‘I’m absolutely being punished’: Dean Plocher accused of retaliating against GOP critics
So far this year, state Rep. Mazzie Christensen has filed 11 bills, ranging from changes to statewide education and public health policy to narrow legislation designed to help a small county in her district.
State Rep. Adam Schwadron has filed 12 bills, including his top priority to create a state fund to defray costs of security enhancements for nonprofits at elevated risk of terrorist attacks in Missouri.
Up until Thursday, more than a month into the legislative session, Christensen and Schwadron were the only Republican lawmakers who filed legislation this year who had not had any bills referred to committee by House Speaker Dean Plocher.
The pair also share one other thing in common: They were among the loudest voices within the House Republican caucus calling for Plocher to step down from leadership amid a litany of scandals.
With Plocher’s future still uncertain as he remains under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, Christensen believes he’s using his power as speaker to retaliate against those who spoke out.
“I’m absolutely being punished,” Christensen said in an interview last week. “And I think it’s really petty and childish.”
Plocher finally referred one bill each from Christensen and Schwadron to committee on Thursday, as word spread The Independent was asking questions about the the situation.
Schwadron wasn’t interested in speculating about why his bills have been stuck in limbo, saying only that he remains hopeful he can get his legislation across the finish line.
“I’m just happy that we’re moving through the process,” he said.
House rules require the speaker to refer “all bills and resolutions” to a committee, but impose no requirement that it be done in order or at any particular time during the legislative session.
Plocher, through a spokesman, denied taking any punitive action against anyone who called for him to resign.
“While the speaker has referred a record amount of bills to committees at this point in session, not every bill will be referred, and not every referral occurs on the first day of session,” Plocher’s spokesman said in a statement. “Bills will continue to be filed through the end of this month. Bills will continue to be referred throughout the session.”
‘He should resign’
In September, public records obtained by The Independent showed nonpartisan staff raising concerns about Plocher’s push for the House to award a lucrative contract to a private company.
Plocher allegedly threatened the job of the chief clerk of the House over her criticism of the potential contract. In emails to other staff and a Republican legislator, the clerk expressed “growing concerns of unethical and perhaps unlawful conduct” by the speaker.
A month later, The Independent reported that Plocher had on numerous occasions over the last five years illegally sought taxpayer reimbursement from the legislature for airfare, hotels and other travel costs already paid for by his campaign.
In each instance, Plocher was required to sign a sworn statement declaring that the payments were made with “personal funds, for which I have not been reimbursed.”
Adding to Plocher’s headaches were revelations that the Missouri House spent $60,000 of taxpayer money renovating his office — including $29,000 on new furniture. As part of the renovation, Plocher turned another legislator’s office into what he’s referred to as his “butler’s pantry,” stocked with liquor, beer, wine and soda to complement the supply in his office.
And more recently, the Kansas City Star reported Plocher twice sought and received exemptions from House travel policies, allowing him to spend more than allowed to upgrade a flight to Utah and get reimbursed for a flight to a conference in Hawaii.
Those are the only two written requests for exemptions or waivers of House policies on travel expenses made over the past three years.
Christensen was among the first members of the House GOP caucus to speak out, releasing a statement in late October calling on Plocher to step down as speaker over “alleged unethical behavior that is deeply concerning.”
“I believe we need a new leader with integrity,” she said at the time, “to help House Republicans move this state forward.”
In an interview last week, Christensen stood behind her statement.
“He should resign,” she said. “I still believe that. I didn’t say he should resign from the legislature. But he shouldn’t be in leadership.”
Schwadron, who is running for Missouri secretary of state, wrote a letter to his GOP colleagues in early November highlighting what he called Plocher’s “misuse of taxpayer funds and other potential scandals.”
“I am formally asking that our friend, Speaker Dean Plocher, put aside his pride and personal ambitions and immediately resign his speakership for the good of our Republican caucus and our Missouri Republican Party,” he wrote.
Schwadron said last week that he still believes Plocher should resign. But the majority of the GOP caucus wants to wait until the ethics committee releases its report before passing judgment, he said, “and I will respect the position of the caucus.”
It’s unclear when the ethics investigation will be complete. The committee has not met since Dec. 6. Proceedings of the committee are confidential, and none of the discussions, testimony or evidence gathered is public until a report is issued.
‘Different ways of representing my district’
Through his spokesman, Plocher said other representatives who “expressed similar sentiments prior to session commencing have had their bills referred,” noting that 1,330 bills have been filed in the House so far this session and 519 were referred to committees.
The first Republican House member to call for Plocher to resign was state Rep. Chris Sander of Lone Jack. He’s had one bill referred to committee so far this year — legislation that would do away with Daylight Savings Time.
He couldn’t be reached Friday for comment.
State Rep. Doug Richey, an Excelsior Springs Republican, also publicly called for Plocher’s resignation. A month into session, Richey finally got three bills referred to committee.
Richey said he spoke with the speaker’s office about his bills, though neither side made any promises or cut any deals.
And while Richey stands behind his call for Plocher to resign, like Schwadron, he said he will abide by the will of the GOP caucus and wait for the ethics report before formally deciding the speaker’s fate.
Christensen said she’s not concerned about being in the doghouse with the speaker’s office. She’ll find ways to be effective even if her bills never get any traction, she said, and has found other lawmakers willing to add her ideas to their bills.
“I’m just gonna have to figure out different ways of representing my district,” she said. “But I know my district didn’t just send me here to pass bills. They sent me here to be honest and truthful and stand up for what I believe in, and I’m not going to back down from that.”