This is the House committee that wields power over Gov. Greitens' future | St. Louis Public Radio

This is the House committee that wields power over Gov. Greitens' future

Mar 21, 2018

Gov. Eric Greitens, at top, faces a state House committee investigation. The panel members are shown in clockwise order: Rep. Jay Barnes, Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., Rep. Jeanie Lauer, Rep. Shawn Rhoads, Rep. Don Phillips, Rep. Kevin Austin, Rep. Gina Mitten.
Credit Office of Missouri House of Representatives, and File photos | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and his lawyers have repeatedly attacked St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s investigation into the governor’s personal and political activities, and the related grand jury indictment.

But the governor and his team are notably silent about the state House panel that could decide his future.

That seven-person committee has quietly subpoenaed witnesses and is continuing to meet this week, even though the rest of the General Assembly is on spring break.

Arguably the most influential person in the state Capitol these days is the committee chairman: Rep. Jay Barnes, a Republican from Jefferson City who’s in his last year in the state House.

House Speaker Todd Richardson set up the seven-person panel, and named Barnes as chairman, less than a month ago.

Regardless of what happens in St. Louis, the House committee meeting in Jefferson City has the power to recommend legislative action against the governor. That includes impeachment.

The committee is looking into the allegations that Greitens invaded the privacy of his then-mistress in 2015, when he allegedly took a partially nude photo of her without her consent.

A St. Louis grand jury has indicted Greitens in the matter, and a trial is set to begin on May 14. He has pleaded not guilty, and wants the case resolved earlier.

Notably, Greitens’ legal team has asked for a judge to hear the case in early April – before the unofficial April 9 deadline set for the House committee to issue its report.

Barnes’ image as a maverick

While Barnes is usually loyal to the GOP, he is best known in the House for the times he’s broken ranks.

In 2013, for example, Barnes proposed what he viewed as a compromise plan to expand Medicaid coverage, so that Missouri could take advantage of the billions in federal dollars offered as an incentive.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, gives reporters an update of the House panel's investigation into the governor.
Credit Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

State Republican leaders who control the General Assembly rejected the idea.

And last session, Barnes – a lawyer – warned on the House floor of legal problems in a controversial bill to make it harder for workers to sue for discrimination. Most Republicans backed the measure, which is now law.

But despite Barnes’ maverick image, he has garnered generally high marks over his leadership of the House investigative panel.

House Majority Whip Steve Lynch, a Republican from Waynesville, said he was pleased with Barnes and the entire committee.

“They’ll do it right, and they’ll do it fairly with Representative Barnes, which I think is important to everyone,” Lynch said.

The panel even has the support of state Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican from Ballwin who is among the leaders of a legislative effort to pressure Greitens to step down.

“I trust that they will be able to dig into this information and come to a solid determination of what to do.”

So far, Barnes has kept the proceedings secret, even when reporters have camped outside the Jefferson City police station where the panel usually meets.

At a recent news conference, Barnes took note of the April 9 tentative deadline for the panel to make a recommendation.

“We are on track, I believe, to release a report of some sort,” Barnes said. “And again, let me put an asterisk on that statement. The committee may determine that we need to do more fact-finding before we release a report.”

GOP dominates the committee

The panel’s six other legislators include four Republicans and two Democrats.  The vice chair is Donald Phillips, a Republican from Kimberling City who’s a former state trooper and high school coach.

The other Republicans are:

  •       Lawyer Kevin Austin from Springfield;
  • ·     Shawn Rhoads from West Plains, who spent more than a decade in law enforcement;
  • ·     Jeanie Lauer of Blue Springs, who runs a business-consulting firm that specializes in mediation.

The two Democrats are Tommie Pierson Jr., a pastor who resides in St. Louis County, and Gina Mitten, a lawyer from Richmond Heights.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, speaks during a news conference in January. Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, is at her left.
Credit File photo I Tim Bommel I House Communications

House Democratic leader Gail McCann Beatty, from Kansas City, said she initially had been told that her party would have at least three seats on the seven-person panel.

But she’s willing to go along with the current makeup. “We’re putting a lot of faith in Representative Barnes that he’s going to handle this appropriately and fairly,” she said.

The panel members have kept quiet publicly. But Mitten was critical of Greitens when she appeared on the Missouri Times’ weekly TV show, called “This Week in Missouri Politics,’’ just days before she was named to the House committee.

“This governor ran on integrity and cleaning things up, and he has shown repeatedly over the past, whatever, 18 months that he’s unable to do that,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Republican from Jefferson City, has high praise for the House panel so far. The Senate will get involved only if the House takes some sort of action.

“Even though they are Republican and Democrat, it seems like the speaker did a really good job of picking people who I think will keep an open mind and consider the facts,” Kehoe said. “And I know that’s what the House wants to happen.”

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport