© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri Senate leader strips Freedom Caucus members of committee chair positions

The Missouri State Senate Chamber on the first day of the 2024 legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Senate chamber on the first day of the 2024 legislative session on Jan. 3 in Jefferson City.

Updated at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 with comments made on Senate floor and at the end of the day

The leader of the Missouri Senate has stripped several members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus from chairmanships of committees in an ongoing battle for operational control.

“The beginning of the 2024 legislative session in the Senate has been nothing short of an embarrassment,” Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said Tuesday, flanked by 14 fellow Republican senators. “A chamber designed to be occupied with civil, principled statesmen and women has been overtaken by a small group of swamp creatures, who all too often remind me more of my children than my colleagues.”

Those stripped of their committee chairmanships are:

  • 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.

Speaking after the announcement of the changes, Brattin said he was “tired of all the games being played.”

“I think it's a show of 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,” Brattin said.

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, listens during a press conference on May 14, 2021.
Daniel Shular/Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, in May 2021 during a press conference in Jefferson City. “A chamber designed to be occupied with civil, principled statesmen and women has been overtaken by a small group of swamp creatures, who all too often remind me more of my children than my colleagues," he said Tuesday of the Senate Freedom Caucus.

The actions by Senate Republican leadership comes during the fourth week of the 2024 legislative session, which has already seen several clashes between the caucus and leadership.

The Freedom Caucus, which includes four members of the former Senate Conservative Caucus, was established this session. It includes both House and Senate members for a total of roughly a dozen.

At least twice the session, inquiries and actions from the Freedom Caucus have caused the Senate to adjourn abruptly.

Last Thursday, the Freedom Caucus filibustered for over eight hours to hold up the approval of 25 appointments by Gov. Mike Parson.

Those appointments included Robert Knodell and Paula Nickelson as the permanent directors of the departments of Social Services and Health and Senior Services, respectively.

Members of the caucus held up the appointments because they believed the Senate was not moving forward fast enough on asking voters to make it harder to amend Missouri’s constitution.

The caucus threatened to continue to hold up the appointments until such a plan passes the Senate.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday to Eigel, Rowden said the end of last week “became a crescendo that I could no longer ignore.”

“I said this to you last week and I'll say it again, what you did last week was aimed at undercutting the floor leader [Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina],” Rowden said.

Rowden also said his immediate plan for the Senate is to move forward on all of the bills and Senate joint resolutions, including those on initiative petition reform, if the slate of gubernatorial appointments is approved.

“I am planning to and we are ready to refer every single bill in our possession. It doesn't mean that other bills won't get filed, we'll have to do more.” Rowden said. “But I'm saying if we want to, I'm willing to take the bullet out of my gun, which is me having the power to say I'm going to refer or not refer, I'll take it out.”

Eigel bristled at Rowden’s comment.

“You didn’t take the bullet out of your gun. You fired it when you removed four chairmen from their committees. You just fired the biggest bullet you had to fire,” Eigel said.

Ultimately the Senate again was unable to advance the appointments, and the body recessed until Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to being stripped of their chairmanships, the senators were assigned new parking spots that are farther away from the Capitol.

For Eigel, Hoskins and Koenig, losing their chairmanships also means a funding loss to their office of around $10,000.

“There very much exists the possibility that if we don't cut the salaries of my staff as a result of this, that I'll have to lay people off,” Eigel said.

Rowden said the senators have the funds necessary to pay their staff, even with the reduction.

“Every senator gets an office budget that is some particular size, so they could take something from somewhere else and continue to pay staff,” Rowden said. “So this notion that we're cutting staff salaries is conveniently false.”

As to whether the moves Rowden made will cause the four senators to change how they approach their work, Eigel said he is not planning on sitting down and being quiet.

“I know my colleagues in the Freedom Caucus have no intention of allowing this tyrannical leadership regime to intimidate us. So we're going to continue fighting, and we're going to be doing it with a smile on our face,” Eigel said.

Rowden said his action was the first step, but there could be more in the future.

As to whether other steps could include a relatively rare motion to end debate and force a vote, Rowden said everything is on the table.

“We're going to get this place working again,” Rowden said.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.