A GOP state representative from Ballwin has resigned suddenly for unspecified personal reasons.
It’s the latest reverberation for a legislature still reeling from scandals that led to two resignations last session.
Rep. Don Gosen confirmed to St. Louis Public Radio that he was stepping down from his seat effectively immediately. Gosen served as the chairman of the House Insurance Committee and represented a GOP-leaning district that included parts of western St. Louis County.
“There’s been several rumors floating around the Capitol,” Gosen said. “Some of them are true, some of them not. It’s personal things that need to be handled between myself and my family. And that’s where we’re addressing these issues now. I didn’t want to add to any issues up here in the House with some of the ethics reform. I didn’t want anything happening personal to play any role in any of that.”
What Gosen is alluding to is a push from GOP leadership. House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, made that issue a priority after his predecessor, former House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, resigned when it was revealed he exchanged sexually charged texts with interns. Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, also resigned last year after several interns accused him of sexual harassment.
Asked to elaborate on what his “personal reasons” for resigning were and if they included infidelity, Gosen replied: “Like I say, it’s personal.”
“If it was a business issue or a campaign issue, I’d be glad to elaborate on it,” Gosen said. “But this is personal. So that’s all I will say on this issue.”
In a statement, Richardson said Gosen made the “right decision” resigning. He signaled that Gosen had done something that warranted his departure from the legislature.
“At the beginning of this year, I said the actions of this body would not be defined by a few. I was serious then, and I am serious now. That’s why when I was made aware of the situation, I asked him to resign last night,” Richardson said. “I believe as I said on the first day of session that as ‘individuals we must be at our best and as an institution we must be better.’ We owe nothing less to our state and to the people we represent.”
Later on Wednesday, Richardson didn't provide more specificity on "the situation" he alluded to in his statement. When asked if there was an ethics complaint filed, he replied like this:
"What I can tell you is we have a very firm process in place that will be followed to handle any and all complaints that get filed," Richardson said. "There are also things that need to be addressed that extend beyond our specific ‘in the building’ policy. And so, consistent with that and consistent with the statement that I released this morning, I asked Rep. Gosen to resign. He made the right decision this morning to do that. And my job, as it’s been before in a similar position, to get the House back to work. And that’s what we’re going to do today."
When asked if it gave him any pause that he was resigning for “personal reasons” only months after Diehl’s high-profile departure, Gosen said: “I think this issue is substantially different than what was last year. So I’ll leave it that.”
Gosen went onto say he had no regrets about running for the state legislature.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here very much,” Gosen said. “I think the opportunity in the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate and any role up here in Jefferson City is an amazing opportunity. We’ve got a group of great people up here from both sides of the aisle taking advantage of that opportunity to serve their constituents.”
Gosen’s departure comes after Richardson instituted rules and regulations concerning its intern program – including mandatory sexual harassment training. It also arose after House passed curbs on lobbyist gifts and restrictions on how quickly lawmakers can become lobbyists.
But when asked before Gosen’s resignation if lawmakers had learned from the resignations of Diehl and LeVota, state Sen. Jill Schupp struck a pessimistic tone.
“Unfortunately, no matter where you go there are always some bad apples who take advantage of their position,” Schupp, D-Creve Coeur said. “And when we’re put in positions of power, sometimes we forget that we are always accountable to the people. And so, I’d like to think that the better side of our nature takes over. That’s simply not always going to be the case.
“I’m sad to say, it may very well happen again,” she added. “I don’t know how long those lessons will be heeded.”
Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum