On the Trail: We had questions about Missouri's veto session. Now we have answers. | St. Louis Public Radio

On the Trail: We had questions about Missouri's veto session. Now we have answers.

Sep 15, 2016

If you judge a successful veto session by how many bills are overturned, then Wednesday’s gathering was like a college football blowout.

That’s because the GOP majority was able to outflank Gov. Jay Nixon and his Democratic compatriots in the legislature on more than a dozen measures, including a bill that would implement a photo identification requirement to vote should a proposed constitutional amendment pass and another that makes it easier to conceal and carry a weapon. Unlike previous years, there was little drama – or much apprehension about squelching Democratic filibusters.

This result was hardly an accident: The 2014 election bolstered the Republicans’ already large majorities in the Missouri House, giving the GOP majority lots of breathing room to override Nixon. And Democrats have no guarantee that their super-minority status will get better after this year’s election cycle. If Republicans sweep Missouri statewide races, the Democrats’ legislative plight may actually get worse.

To dig in a little deeper into the veto session, let’s attempt to answer the five questions posed earlier this week.

Is 114 enough?

Yes. 

House Speaker Todd Richardson's GOP majority flexed its legislative muscles on Wednesday.
Credit File Photo | Tim Bommel I House Communications

In fact, the photo identification bill received 115 votes because the House’s lone independent member, state Rep. Keith English of Florissant, voted to override Nixon’s veto. And the GOP majority was able to go over the 109-vote threshold on the gun bill, even though a few Republican lawmakers were absent or voting against the measure.

And as far the less high-profile bills that were overridden, Republicans always managed to get more than 109.

That’s not to say that Republicans always won. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce noted that the legislature failed to override bills dealing with expert witness testimony and personal injury lawsuits. If anything, that signals that GOP majority’s numbers weren’t high enough to best Nixon on everything.

Will defeated lawmakers show up — or walk out?

Incumbents who fell short in their Aug. 2 did show up to veto session. But they didn’t always play ball with their party, so to speak. 

The Missouri House during veto session
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

For instance: State Rep. Nick King, R-Liberty, was a ‘no’ vote in overriding Nixon’s objections on the gun bill. That will be King’s final vote for a while, as he lost a Republican primary earlier this year.

State Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, also lost her GOP primary. But she voted to override pretty much every issue, with the exception of legislation exempting data collected by state agencies under the federal Animal Disease Traceability Program from Missouri's sunshine law.

The lone Democrat who was ousted by another Democrat, state Rep. Boyonne Mims, D-Kansas City, also showed up on Wednesday. While she voted to sustain most of the governor’s vetoes, she did cross party lines to vote to override several lower-profile bills.

So, unlike previous veto sessions, defeated lawmakers didn’t make a huge difference in whether bills got overridden.

Will Chris Koster’s words aid Republicans?

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee’s sentiments certainly provided rhetorical assistance during debate over the photo identification bill. 

Attorney General Chris Koster speaks to reporters at the Saint Louis Police Officers Association hall earlier this year.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

House Republicans brought up public statements that Koster made over the summer. While the Democratic gubernatorial nominee is opposed to a constitutional amendment that would allow the bill overridden yesterday to go in effect, he’s said the implementation legislation is a satisfactory compromise.  

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From a practical standpoint though, Koster’s words didn’t compel his Democratic counterparts in the legislature to overturn Nixon’s veto. But it’s a recent example of how Koster’s views clash with the temperament of many Democratic legislators.

Should Koster defeat GOP gubernatorial nominee Eric Greitens, the important long-term question will be whether his contrary positions help him navigate what will still be a Republican legislature. The answer may depend on the specific issue on the legislative table.

What will Senate Democrats do?

For the most part, Senate Democrats got steamrolled on Wednesday. 

Wednesday wasn't a great day for Senate Democrats like state Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.
Credit File photo by Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Senate Republicans used “previous question” motions to kill filibusters on the photo identification and gun bills. It was the second and third time this year that Republican unleashed that legislative maneuver, which used to be colloquially known around the Capitol as the “nuclear option.”

The fact that Republicans are willing to use the PQ so quickly now should be extremely worrying for Senate Democrats. When Republicans placed a de facto moratorium on the PQ from 2008 to veto session 2014, the Democratic caucus was actually quite powerful when members banded together to try to block bills. Now, filibustering probably won’t be an effective legislative tool much longer, particularly for high-profile legislation (though it may still be possible for Democrats to hold up lower-profile bills).

This must be kind of a bummer for Senate Democrats who have to literally raise more than a million dollars to help the party gain incremental ground in the chamber. Even if their electoral endeavors are successful, they’ll still have less actual power than the eight-person Democratic caucus that served from 2011 to the end of 2012.

Will this year’s veto session mark an end of an era? 

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in April 2016. The Democratic governor will leave office at the beginning of next year.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

There are too many variables to consider to answer this question definitely. They include: Whether Koster or Greitens win, the possibility of the legislature becoming less Republican, or if the Whigs make a comeback. Still, recent history shows there’s always disagreement between the executive and legislative branches – even if each are controlled by the same party.

But if Republicans maintain their huge majorities in the House and Senate, it may not matter who becomes governor next year. That’s because Wednesday proved that if a large supermajority wants to override a governor, it can do it even with intraparty dissension.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.