JEFFERSON CITY • Leaders in the Missouri House began circulating a petition Tuesday in an attempt to allow the Legislature to call itself in for a special session after its scheduled May 18 adjournment.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said last week he would seek a special session to consider "any and all" disciplinary action a House committee investigating Gov. Eric Greitens might recommend — action that could include impeachment.
The state Constitution requires that three-fourths of the members in each chamber sign on in order for a special session to be called.
Three Missouri House Republicans told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday afternoon that the process was already underway after Attorney General Josh Hawley said his office had obtained evidence indicating that Greitens may have committed a felony when he allegedly took a donor list from his former charity and used it to raise campaign donations.
In a statement Tuesday, legislative leaders called on Greitens to resign in order to spare the General Assembly of having to impeach the 44-year-old chief executive.
"Leaders at all levels of government are entrusted with an incredible responsibility to the Missourians we represent. When leaders lose the ability to effectively lead our state, the right thing to do is step aside. In our view, the time has come for the governor to resign,” noted the letter from Richardson and others in leadership.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, agreed with the House's move in the wake of Hawley's announcement.
"We have reached a critical turning point in the allegations made against the governor. The decisions made going forward will have a significant effect on the state of Missouri. After speaking with the attorney general today, I believe the governor has no other respectable option than to resign from office," Richard said. "Because of the severity of the allegations, it is my wish that we immediately start impeachment proceedings.”
Hawley's announcement followed the release last week of a report by the House investigative panel last week which included allegations of violence and sexual misconduct against the governor.
Hawley, in his press conference, said Greitens took computer data listing the top donors to The Mission Continues without the consent of the veterans' charity he founded in 2007. He then used the list to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign.
The matter has been referred to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and to the special House panel investigating whether to recommend impeachment proceedings against the governor.
House Republicans met for nearly two hours in a Capitol hearing room on Tuesday before they headed to the House floor to consider legislation. After the meeting, a Post-Dispatch reporter saw members signing what appeared to be a petition.
Later, Adam Crumbliss, the chief clerk of the House, would not show the reporter a copy of the petition, saying that the reporter should file an open records request to view it.
The impeachment process starts in the GOP-controlled House and ends in the Senate based on the vote of seven judges appointed by members of the upper chamber.
If the impeachment process begins during the session — and not afterward — it likely would mean little else would move forward in the Legislature this year. The only constitutional requirement facing lawmakers is to get a budget approved for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Meanwhile, the governor made at least one public appearance Tuesday, hosting a meeting of the Board of Public Buildings in his office. Lt. Gov. Mike Parson phoned into the meeting, while the other member of the board, Hawley, was a no-show.
It was at least the third time Hawley, who is seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, avoided sitting down at a table or sharing a stage with the governor amid the ongoing probes.
Greitens, a political novice who ran on a platform of cleaning up government, made no comments about the growing scandal and did not stop to answer questions from a reporter after the brief meeting.
Under the Missouri Constitution, the governor can be impeached “for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.”
Richard said Greitens actions are being felt throughout the state.
"We are past the point of concerning and alarming. Since his time in office, the governor has caused tension, conflict and hostility," Richard said. "It’s time for the governor to find the courage in his heart and do what is in the best interests of the people he serves and step aside."