Thursday morning that he has decided to drop his campaign for attorney general.

In the emailed statement, Jones cited family concerns.

"My daughters are growing up fast, and if I were to campaign for another two years, as I have for the past fifteen, that would be two more years I could not replace," Jones wrote in his statement.

"There are three reasons that I have decided to suspend campaign activities - Katie, Abby, and Suzanne."

Jones leaves the race with nearly $1 million in his campaign war chest -- nearly $994,000 as of October 23.

Jones becomes the second House speaker in a row to drop a statewide race after raising large amounts of funds in campaign donations.

In 2011, Steve Tilley dropped his campaign for lieutenant governor after amassing a $1.5 million campaign war chest.

Tilley subsequently came under criticism for contributing money from his fund to legislators who turned around and hired Tilley as a campaign consultant.

His last campaign finance report indicated his campaign fund had shrunk to slightly more than $675,000.

Missouri law  does not require a person who drops out of a race to return unspent funds to contributors, Although the law does not allow the money to be spent for personal purposes, a withdrawn candidate is free to transfer the funds to other candidates or causes.

Rep. John Diehl

"I think we need a bigger room," said Missouri House GOP leader John Diehl after emerging from an afternoon-long meeting of the larger Republican caucus that had grown by nine vote thanks to Tuesday's election and the subsequent party switch of a House Democrat.

House Republicans formally selected the St. Louis County Republican to be their candidate for House Speaker -- a position that will be elected by the full House when it meets in January.

Diehl's selection was not a surprise. He had been picked by his to be the nominee back in September 2013.

House Republicans elected Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, as the House Republican leader.

For Richardson, it's a family affair.

His father, Mark Richardson, was House GOP leader in 1995 through mid-1997 when Democrats controlled the chamber.

At the post-caucus news conference, Diehl cited helping business, education and cutting the size of government as among the top priorities for House Republicans. 

He gave little chance for expansion of Medicaid that has been promoted by the Democratic governor.

Instead, Diehl said the system needed to be changed.

"There's no doubt that the Medicaid system that we have now to implement the low eligibility, the lower threshold of eligibility right now, is broken. They can't process people now who are eligible for Medicaid." Diehl said. "That has to be fixed, it wastes money, it doesn't provide the medical services that are needed to those  people in need."

Less than 24 hours after being reelected to the Missouri House as a Democrat, Rep. Linda Black laid out her reasoning for switching her party allegiance to the Republicans.

In doing so, she pointed to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act and said that was the ultimate decider.

"Since the federal Supreme Court ruling and then Missouri looking like we're not going to defend our constitution was probably the tipping point that made me decide I no longer can identify with the Democrat Party," Black said.

She made the announcement of switching parties early Wednesday afternoon in Speaker-elect John Diehl's office surrounded by Diehl and House Speaker Pro Tem Denny Hoskins.

Black laid out one further reason she switched parties.

"There were times I felt isolated from my party," Black said. "I felt like I didn't have a voice within the Democrat Party at the time."

Did she entertain taking any favors from Diehl or any other House leaders for switching parties?

"Absolutely not," Black said. "Nor would I entertain any ideas or thoughts about any perks."

House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis City, said Black deceived her constituents.

"[Black] went to the polls knowing that she was lying to her voters and did it with a straight face and I think that's disgusting," Hummel said. 

Black switching parties gives Republicans 118 seats in the House, the most either party has had since 1965.

Gov. Jay Nixon

One day after historic defeats for Democratic legislative candidates, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said he won't change his tactics or agenda.

In a press conference Wednesday, Nixon said his administration is already on a path to success and Tuesday's election didn't change that.

"Just 'cause a couple of different people got elected didn't mean Missouri dramatically changed yesterday," Nixon said. "I know the state pretty well and I think I'm in a unique opportunity here with two years to go to push extra hard to get things done, and I will."

Republicans now hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers, with the second largest number of seats ever held by one party in the House since 1965.

Nixon announced a new Department of Revenue director and his new chief of staff as well.

Nixon named Nia Ray as the new Department of Revenue director. Ray is the current Division of Employment Security director at the Department of Labor.

John Mollenkamp, who served as acting director for the Department of Revenue, will resume his position as deputy director under Ray.

Nixon appointed Chris Pieper, senior legal and policy adviser, as his new chief of staff, replacing John Watson, who served as Nixon's chief of staff for six years. Watson will now work as Nixon's senior adviser.

Nixon also defended barring agency officials from talking to the press, specifically on public health issues such as Ebola.

"We're gonna keep the same rules of engagement we've had before," Nixon said. "Maybe the state epidemiologist is working, not sitting there waiting for somebody to call. We make information available."

The House committee investigating the 2011 merger of the State Highway and Water Patrols held its third hearing in the state Capitol Wednesday.

Water Patrol Captain Matt Walz spoke at the hearing about his experience managing a Water Patrol troop before and after the merger.

As a member of the Water Patrol for 24 years, Walz said he has some problems with the effects the merger has had on the management of the patrol.

"Unless the patrol recommits Water Patrol officers to their primary mission, our status in marine law enforcement will be diminished," Walz said.

Walz also said there has been a lack of focus on the Water Patrol since the merge.

Table Rock Lake area representative and former state trooper Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, said he agrees with Walz.

"You hit the nail on the head, absolutely hit it on the head when you said if the Missouri State Highway Patrol took the same pride in providing the service and protection that they do on the highways to the water, we wouldn't be having this meeting," Phillips said. "We just wouldn't."

The next hearing will be held on Nov. 19 in Hollister, Mo.

Rep. Linda Black

Just hours after the polls closed, Missouri House Republicans announced they had gained another member -- a person just elected as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP.

"The simple truth is there are just too many issues on which I no longer agree with the Democratic Party," Linda Black announced in a statement during a brief news conference at which no time was made available for questions.

Black represents a rural district south of the St. Louis area.

Black has been a conservative ally with Republicans since her first election to the House in 2008. Two years after her election, the GOP House speaker named her chair of the House Corrections Committee.

House committee chairs normally are reserved to the party in control of the chamber.

Black's switch gives Republicans a net gain of nine seats coming out of the November elections -- at total of 118 or a total of nine votes that would be needed to override a veto by the governor.

It will be the second largest number of seats held by one party in the House since the Missouri's House was expanded to its current size of 163 members.

In 1965, Democrats held 123 seats.

Black is serving her final two years in the House before term limits will prevent her from running again.

Black initially was elected as Linda Fischer under the last name of her husband.

Two years later in 2010, running for re-election as Linda Black, she decisively defeated her husband John Fischer who had run as Republican for her House seat.

In 2014, she voted for GOP-sponsored bills on gun rights, rights for students to pray in school and abortion restrictions.

In a statement, House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel chastised Black's decision.

"If Rep. Black had wanted to become a Republican, she should have run on the Republican ticket instead of pulling a deceptive bait and switch on St. Francois County voters," Hummel said.

Missouri voters expanded the Republican veto-proof majorities in the state's House and Senate on Tuesday.

In the House, Republicans picked up eight additional seats, giving them a majority 117 seats when the General Assembly convenes in January -- eight votes more than the two-thirds vote of 109 required to override a governor's veto.

The Democratic side in the House will shrink to 46.

In the Senate, Republicans gained an additional vote -- giving them a 25-9 majority. A two-thirds veto override vote requires 23 votes in the Senate.

The only GOP Senate seat lost Tuesday was a normally solid Republican district in St. Louis County that had been sought by John Ashcroft -- the son of former U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

But Republicans picked up Senate seats in central Missouri and in Gov. Jay Nixon's county of Jefferson south of St. Louis -- traditionally a Democratic county.

In addition, Missouri voters handed Nixon a defeat on a ballot issue, passing a constitutional amendment to give the legislature power to overturn the governor's budget withholding by a two-thirds vote.

Just two months ago, Nixon blocked release of funds for spending items he vetoed but which the legislature voted to override in September.

On other ballot issues, Missouri voters approved allowing evidence of past sex-offense charges to be used in cases against child sex offenders, rejected elimination of teacher tenure and rejected a measure to allow limited early voting in elections.

The teacher tenure measure was defeated decisively. The proposal's organizers dropped their efforts earlier in the year offering little explanation for their decision except to say the timing for the issue was not right.

Republican Auditor Tom Schweich also won a second term. Schweich faced two challengers-- one Libertarian and one from the Constitution Party-- but no Democratic opponent.   

Later this week, lawmakers will caucus to formally select their leaders for the next two years of the Missouri General Assembly.

No contest is expected among Republicans in either the House or Senate.

Original Tweet
Linked Photo emailed to MDN from a Texas reporter

On election day, Gov. Jay Nixon went to the voting booth to cast his ballot and it was well documented on Twitter -- with a picture from his office showing him sitting beside a woman's partially uncovered behind.

The photo, which appeared on Jay Nixon's official Twitter account, was amended within 15 minutes of its posting.

But that was not fast enough to stop the photo of the uncovered crack going viral across the country and the world on the Internet. A new picture was chosen to be tagged with the same encouraging message to citizens to get out and vote.

One reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, attributed responsibility for the photo to "the crack staff running Nixon's Twitter account."

Staff from the governor's office were not available to respond to questions as to the person responsible for taking the photograph, the person responsible for posting the photo on Twitter or whether any apology had been offered to the woman whose photograph had become an international viral sensation on the Internet.

During the last legislative session, a measure was proposed to expand the current state law which makes it a crime to photograph and then distribute a partially nude photograph of a person without the person's consent -- if there was  reasonable expectation of privacy in the location where the photograph was taken.

The bill died in committee, although the current law remains in effect imposing criminal penalties for a person to take a photograph of a partially nude person and then distribute it without consent.

According to Secretary of State Jason Kander, only two out of five Missourians are predicted head to the polls on election day.

The Secretary of State's office estimates 39.81 percent of Missouri voters will actually turn out to vote, based on estimated voter turnouts provided from each county.

The individual counties use past election turnout percentages and absentee ballots to predict how many voters will cast a ballot.

But the controversy surrounding ballot items also impacts the estimates provided by each county and the state.

According to University of Missouri Political Science Professor Marvin Overby, this year's election doesn't have enough hot-button issues to draw voters to the polls.

"If you don't have those campaigns going on, voters just tend to be much more disengaged because there are not offices on the ballot that they care that much about," Overby said. "And there are not names on the ballot that they know that much about."

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Matt Wills said he believes the party has an outstanding chance to maintain their super-majority in the Missouri House following the election.

He said that this majority would allow the party to push a legislative agenda against the Democratic Party and Gov. Jay Nixon in the upcoming session.

"I think it sends a very clear message to the governor that, you know, we're going to continue to hold you accountable for your actions and we're going to continue to call you out when you're telling mistruths about certain legislation like he has the propensity to do," Wills said.

He also said the party continued to campaign throughout the day before the election.

"We're continuing to work feverishly through today and through tomorrow to control what we can control but there remains that one constant we can't control of who votes for who when they go in the voter's booth," Wills said. "All we can do is give them the best information possible."

The Missouri Democratic Party did not respond for comment.