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Republican resigns from Missouri House to avoid waiting period to lobby

Rep. Tony Dugger, a Hartsville Republican, resigned from the Missouri House effective Friday, Aug. 19.
Rep. Tony Dugger, a Hartsville Republican, resigned from the Missouri House effective Friday, Aug. 19.

A little more than a week before a new law would block him from immediately becoming a lobbyist, Rep. Tony Dugger has resigned his seat in the Missouri House.

Dugger, a Republican from Hartsville who can’t run for re-election because of term limits, said the new law mandating former lawmakers wait six months before they can return to the Capitol to lobby is the reason he’s stepping down four months before his term ends.

The law goes into effect Aug. 28.

“I just want to keep all my options open,” Dugger said Friday morning in an interview with The Star. “Lobbying is one option I have, but there are several places I could go at this point. I don’t want to eliminate lobbying as one of those, so that is the reason I am resigning. I’ll decide where I’m going to land later.”

After a year of scandal in 2015 that saw two lawmakers resign in disgrace and the legislature’s reputation sullied, the General Assembly entered the 2016 session vowing to overcome years of gridlock and finally approve sweeping ethics reform.

While even legislative leadership admit they fell short of their stated goals, among the bills they eventually passed was a so-called “cooling off period” that required Missouri lawmakers to finish their terms and wait six months before they can legally become lobbyists.

To supporters of the bill, allowing a legislator to enter the Capitol one day as an elected official and return the next as a lobbyist erodes public trust and runs the risk of corrupting policy. It fuels a perception that lawmakers are casting votes to curry favor with potential future employers.

But almost immediately, some lawmakers began mulling a future lobbying career and whether they should step down before the law goes into effect on Aug. 28 to avoid having to abide by the waiting period.

Dugger was among them, telling The Star in May that resignation was something he was considering.

Dugger’s resignation will no doubt fuel both opponents and proponents of the cooling off period.

Critics have long said a waiting period before becoming a lobbyist is simply window dressing that won’t have much impact on the culture of Jefferson City.

Meanwhile, proponents believe the bill was watered down in the legislative process, from a two-year waiting period to only six months. They’ve vowed to try to strengthen the law when lawmakers return to session in January.

Dugger’s resignation, coupled with the resignations of two other Republican lawmakers for unrelated reasons earlier this year, leaves the GOP with 114 seats in the Missouri House. That’s still five more than the number needed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes.

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