The Missouri legislature experiences its most disgraceful week

File photo, 2014: Missouri House Speaker John Diehl is embroiled in a texting scandal.
File photo, 2014: Missouri House Speaker John Diehl is embroiled in a texting scandal. The Associated Press

Any doubts that the Missouri General Assembly’s priorities are seriously off kilter have been dispelled in this final week of the legislative session.

The Star reported Wednesday that House Speaker John Diehl had traded a long series of text messages, some of them sexually charged, with a 19-year-old college freshman who was working as a legislative intern.

Diehl, 49, apologized for “poor judgment” and asked for “forgiveness.” That’s a good start, but Diehl needs to resign his leadership post and reconsider his career in public life. The age of the woman and Diehl’s position as one of the most powerful leaders in state government make his conduct abhorrent.

Earlier in the week, hundreds of union members and supporters had crowded the Capitol to urge the legislature not to pass a “right-to-work” bill, designed to impair the ability of unions to represent workers through collective bargaining. In earlier committee hearings, support for such a bill came mostly from certain business interests, many of them located outside of the state.

Democrats in the Senate filibustered the contentious bill all day Tuesday. They were joined by a handful of Republicans, including Sen. Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, North, who said contacts to his office had run about 100 to 1 in opposition to right-to-work.

After about eight hours, the Republican majority took the drastic step of breaking the filibuster. The chamber then passed the anti-union bill by a vote of 21 to 13.

On Wednesday, the Capitol was packed again. This time faith leaders, medical workers and ordinary people showed up to ask the General Assembly to expand Medicaid eligibility so that low-income working Missourians can have reliable medical care.

People have been pleading with lawmakers for three years to take advantage of the Medicaid expansion opportunity presented in the federal Affordable Care Act. But it appears another legislative session will end with Missouri still one of the most difficult states for an adult to qualify for Medicaid.

In a show of arrogance, House leaders ordered the doors to the chamber’s side galleries locked for a time on Wednesday, apparently concerned that Medicaid supporters in the hallway would disrupt the legislative process.

Unfortunately, their own speaker had already managed to do that. Lawmakers are listening to the wrong people, and the Republican House leader has been texting with the wrong person.