Government & Politics

Missouri Senate Republicans agreed on bridge funding. Minutes later, arguments started

Missouri Gov. Parson outlines priorities in State of the State address

Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.
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Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.

Missouri Senate Republicans put aside their differences Monday and the chamber approved a compromise to fund repairs for 250 of the state’s bridges.

The 26-7 vote preserved the core of Gov. Mike Parson’s proposal to use bonding to fund the fixes. But the accord came only after members of the Conservative Caucus--five Republican senators who filibustered the bonding bill until 2 a.m. last Wednesday--established that the $300 million in bond sales would be triggered only if the state received a federal grant, while reducing the payment schedule and interest owed.

The compromise was hailed as a “breakthrough,” by one senator, and “a workable solution,” by Parson. After the session, senators planned on heading to state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter’s Jefferson City home for a barbecue.

But the detente didn’t last long.

Minutes after the vote that sent the Senate resolution to the Missouri House, state Sen. Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican, unleashed his frustrations with the Conservative Caucus.

“I have made efforts to reach compromise with this group, thought we had an agreement and watched that agreement evaporate,” Cierpiot said. “I’m finished with that approach, with that group, unless things change.”

Cierpiot took issue with Caucus’ propensity to wield the filibuster to keep bills from coming to a vote.

“I try to be realistic in here and it fatigues me hearing what Conservatives stand for all the time,” Cierpiot said.

Cierpiot said the Caucus claimed conservative “purity,” even though legislation its members back reflect some of the same principles they find objectionable when brought up by other senators.

“They might rename themselves the Inconsistent Caucus because they certainly are,” Cierpiot said. “Maybe the Kansas Caucus, because they seem driven to reduce our revenues and put us in the same position Kansas was.”

“Or maybe the Chaos Caucus, because that seems to be what their efforts are mostly after.”

Members of the Conservative Caucus fired back, saying Cierpiot should not have attacked them as hypocrites on the senate floor and could have instead brought his concerns to them offline.

One member, state Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said the six Caucus members shouldn’t be treated uniformly.

“Those members that are involved in the Conservative Caucus aren’t clones, either,” Hoskins said. “We all have minds of our own just as Republicans have minds of our own.”

Another member, state Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, said that the “thaw” in the chamber’s tensions would be set back by Cierpiot’s speech.

“The senator decided this was the moment we were going to break the chamber,” Eigel said. “This was the moment we were going to make it personal.”

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz blamed term limits for some of the chamber’s dysfunction.

“I think there has been an impact to relationships because of this window of expiration that we know that exists,” Schatz, R-Sullivan, said. “...this process seems to have become somewhat transactional on how we compromise, of how we get to that point.”

In an interview, Cierpiot said he wasn’t looking to get personal and the speech came from what he considered a lack of progress by a legislature where Republicans hold super majorities on bills prioritized by a Republican governor. Members of the Conservative Caucus have filibustered one of his bills that would deliver some of the changes Parson has asked for in a jobs training program.

“I’m hoping to help things loosen up or they’ll get worse,” Cierpiot said, of the speech. “We’ll see.”

Cierpiot said he still planned to go Bernskoetter’s barbecue.

“I may have ruined it,” Cierpiot said.

Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.