Crowell at the center of Senate mess

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nothing was accomplished Monday in the Senate. Here's how nothing got accomplished.

At the beginning of the session, SB 498 was "read in" from the House where it passed last week. This bill had been twice refused last week by Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer. It has the funding for the veterans' homes that is considered crucial for the budget conferees.

But the House version lacks language that's important to Sen. Jane Cunningham regarding a Quality Ranking System (QRS) for day cares. Mayer apparently had been refusing to "read in" the bill in sympathy with Sen. Jason Crowell, who has another version of the bill in his committee. But Crowell wanted assurance that the Senate would have his back when it comes to his private little war with Speaker Steve Tilley.

Tilley has "earmarked" $2 million for Southeast Missouri State University. Crowell doesn't want Southeast to get that money. (For what it's worth, Tilley, Crowell and Mayer all graduated from Southeast).

The Senate started debate with Sen. Mike Parson's SB 568, which deals with a bunch of random motor vehicle laws. Parson explained the conference committee report on 568. And then Crowell took the floor and changed the subject of debate to SB 498. He was unhappy that it had been "read in" (and that he hadn't been extended the courtesy of a heads up about the development). When Floor Leader Tom Dempsey realized Crowell was starting an extended discussion, Parson set SB 568 aside, and the Senate took up SB 498.

The gang reunites

Crowell made a point of relating to Cunningham that he didn't really care much about QRS, but he would help her filibuster -- and he expected her to help him with the Southeast issue when the time came. That general message also emanated over the course of the next couple of hours from Sens. Rob Schaaf, Jim Lembke, Chuck Purgason and Luann Ridgeway. This is basically the core of the "gang of nine" from last week that killed the drug-monitoring bill 48 other states have adopted to prevent prescription-shopping. They appear to have a pact to support each other's pet projects/pet peeves, finding their strength sufficient to stop legislation.

Compromise scuttled

At some point, around 8 p.m., Sen. Brad Lager -- who skates in and out of the gang of nine -- offered the possibility of a compromise. His idea was the Senate would commit to a work-group or framework or some such structure to tackle funding inequities among higher education institutions in the coming years. He saw this as an opportunity because Tilley had said that his $2 million request for Southeast was based on his pursuit of equity for that university.

So Cunningham traveled to the speakers' office to present the compromise; Tilley rejected it.

Over the course of the night Crowell repeatedly -- maybe 20 times -- said that Tilley was going to be a lobbyist next year, and he was fundraising for sitting state senators and representatives, and that his $1.5 million campaign account was the reason he had influence over other legislators.

Budget chairman Ryan Silvey, apparently listening to the debate, continued his recent tradition of rebutting via twitter: "Hey, remember when Sen. Crowell used to pay a sitting Speaker consulting fees? Yeah, me too. #MoneyWellSpent"

The end

Somewhere around 2 a.m., Crowell was recognized to close on one of his motions and he refused to do so. (Crowell used this technique a few years ago during one of the tax credit battles). There wasn't anything to do to take the floor from him in this circumstance except call a previous question (PQ). So Sen. Brian Munzlinger withdrew his underlying motion. And then brought it back up. Crowell then went through the same parliamentarian procedures however and the Senate once again ended in stalemate.

After a half-hour or so of impasse, Dempsey directed that Parson's motor vehicle legislation be brought back up. Crowell began weaving his motions to knot up that bill as well. He explained to the body that he would attempt to stall every single bill in the Senate until his issue with the Southeast money was resolved.

After a civil, but unproductive exchange between Crowell and Parson, the Senate adjourned. It was 3:30 a.m.-ish, and it was Sen. Tom Dempsey's birthday.

About the PQ

Along the way, Crowell made a habit of laying motions on top of the underlying motion to pass SB 498. He would move that the motion be indefinitely postponed, then add a definite date on top, and then change the date with a third motion.

The reason he gave for the convoluted process was to make it as painful and time consuming for leadership to PQ him, if it came to that. PQ is short for calling the previous question which closes debate and allows a vote. It is also considered the nuclear tactic of the Senate. Only after all other options have been exhausted do senators even talk about PQ -- Crowell's three layered motions would require three different PQs.

PQ requires 18 votes. And by my count, leadership probably couldn't find the votes although Crowell's demeanor wasn't exactly helping his case by the end of the night. The math is this: 8 Democrats won't PQ because they don't want to be on the receiving end of a PQ ever. So keep that door closed. Then add in the Republican "gang of nine" and you're at 17. Assuming you could peel one or two of the gang off, you also might have problems getting a PQ vote out of some of the "temperamentally moderate" Republican senators. It's a close count (18 votes are needed to pass a PQ).

What does Crowell really want?

Three theories were circulating about the motivation of Senate problem child Jason Crowell.

First, he's offended by Tilley's earmark and has some ancient grudge involving Southeast. So he has decided to do everything humanly possible to stop it.

Second, this all stems from a disdain for Appropriations chairman Kurt Schaefer, who had a nasty exchange with Crowell maybe four years ago, and the two never got over it. In this theory Crowell wants to make life as miserable for Schaefer as he can.

The third theory is that Crowell wants to be PQ-ed so that he can use that precedent next week to argue for use of the PQ against Democrats on stalled anti-labor legislation like prevailing wage.

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