Missouri is in the midst of a grand experiment: How effectively can it operate without a governor?
Turns out, the answer is pretty darn well, thank you very much.
As the General Assembly moves through the second half of its 2018 session, lawmakers have done something remarkable. They’re taking on big issues, passing legislation and attempting to move the state forward — all without the benefit of executive leadership showing the way.
In truth, they may be united by the shared belief that they can indeed do this without any help from a disgraced leader who remains wildly unpopular within the ranks of the legislature. After all, Eric Greitens has routinely derided lawmakers.
Who’s looking more like a “corrupt, career politician” now, governor?
As Greitens struggles to deal with multiple investigations on multiple fronts, the Missouri House and Senate have taken big steps on K-12 funding, higher education, early childhood education and highway funding.
In doing so, lawmakers have dismissed Greitens’ budget priorities out of hand time after time. It all adds up to an astonishing display of independence. The man’s who’s supposed to be the most powerful official in the state is routinely being ignored.
The General Assembly has been aided by its veteran leadership: Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard ranks as the only man in state history to lead both the House and Senate. House Speaker Todd Richardson continues to command the respect of both Republicans and Democrats in a chamber long known more for its chaos than its order. That’s a considerable feat.
On no issue have lawmakers shown their independence more than on funding higher education. Instead of trimming state universities by another $68 million next year as the governor proposed. lawmakers wisely reversed the cuts in exchange for a commitment not to raise tuition by more than 1 percent.
“For this year, with the reductions that the institutions have seen over the last two years under the governor’s proposal, it’s more prudent to hold them at level funding,” said House budget chair Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican.
In other words, members of your own party wildly disagree with you, governor.
K-12 education? Lawmakers again ignored Greitens, opting to fully fund the school aid formula. Early childhood education? Greitens included nothing while lawmakers added $48 million.
On highways, an issue that Greitens has ignored during his time in office, lawmakers are pushing ahead with proposals to either raise the gasoline tax or vehicle registration fees as a way to move more money into the state’s woefully underfunded highway network. Lawmakers also have ignored Greitens’ proposal to spend $25 million to boost infrastructure spending in cities and counties. His call to spend $80 million on rural broadband went unheeded.
A final point of disagreement: Less than a year after Greitens vetoed $48 million as part of the state’s promised funding match for a new downtown arts campus for UMKC, GOP lawmakers are considering a bill that would reverse that decision.
Again, it’s a remarkable rebuke of a Missouri governor.
Corralling dozens of lawmakers to move in a common direction is a tough feat. But that’s exactly what’s happened in the state Capitol this year where the common direction happens to be ignoring the state’s Republican governor.