Two members of St. Louis’ regional delegation will serve as leaders in the Missouri Senate, while two millennials from Springfield will be the heads of their respective parties.
Senators chose Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, to be Senate president pro tem on Thursday. That leader assigns bills to committees — and decides who gets to be committee chairmen. Democrats re-elected Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors as Senate minority leader.
Over on the House side, Democrats chose Crystal Quade of Springfield to be minority floor leader. House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, was elected to his leadership post last year. Rep. John Wiemann, R-St. Charles County, was elected as House Speaker Pro Tem on Wednesday, while House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Jefferson County, was re-elected to his post as well.
Schatz ran against three other senators for pro tem, including Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis. One of the key issues of Schatz’s legislative career has been drumming up more money for transportation infrastructure, which Missourians voted down on Tuesday.
He told reporters that his priorities would mirror Gov. Mike Parson’s desire to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure and workforce-development programs.
“My role in this position is to move in the direction that the majority wants to move,” Schatz said. “We’re going to work through that process. But I think a lot of that is going to revolve around workforce development, infrastructure investment.”
Before he became governor, Walsh cultivated a close relationship with Parson in the Missouri Senate. She, too, believes that the executive and legislative branches can work together — especially after the fractious relationship that unfolded during Eric Greitens’ gubernatorial tenure.
“I’m friends with the governor, but philosophically we’re not often on the same page,” Walsh said. “But I think our friendship is an example of agreeing to disagree and still maintain a relationship to work through the things we can agree on. And I really believe that Missourians want that from their elected officials.”
Quade defeated state Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, to be minority leader. Both Quade, 33, and Haahr, 36, will be among the youngest legislative leaders in the country.
“I read an article that we had the largest amount of millennial Democrats running than any other state in the country,” Quade said. “Our caucus is getting a little bit younger. But I think it’s important, because millennials now make up the largest voting bloc in terms of population. And it’s a voice that needs to be a part of the conversation.”
Protecting ballot initiatives
Since Republicans have commanding majorities in the Missouri House and Senate, one question after Tuesday’s election was whether they’d try to alter ballot items that voters approved this year.
Two items that could be changed are a measure raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour and another, known as Clean Missouri, overhauling state legislative redistricting. Those redistricting changes include requirements that state House and Senate maps have districts that emphasize partisan fairness and competitiveness.
While Clean Missouri passed by a landslide, it drew opposition from Republicans who contended that the redistricting portion was aimed at getting more Democratic seats in the state legislature. Haahr said on Wednesday he would like to strike up conversations with African-American lawmakers who have expressed misgivings that Clean Missouri could reduce the amount of black lawmakers.
Asked if senators had discussed changing Clean Missouri, Schatz said: “We have not landed on a position exactly how we’re going to address that.”
“I think it’s a major concern for this majority, in how that is going to impact the future,” Schatz said. “And I do think those issues are going to have to be addressed there. But again, it’s a little too early to get in-depth about what that’s going to look like.”
Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican who was elected Senate majority leader, added: “We want to talk to the caucus and make sure there’s broad support for” sending a revamped redistricting proposal to voters. That could include taking out requirements for “partisan fairness” laid out in the initiative.
“My assumption is there would be,” Rowden said. “My assumption is we could take a look at finding a way to make it more reasonable. I think the language in it is probably not constitutional and probably even able to be done in a way that it is trying to do. If we can make it better, let’s make it better. So we’ll see what that looks like, and that will be a work in progress.”
Quade said one of the priorities of her caucus is to prevent Republicans from rolling back any popularly enacted ballot items, including Clean Missouri and the minimum-wage hike.
“I do anticipate it. I hope it doesn’t happen,” Quade said. “I’m hopeful that legislature won’t, but history shows that they do. When St. Louis raised their minimum wage, the Legislature came right back and overruled it and said, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ … And so that will be one of my main priorities out of this office, to hold to the will of the people. I think the Legislature should not go against what the folks tell us to do.”
Walsh said that the Senate Democrats would fight against any attempt to undo the minimum-wage hike. And while acknowledging that not all of her caucus supports the redistricting changes in Clean Missouri, she added “when people speak, we need to listen to what they say.”
“I don’t know if I agree with everything that’s in it, but it passed,” Walsh said. “So I’m willing to live by the law of the land.”
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum