This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When this session of the Missouri General Assembly came to a close in May, Democratic lawmakers and their allies wasted little time in criticizing the GOP majority for passing "extreme" bills.
Take, for example, House Minority Leader Jake Hummel. The St. Louis Democrat sent out a statement lambasting the Republican majority’s “super-extremist” agenda, including measures nullifying federal guns laws, barring implementation of a United Nations resolution called Agenda 21 and banning drones.
“The Triple E agenda House Republicans delivered was extremism, extremism and extremism," Hummel said. "If you fear drones, the United Nations and working families with rights, then it was a great year. If you think creating jobs, improving public education and maintaining a stable and functioning state government are important, then not so much.”
Left unsaid was that some of those bills were backed by a trio of House Democrats: state Reps. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, and Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie.
Not only did the three lawmakers vote for the gun bill and legislation targeting Agenda 21, they were the only three House Democrats to support a tax cut that Gov. Jay Nixon called “an ill-conceived, fiscally irresponsible experiment that would hurt our economy and jeopardize funding for vital public services.”
The three lawmakers' votes are notable because Roorda and Schieffer are running for state Senate seats in highly competitive districts. At the time of the votes, Hodges was the Democratic nominee for the GOP-leaning 8th congressional district special election. He lost to Republican Jason Smith in a landslide.
Before he left a kickoff ceremony for St. Louis’ 250th anniversary, Roorda said his votes this past session weren’t influenced by his looming state Senate bid against state Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial.
“I’ve always sort of driven in the center lane,” said Roorda, whose upcoming battle with Wieland for the Jefferson County-based seat is expected to be very competitive. “I’m in a moderate district with moderate voters that don’t think we should driving on the shoulders – left or right. I think while there’s some bad stuff in all these bills, there’s some good stuff in them, too -- and stuff frankly that was hard to say 'no' to.”
In a telephone interview, Schieffer gave a surprisingly frank appraisal of his decision-making this session.
“I will tell you this on all my votes this year and probably next year, and I want to be a little frank. Anyone that tells you that future elections do not play a factor in your voting probably isn’t being totally truthful with you,” Schieffer said. “I’m telling you I believe that if you’re a realist and want to be elected, you have to consider your entire voting constituency base. And my entire voting constituency base for the 10th District is a very conservative base.”
Schieffer announced his bid earlier this year for the 10th District Senate seat, which encompasses rural counties in central and northeast Missouri. State Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, is widely expected to run for the seat as well.
While Schieffer said Lincoln County is fairly conservative, some parts of the 10th District are even more right-leaning. And he said he has to take his potential state Senate constituency into consideration when he votes in the House.
“There were a lot of negative issues that we voted on that I would consider fear factor issues,” Schieffer said. “Everything from drones to gun bills to taking personal property away by the federal government – a lot of which is going back to the Agenda 21 and the United Nations taking over the United States. And I don’t really think that’s going to happen.
“But the fear is there so much throughout the constituency, that on some of these issues that I hope never happen I have to vote on the safe side,” he added.
Schieffer – who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate in 2002 – has cut a relatively conservative path during his House tenure. He was one of the loudest opponents of a voter-approved initiative to restrict dog breeding. And he was so adamant on overriding Nixon’s veto on contraception legislation last year that he arrived at veto session in a wheelchair after surgery.
To some extent, Democrats emphasizing socially conservative view have had mixed success running for state Senate seats. While Democrats Wes Shoemyer and Frank Barnitz won high-profile contests in 2006, they were soundly defeated for re-election in 2010.
And last election, then-Reps. Terry Swinger, D-Caruthersville, and Joe Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, lost their state Seante races decisively after emphasizing conservative social views. Swinger even cut an advertisement that explicitly criticized abortion rights and gun control.
(Notably, the only Democrat who defeated an incumbent Republican senator last year – state Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton – was in favor of abortion rights and adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. He beat state Sen. Jim Lembke – a socially conservative Republican from Lemay – by a narrow margin.)
But Schieffer emphasized major differences with Riddle. He’s opposed to legislation to making it easier for utility companies to attach a surcharge for infrastructure projects. And he supports expanding Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans almost universally opposed this session.
“I totally support the Medicaid expansion plan,” Schieffer said. “And I’ve got some conservative voters that have really gone after me about that because they thought I was supporting Obamacare. I think there’s a distinction between Obamacare – which became law and a lot of my people don’t like it – and Medicaid expansion.”
Tax cut dead in the water?
Schieffer's, Hodges' and Roorda’s support for the tax cut bill was especially notable since their votes could be crucial to override Nixon’s veto.
That bill ended up passing the House by a 103-51 margin, a tally that includes opposition from three Republicans. Since six Republican lawmakers didn’t vote on the bill, it would be possible to override the measure if the Democratic trio went along.
But Schieffer and Roorda say they are unlikely to override Nixon’s veto, especially after the governor publicized that the bill will make prescription drugs subject to the state’s sales tax.
“I’m going to support the governor on this one,” Schieffer said. “I feel like knowing what I know now, it’s a bad deal.”
Added Roorda: "If they come back, it certainly will give me pause to rethink the vote that I cast.”
Asked why he decided to vote for the bill, Schieffer said, among other things, he thought tax relief might be justified if the state was experiencing enough economic growth. And Roorda said he voted for the bill because it included the “streamlined” sales tax, which encourages voluntary sales tax collection from online retailers.
“It seemed like the only way it was going to happen was to give something to the folks who want to cut taxes for the wealthy,” Roorda said. “That seems to be the tradeoff we have in post-trickle down politics. So we’ll see."
"I think the challenge on an override vote is always larger in the Senate," he added. "One senator that wants to stand up and be counted on in an override can certainly do a lot more damage than one vote over in the House. A lot of times, folks snap into line for a veto override vote and become more partisan."
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.