Rob Schaaf rose Monday to speak on the Missouri Senate floor, capping what seemed to be a tough few days. One of his fellow GOP senators had highlighted how the 60-year-old from St. Joseph rented a room from a well-known lobbyist. And the nonprofit linked to Gov. Eric Greitens was making personal attacks on Schaaf’s political decision integrity — and giving out his cellphone number.
But Schaaf made it abundantly clear he wasn’t slinking away, issuing a blunt message to the Republican governor.
“Don’t ignore the log in your eye when you see the speck in mine,” he said said. “I’m removing the speck. I’m moving out of the room I’ve rented from [lobbyist] Richard McIntosh. Now you remove the log.”
That “log” is A New Missouri, Inc., the newly created nonprofit led by Greitens’ loyalists and one of the reasons why Greitens and Schaaf are at odds — a conflict that could slow down the last few weeks of the legislative session. The schism also is bringing more attention to Schaaf’s penchant for slowing down and sometimes killing legislation.
His admirers say he’s fighting key principles. Others believe he’s making things needlessly personal. But Schaaf is unconcerned what people think about him or his tactics.
“When you have right at your back, it’s so much easier to withstand a lot public scrutiny and pressure,” Schaaf said. “You know, I don’t care how many people hate me if I’m doing the right thing. I honestly don’t.”
The conflict between Schaaf and Greitens is multifaceted. Some of the angst stems from Schaaf’s opposition to expanding managed care in the state’s Medicaid program. That would place a private company, like Centene, in charge of handling health care services for the poor, pregnant women and children. Schaaf has long opposed this idea, contending it wouldn’t make health care less expensive or more efficient.
But the higher-profile fight is over A New Missouri, a 501(c)(4) that doesn’t have to reveal its contributors. Schaaf is sponsoring a bill (unlikely to go anywhere) that would require nonprofits to reveal donors.
A New Missouri makes it seem like Greitens has something hide, Schaaf said, and it would help Greitens’ political prospects to get rid of it. Such nonprofits are not unusual around the country, and governors in Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts and Georgia have their own.
“The people of Missouri and the people of the whole United States would look at him and go ‘this guy, he’s learned from his mistakes. And he’s shown his true colors to be true,’” Schaaf said. “I think it’s critical that he do this. If doesn’t do this, they’re just going to eventually label him as just another corrupt politician. And the fact that he said he was coming to Jefferson City to not be one, I mean, that is going to haunt him if he doesn’t turn the corner here.”
Greitens was asked Monday about the nonprofit’s attack ads against Schaaf — and why the two couldn’t hash things out behind the scenes. He replied he has “no day-to-day responsibilities” with A New Missouri, adding that “it does represent the interests of thousands of people around the state who care about our priorities getting passed.”
The nonprofit’s staff includes a number of people who worked on Greitens’ gubernatorial campaign, such as senior advisor Austin Chambers. And Greitens’ largely echoed the group’s messaging Monday, including the contention that Schaaf is blocking the governor’s key priorities.
“I think it’s important always for the legislature to hear from the people about things that are essential to them,” Greitens said.
Hate him or love him
But Schaaf and Greitens share common ground on a number of issues, including opposition to Medicaid expansion and distaste for publicly funding stadiums. Schaaf’s chief of staff, Jim Lembke, even was an early supporter of Greitens’ gubernatorial bid.
Yet Schaaf isn’t exactly afraid of clashing with anyone in his party, including Senate leaders with a lot of sway. And he’s battled House Republicans on key issues, like creating a prescription drug monitoring program.
Schaaf said he’s been “hardened by fire.”
“And I have lost so much and I have been the victim of various efforts to thwart me so much, that I finally came to realization that most people totally underestimate their own power,” Schaaf said. “And that the only thing really stopping them from being successful is that themselves don’t realize how successful they could be if they just tried harder.”
Schaaf’s aggressive posture irks some legislators, like state Rep. Justin Alferman.
“He fights for his positions, which I give him credit for,” the Hermann Republican said. “The parts where I would probably disagree with is impugning of the character of individuals. You know, I can disagree with Sen. Schaaf on policy — but I would hope to never make it personal.”
Others, like former House Speaker Rod Jetton, say Schaaf’s penchant for conflict is a sign of his conviction.
“He may disagree with me and the caucus on an issue,” Jetton said. “And you weren’t going to bully him or push him into it or talk him into it or sweet talk him into it. No. He thought this was wrong or this was right and that’s the policies he choses to pick.”
A question of leverage
Schaaf dissolved his campaign account years ago. He’s sworn off running for other offices. Combine that with his ability to filibuster legislation, and Schaaf believes he might have an an advantage in dealing with Greitens and the nonprofit.
“I have nothing to lose and nothing to gain. All I have is to do what I think is right,” Schaaf said. “And so, I’m unique. He can’t leverage anything over me. I’m totally immune to all of that kind of leverage. And so, you know I’m free to say and do what I think is right.”
Some of Schaaf’s colleagues predict the skirmish will pass — especially since lawmakers need to pass a budget by May 5.
“There may be some rough patches, but we will do the one thing that the Missouri Constitution requires us to do — which is to pass a balanced budget,” Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, said. “And I think we will get some more bills across the line as well.”
Schaaf is done as a senator after the 2018 legislative session, giving him a finite amount of time to make his legislative mark, but plenty of opportunities to make Greitens’ life harder.
Marshall Griffin contributed to this report.
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