Right-wing Missouri lawmakers calling for ‘unity’ want to take culture wars mainstream

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Missouri state senators in the so-called “conservative caucus” said Monday they’re disbanding — ready, now, to work with traditional Republicans in the chamber.

“We believe the time has come to seek unity within a single majority caucus in the Missouri Senate chamber,” their statement said. It was signed by five of the more obstructionist conservative Republicans in Jefferson City: state Sens. Rick Brattin, Bill Eigel, Denny Hoskins, Andrew Koenig and Mike Moon.

“We must disband even the informal designation of ‘Conservative Caucus’ or any other label that separates us from the single Republican majority,” the letter said.

Normally, this would be good news. Infighting among regular Republicans and right-wing conservatives stalled virtually every significant piece of legislation in the Missouri Senate earlier this year.

The dysfunction grew so obnoxious we suggested elimination of the Senate itself might improve outcomes in Jefferson City. A true detente between warring factions of the GOP could mean more progress and less stalemate.

On the other hand, a call for unity among Republicans won’t mean much if it really means moderates are signaling their willingness to cave to a more radical agenda in the next session. Besides, some of the Senate’s most radical members are already claiming they are quite prepared to gum up the works if they don’t get their way.

The letter announcing the end of the caucus makes clear the terms of the moderates’ surrender: new leadership that will happily bring a right-wing approach to the floor.

“There’s a tremendous amount of nonsense” in the letter, one mainstream Missouri state senator, a Republican, told the editorial board. “It’s a political ploy.”

“It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” another Republican senator told us. “They’re out of their minds.”

Sen. Eigel of Weldon Spring, one of the conservatives behind the letter, defended it. “We can only offer the olive branch. We cannot force anyone to take it,” he said in a Twitter message. “That being said, I think the message of unity and peace is the one that will win the majority of support in the Republican caucus.”

A third conservative caucus signee, state Sen. Hoskins of Warrensburg, said “peace” was the only way to unlock the Senate.

“The primary elections taught us that Missourians want us to pass conservative bills,” he tweeted. “I look forward to working w/any senator who wants 2 pass Republican priorities.”

We know what a conservative, caucus-led Missouri Senate would mean: more arguments over divisive social issues and less work on real problems facing real Missourians — underpaid teachers, delays in Medicaid expansion, housing shortages and violent crime.

If the price of ending gridlock is a Senate in lockstep with a radical agenda, then that price is too high. Moderates must assert themselves to keep that from happening.

Unfortunately, there are signs some traditional GOP leaders appear to be folding.

“I think we’re going to do some big stuff,” state Sen. Caleb Rowden, a moderate GOP leader recently told an interviewer. “We’re going to deal with curriculum accountability and (critical race theory). We’re going to deal with the transgender issue.”

We urge another path. Rowden and like-minded colleagues must firmly resist any backdoor attempt by radical conservatives to claim unity while further dividing the legislature, and the state, over social concerns such as teaching truthful history about race and gender identity. That’s no “peace” at all.

Important legislative elections are set for November, after Election Day. At that point, commonsense Republicans may feel the state would be better served by aligning with Senate Democrats, not disruptive conservatives who want to end all progress in the state.

They’ll have a chance to make that statement.

We want the legislature to work. Missourians should not be fooled by a “unity” statement that could make matters worse.