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Missouri Senate's 'conservative caucus' is making its presence known

Marshall Griffin
St. Louis Public Radio
A faction within the Missouri Republican Party is holding up work at the start

For two consecutive weeks, a group of seven members of the Missouri Senate have been pushing back hard against GOP leadership.

Republican Sens. Eric Burlison, Rick Brattin, Bill Eigel, Denny Hoskins, Andrew Koenig, Mike Moon and Bob Onder are at odds with their party on a number of issues.

"They're a group that's sort of been at war with legislative leadership for quite some time now," says Jason Hancock, editor-in-chief of the Missouri Independent. "It's been really bad for about a year, although you could argue it stretches back even further."

The latest example arose this week as the Missouri Senate looked to draw a new congressional map. The majority of lawmakers in Jefferson City want a map similar to the one currently in place which would likely result in a 6-2 Republican majority in Missouri's congressional delegation.

But, the group of seven conservative hardliners want to go further, gerrymandering a map that would have the potential to oust U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver from his seat.

When it comes to what's motivating this bloc of Republicans, University of Missouri political science professor Peverill Squire points out that some are at the end of their term limit and have little to lose while others are running for other office and have a separate agenda.

"The majority is not cohesive and not holding together," says Squire adding, "that small group of Republican malcontents can cause trouble and it gives additional leverage to the handful of Democrats in the chamber."

The current factions within the Senate consist of the Republican conservative caucus, "these seven members that are kind of driving the bus at this point," according to Hancock, the 17 or 18 Republicans "aligned with the leadership" and then the 10 Democrats who "have become kingmakers of sorts and get to pick a side depending on the issue or, for the most part, kind of sit back" as the other side is absorbed in fighting with each other.

"The mainstream Republicans have a plurality," says Squire but notes, "they need the acquiescence of some of their Republican colleagues . . . or they have to be willing to work with Democrats which is a difficult thing for Republican leaders to be in a position to have to do."

The conservative caucus extended their battle with leadership to Gov. Mike Parson by leading opposition to the governor's nominee for the state's health director.

"There was a very angry response from the governor," says Hancock adding, "he did accuse them of essentially using it to bolster their own egos and their ambitions for higher office."

As for progress on the congressional district map, as of this writing the Senate has yet to agree on a what that will look like.

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