Ron Richard is about to spend his first full session as president pro-tem of the Missouri Senate.
He was elected to the post by his colleagues in September after Tom Dempsey resigned a year ahead of time, and shepherded the upper chamber through veto session. The Republican from Joplin also served as House Speaker from 2009 to 2010, and is the only elected official in Missouri history to lead both chambers.
Richard sat down recently with St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin and talked about what he hopes to accomplish, and about getting started as president pro-tem:
First off, how’s the new job going?
“We had a few loose ends to finish up and we had some staff we needed to hire … other than that, the committees have already been appointed (by former President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles), so all we’re doing right now is getting ready to send legislation to committee. … It’s going fine.”
From your experience as House speaker working with the Senate president pro-tem at that time (Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph), has that mapped out how you’re approaching your relationship with the current House speaker? (Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff)
“I’ve been in the speaker’s shoes, I understand what’s going on in this office … There are a lot of outside forces that would like to split the two sides of the (Capitol) building, having them work against each other, and I think I can wander through that space and try to keep, as best I can, this side from going haywire and attacking the other side of the building. … Todd (Richardson) and I are good friends, and I knew his dad, so there is a relationship (there). … I don’t expect there’s going to be a real problem with the two sides of the building getting along and pushing for a conservative Republican agenda.”
As you’ve been speaker and things move faster in the House, there has been speculation by political observers that maybe the Senate will move faster with you in charge. Will it?
“That assumption is not correct. There are a lot of political pundits who would like to put words in my mouth and have me do things that they think I may or may not do. … My suggestion to them is to wait and see, and hold their wagging tongues, till they actually see some action.
When I was (Senate) majority leader, that accusation was sent to me, too, and that didn’t happen. … The House is designed to move quickly, with 163 (members); and this end is designed to move a little slower and make sure that legislation that’s passed quickly (does not contain) some kind of mistake. I would caution those outside forces to not speculate on my intentions.”
How is your working relationship with Sen. (Joe) Keaveny, (D-St. Louis) and the other Senate Democrats?
“Joe and I get along really well. … I instituted a meeting every week with Joe when I was majority leader; there are no secrets in the building, you might as well be straight with somebody, so Joe and I were pretty level-headed. … I (also) had breakfast recently with Scott Sifton (D-Affton), and some things we agree (on) and some things we don’t.”
The use of the PQ (previous question - a procedural move used to shut down the filibuster of the right-to-work bill) led Democrats to retaliate by slowing down the pace of work in the final days (of the 2015 session). Has that conflict been resolved, and can we expect to see a better working relationship (between Senate Republicans and Democrats)?
“I don’t know. The previous question is a rarely used motion, but keep in mind that the filibuster is (also) supposed to be rarely used and the fact that the filibuster here is used all the time on a lot of different issues. The PQ is used to balance out the filibuster. My thought is that at some point in time we have to get to a vote, particularly on issues that are important to my party. … I will always keep that arrow in my quiver to use if I need to. … I’m willing to work all day and all night (to reach a consensus with those conducting a filibuster), but at some point in time you have to get to a vote.
I have an enormous respect for the building, the institution, and the people that have served in here, regardless of party. I’m not about to do anything that’s going to destroy the integrity (or) what this institution has been.”
Are there any misconceptions or misperceptions about Ron Richard, anything that people would be surprised to know about you?
“Some think I’m a grumpy old man (and those) people are somewhat scared to approach me.
I’m pretty serious about what I’m doing. I’m not as unapproachable as many would say and I’m not as grumpy (as they would say), (but I get) a little frustrated sometimes with the lobbyists and bureaucrats, (and) if they’d let us do our jobs we’d be a lot better off.
I’m a little older than most in this building, and with social media this whole thing has changed. … We’ve got so many (Senate) members that are glued to their phones and the perception of what people are saying about them, rather than just doing their business and their job. … I’m walking down the hallway and I get a few people run into me because they’re too busy looking on their cell phones, and I’ll chastise them and tell them to pay attention to what you’re doing.
I expect my staff to be the model of every staff in the state of Missouri and around the country. I don’t drink anymore, since I was elected. … I had my share before, so I’m pretty much caught up.
I am approachable, but I’m here to do business, so if you want to horse around go somewhere else.”
Anything else you want to throw in?
“I’m looking forward to my final three years, hoping that I’ll be elected again a year from January and try to make this place a little bit better. … I look forward to working with the new speaker; again, he’s a good guy, a good kid … and I invite the press to come by more often. … Sometimes maybe I scare you guys, and you shouldn’t be that way. Usually I give you a straight answer if you ask a question, so don’t be afraid.”
“Well, some are.”
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport