Jeff Notes is the News-Leader’s rolling coverage of developments in the Missouri General Assembly and within state government. This article may be regularly updated throughout the week. Questions about Missouri politics? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A conservative Christian defense of Josh Hawley
It’s been a week of defense for Josh Hawley, Missouri’s attorney general and Sen. Claire McCaskill’s highest-profile Republican challenger.
Hawley was forced to respond after the Kansas City Star reported part of a December speech he gave to a conservative Christian audience. In the speech, Hawley talks about his Christian faith and calls for evangelism, and later, he links “the so-called sexual revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s to contemporary sex trafficking.
Those latter remarks sparked an outcry from the left. Coupled with less than $1 million in fundraising in the last quarter of 2017, Hawley’s candidacy has caused some anxiety among conservatives like former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, who told USA Today that “if Hawley doesn’t gear it up and get with it, he’ll not beat” McCaskill.
Some conservatives have questioned whether Hawley’s sex trafficking comment is worth the fuss it inspired (and the comparisons to erstwhile McCaskill challenger Todd Akin). A recent blog article by a conservative Christian writer questioned whether people actually heard what Hawley said.
“The only thing Hawley is saying in the above is that when norms are loosened around something as powerful as sex we should not be surprised that people abuse sex in horrible ways,” wrote Jake Meador on his Mere Orthodoxy blog. “You cannot dissolve the informal boundaries around sex, as the sexual revolution did, and then be surprised when people do things that the boundaries were designed to prevent.”
Hawley’s idea is neither new nor unique to the right, Meador continued.
“The idea that dissolving norms and systems which protect against sexual abuse would lead to the buying and selling of sex, even when the consent of women is violated, is, then, not at all strange or weird,” he wrote. “It’s a very normal sort of argument and what Hawley in particular is saying is not that different from what many on the left have (rightly!) said in the past.”
Meador’s article highlights a problem in which partisans “misunderstand their political opponents in ways so awe inducing that they suggest active malice.” He offers a gloomy prediction for his fellow Christians considering political careers.
“No matter what, there is no path toward respectability for evangelicals interested in political life,” Meador wrote. “Or, rather, there is no path toward respectability for evangelicals who wish to remain affiliated in any way with their evangelical church.”
Missouri Trump staffer joins GOP opposition group
President Donald Trump’s Missouri state director has joined up with a pro-Hawley political action committee.
Aaron Willard, who oversaw efforts that led to Trump winning Missouri by 19 percentage points in 2016, is leaving a job with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Now, he’ll work with Missouri Rising Action, the super PAC said in a news release.
“Claire McCaskill has spent over a dozen years in D.C. consistently siding with liberal Democratic party leadership and putting their priorities over those of average Missourians,” Willard said in a statement. “It’s time for a conservative leader to represent the people of Missouri in the U.S. Senate and work on their behalf to advance policies focusing on job creation and reducing government overreach.”
Willard previously was the treasurer of Grow Missouri, a political organization funded by Missouri megadonor Rex Sinquefield.
Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt also is involved with Missouri Rising Action, according to the release.
Democrats say DSS director may be illegally overpaid
House Democrats on Tuesday said the leader of the Department of Social Services is compensated via “an unusual salary arrangement that appears intended to pay him more than is allowed by law.”
DSS Director Steve Corsi is being paid the maximum allowable salary for his position as well as additional funds via the Department of Health and Senior Services to total $142,000 per year, Democrats said in a news release.
Nearly an hour into a House Budget Committee meeting Tuesday, Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, asked Corsi whether such a salary structure was typical.
Corsi, who came to Missouri from Wyoming last year, replied that he worked closely and briefly roomed with Randall Williams, the director of the health department.
“We absolutely do want to be as transparent as possible,” Corsi said in reply to a follow-up question.
In highlighting Corsi’s compensation, Democrats took a shot at Gov. Eric Greitens.
“The Greitens administration once again demonstrates its disdain for both Missouri law and transparent government,” said House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City. “Not only is Director Corsi being paid more than the law allows, the administration tried to hide the fact by funneling the excess salary through another state department. If the compensation permitted by law isn’t sufficient for Director Corsi, he should seek employment elsewhere.”
The maximum annual pay for the position is about $128,000, as set out in the Office of Administration’s executive pay plan.
DSS and Greitens’ office did not immediately respond when asked to comment on the claim that Corsi was allegedly overpaid in violation of state law.
Recently: Missouri Department of Social Services ends annual reports
GOP expands House supermajority, but Dems score a seat
Republicans kept three of four seats in the statehouse Tuesday in a slate of special elections across Missouri. But the one victory scored by a Democrat demonstrated a sharp swing to the left in at least one locality.
Democratic Rep.-elect Mike Revis, D-Fenton, eked out a win over Republican David Linton, winning with about 51.5 percent of the vote, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
Unofficial results Tuesday night showed Revis received 108 more votes than Linton. President Donald Trump won by about a 2-to-1 margin in that area in 2016.
The win drew national attention from pundits. But though Democrats were encouraged by flipping one seat, Republicans expanded their supermajority by picking the rest.
Republican Rep.-elect Chris Dinkins, R-Annapolis, beat Democrat Jim Scaggs in a southeast Missouri district. Dinkins won with about 53 percent of the vote and held a margin of victory of 299 votes.
Southwest Missouri’s newest lawmaker is Rep.-elect Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon, who toppled Democrat Ronna Ford by a margin of about 69 percent to 31 percent. The district, which includes Dallas County and part of Laclede County, was vacant after Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, ran and won a special Senate election.
A western Missouri district also was held down by Republicans, as Rep.-elect Peggy McGaugh defeated Democrat Ethan Perkinson by a 64 to 36 percent margin. McGaugh, R-Carrollton, succeeded her son Joe Don McGaugh, who vacated the seat after Gov. Eric Greitens appointed him to a judgeship.
The seats will be up for election with the rest of the Missouri House in November.
Springfield rep’s bill passes House
A symbolic bill in favor of rural broadband access — sponsored by Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield — passed the Missouri House on Monday by a vote of 149 to 1.
Trent’s bill would establish in state law that the Missouri General Assembly “declares that expanding and accelerating access to high speed broadband communications services throughout the entire state of Missouri is necessary, desirable, in the best interests of the citizens of this state, and that it is a public purpose of great importance.”
The bill would not abrogate the rights of property owners or extend the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission; rather, the legislation simply signals that lawmakers want to work to expand rural broadband services.
Also: Greitens aims to change state worker rules. Lawmakers say they don’t know what he means.