Despite calls for expulsion, Chappelle-Nadal may stay in the Missouri Senate after all
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens won’t call a special session to coincide with next week’s veto session — a decision that may save state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal from expulsion.
The bipartisan appetite to oust the University City Democrat over an Aug. 17 Facebook comment, in which she wished for President Donald Trump’s assassination, must now come from state lawmakers themselves.
Lt. Gov. Mike Parson still wants that to happen, but the push has been complicated by GOP Rep. Warren Love of Osceola, who posted on Facebook last week that people who damage Confederate statues should be hanged. House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican, hasn’t suggested any punishment for Love.
Parson, who heads the Senate, said Thursday that legislators should support a special session even if they disagree on what to do about Chappelle-Nadal. To entice Democrats, the Republican proposed that the special session also deal with cuts to home-health care services for about 8,000 older and disabled Missouri residents.
“I have no desire to sit in the same chamber with an elected official who has called for the assassination of the president of the United States,” Parson said. “But if my colleagues are comfortable with this, that is their decision to make.”
State Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, heads the Senate Democratic Caucus and stripped Chappelle-Nadal of her committee assignments. But Walsh has emphasized she has not called for the senator’s ouster or resignation, and she opposes a special session without a specific plan for dealing with the health care cuts.
Neither legislator deserves to remain in the General Assembly, Greitens said Wednesday. But he added that it’s up to legislators to take action.
The Sept. 13 veto session can deal only with legislation Greitens vetoed, so to call a special session, three-fourths of the members of the House and Senate would have to agree to it. But Walsh said she believes there aren’t enough Senate Democrats willing to support a special session.
‘People ... should not be put at risk’
Chappelle-Nadal, who is term limited and will leave office after the 2018 session, has apologized publicly and in telephone calls to fellow senators. She reaffirmed Wednesday that she has no plans to resign, and said she’s received “overwhelming” support from constituents in the 14th Senatorial District, which covers parts of central and north St. Louis County.
"I have to be accountable for what I stated," Chappelle-Nadal said. But she added that she's “interested in getting back my work, my research to help save lives."
Most of the residents in her district who responded to a Public Insight Network query said they don’t support what the senator wrote, but don’t want her removed from office.
Ariana Miller, 32, of St. Louis County, said Chappelle-Nadal should face an alternative punishment like censure.
“I believe that she should be disciplined by the Senate and ultimately, voters will decide in the future if she has rebuilt the credibility and respect needed to be an effective advocate,” she said.
Barbara Finch, 79, is a retired public relations consultant in Clayton. She observed: “As someone has said, she committed political suicide on her Facebook page. She has punished herself enough. Why do we have to continue to throw her under the bus?”
University City resident Caroline Pufalt worries that removing Chappelle-Nadal from office would leave the district without representation throughout the 2018 legislative session.
“Greitens has criticized the senator and wants her removed, but he has not spoken to her constituents about how we can avoid being disenfranchised,” she said. “The people of her Senate district should not be put at risk here.”
Greitens would decide whether to decide to call a special election before November 2018. State Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, told St. Louis Public Radio he is lobbying to be nominated as her replacement.
Chappelle-Nadal will emerge as a better person and politician in the coming weeks, said F. Willis Johnson, the pastor at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson.
“I believe strongly that the senator has been quite humbled, but also challenged to really not only further her work — but also further the character and the dimensions of her work as a result of this,” Johnson said. “It is without debate whether or not Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal serves her constituency. She is recognized by her constituents and her colleagues when asked directly whether or not she’s earnest or faithful or diligent in her work.”
Politicians in both parties, including Greitens, have said it’d be improper to dole out different punishments for Chappelle-Nadal and Love. Love has declined to comment to St. Louis Public Radio.
Walsh said equal treatment is necessary because “they both made terrible errors in judgement.” But state GOP chairman Todd Graves said on Facebook that Chappelle-Nadal’s comments were more grievous and deserved stricter punishment.
Chappelle-Nadal claims she’s being held to a different standard.
"I don't know if it's because I'm in the minority party. I don't know if it's because I'm a woman,’’ Chappelle-Nadal said. “I don't know if it's because I'm a minority resident. But all of these things have to come into play."
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This report was prepared with help from our Public Insight Network. Click here to learn more about how you can be a part of our conversations. Click here to see responses from more PIN sources.