© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher hires chief of staff with his own scandal-plagued history

Former Missouri Rep. Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, on May 15, 2008, during his tenure as Missouri House speaker at the statehouse in Jefferson City.
Tim Bommel
Missouri House Communications)
Former Missouri Rep. Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, on May 15, 2008, during his tenure as Missouri House speaker at the statehouse in Jefferson City.

He was arguably the most powerful politician in Missouri until he faced allegations of corruption and sexual assault. Now it’s Rod Jetton’s job to help another speaker navigate accusations of misconduct.

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher’s new chief of staff is a former legislative leader whose political career was upended more than a decade ago by a federal bribery investigation and allegations of violent sexual assault.

On Thursday, Plocher announced to a closed-door Republican caucus that Rod Jetton will take over as his top legislative aide. Jetton was elected to the Missouri House in 2000 and served four terms, playing a key role in the GOP capturing a majority in 2002 and rising to become House speaker in 2005.

He is joining Plocher’s office as the speaker faces an ethics committee inquiry into allegations of misconduct and calls for him to resign from his fellow Republicans.

Neither Plocher nor Jetton spoke to reporters waiting outside the Missouri Farm Bureau building in Jefferson City where the GOP caucus met last week. Republicans who spoke about the choice after the meeting said they see Jetton’s story as one of redemption and that his past is history that does not impact his ability to do the job.

“My feeling is that Rod Jetton was a great former speaker, he made a series of very bad mistakes, and he took action to correct them,” Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Patterson of Lee’s Summit said. “He’s paid his debt to society. And he is really a story of, of resilience and kind of making amends in life. I think we see the good in that. And I do think it’s unfortunate that people will always want to bring out the worst things that you’ve ever done.”

Democratic Floor Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield, however, said Jetton’s past disqualifies him from the post.

“The speaker’s hiring of a man who pleaded guilty to assault for hitting and choking a woman during a sexual encounter is a gross affront to domestic violence survivors,” Quade said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon. “An admitted abuser of women has no business holding a position of influence in the Missouri House, and his hiring marks a failure of both judgment and leadership by the speaker. Missourians deserve better.”

Jetton was arguably the most powerful politician in Missouri before his personal and political life cratered soon after term limits drove him from office in 2009.

He was charged with felony assaultfollowing a sexual encounter where he was accused of drugging, hitting and choking a woman to the point of unconsciousness. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was placed on probation.

The booking photos of former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton after he was charged with felony assault in 2009.
The booking photos of former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton after he was charged with felony assault in 2009.

In 2010, a federal grand jury investigated whether a $35,000 political contribution from the adult entertainment industry was linked to Jetton’s decision as speaker to send legislation regulating the industry to a committee whose chairman opposed it.

Jetton was notified he was a target of an investigation involving bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy, though he denied any wrongdoing. The statute of limitations expired without an indictment.

After stepping out of the political spotlight, Jetton was open about his fall from grace as he launched new pursuits.

He briefly returned to the statehouse as co-founder of the Missouri Times and a pseudo consulting firm in 2012. Two years later he released a book called “Success Can Kill You” about his life, telling St. Louis Public Radio that he hoped it would “maybe be a warning to people: Don’t make these mistakes.”

In 2022, he was once again working for state government when he was hired by the Missouri Department of Revenue. He most recently served as deputy director of the department’s motor vehicles and drivers’ license division.

Jetton takes over the job as chief of staff at a precarious time for Plocher.

Plocher is facing calls to resign from his fellow Republicans over revelations that he filed false expense reports with the legislature going back to 2018 seeking reimbursement for costs already paid for by his campaign.

Submitting false expense reports could be prosecuted as stealing from the state, a class A misdemeanor. It could also be considered false declaration, a class B misdemeanor that involves knowingly submitting any written false statement. The House speaker could also have run afoul of laws prohibiting campaign contributions from being converted to personal use.

Plocher began repaying the reimbursements two weeks after The Independent submitted a Sunshine request seeking his expense reports, blaming the problem on a “checkbook error.”

He was already facing scrutiny — drawing the attention of federal law enforcement — over his push to convince the House to spend $800,000 to hire a private company to manage constituent information. Nonpartisan staff accused Plocher of illegal and unethical conduct in pursuit of the contract, including threatening the employment of the chief clerk.

In the midst of the swirling scandals, Plocher fired his chief of staff, who had served in the position for the previous three Republican speakers. His general counsel submitted a letter of resignation last week.

The Missouri House Ethics Committee helda second hearing about Plocher on Wednesday, which included discussion of a newly filed complaint against the speaker by another lawmaker alleging “ethical misconduct.”

The committee will hold future hearings, said Chair Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, but no date has been set.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom. The Independent's Rudi Keller contributed to this report.

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.