Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL153.PRB - A Salary Squable in the Senate Family«MDNM»
A drama unfolded in Missouri's Senate the likes of which have not been seen in more than four decades.
It involved a fight over pay raises for legislators and other elected state officials.
The pay hikes, recommended by the Compensation Commission, automatically take effect unless rejected by a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate.
The House overwhelmingly had voted down the raises.
But when the issue came to the Senate, it ran into a filibuster by two Democrats -- Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, and Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.
For some in the Senate, their filibuster was a gift. They'd get the pay hikes without having to cast a vote. It was like a political free lunch.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, handled the resolution in the Senate.
After Chappelle-Nadal made it clear she would not stop talking, Schaaf laid the resolution aside proclaiming it dead.
But the next day, he brought the resolution back up. Then he pulled out a piece of paper.
It was a written motion to shut off debate and force an immediate vote.
The motion had Schaaf's signature. But that was not enough. A previous question motion requires five signatures.
So, he laid the motion on his desk and invited members to walk to his desk and sign the motion within the one hour deadline he set for himself to talk.
Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, quickly walked over and signed. Slowly, so did three other Republicans.
It took about one-half hour, but the St. Joseph lawmaker had enough signatures.
Now, it became a crisis for the Senate leadership. It was a clear challenge to their authority. In the past, previous question motions are coordinated by the leadership and not done without agreement within the caucus.
But there were, I suspect, some Republicans who wanted the pay raises, at least for judges.
Another problem for Senate leaders was the potential reaction of Democrats who could retaliate by filibustering almost everything. That's happened before. A previous question vote could have caused a poisonous atmosphere that would last the entire session.
So, the Senate recessed for private discussions to find a solution. Schaaf was under tremendous pressure to abandon his resolution.
But that would have caused a problem that I'm not sure everyone in the chamber realized.
If Schaaf dropped his plans, it would leave all but five of the Senate's Republicans appearing to have tacitly assented to the pay raises by not signing the motion.
Some of those who did not sign would be seeking reelection in a few years. A few will be seeking statewide office. Without a Senate vote, they would be open to charges of failing to stand up against boosting the pay of politicians.
When the Senate resumed, Schaaf appeared ready to give up.
He began to ask the others who had signed his motion if they would agreed to his dropping it.
After two said they did not agree and one vowed to make the motion himself if Schaaf backed down, it was back to another closed-door meeting.
But coming out of that session something profound occurred.
The two Democrats stopped filibustering and allowed a vote. They both talked to their colleagues about the importance of maintaining working relationships in the Senate.
Holsman said that was more important than pay raises. "This body, this chamber, our relationships, how we function, the things that are going to come after this, the issues that we're going to debate are more important than the money."
Chappelle-Nadal called the Senate a "family."
I had not heard a senator use that word to describe the Senate in years.
The idea of the Senate as a "family" that works out its differences was a concept I thought was long gone in the era of term limits.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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