JEFFERSON CITY • Gov. Eric Greitens’ attempt to remake the state’s school bureaucracy is being put on the back burner in the Missouri Senate.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard told reporters Thursday that he’s in no hurry to try and ram the governor’s five appointees to the state Board of Education through the Senate confirmation process.
Rather, he says he hopes delaying action on confirming the appointees will defuse tension that have roiled the Legislature’s upper chamber.
“I’m going to let a little time go by,” Richard said. “I thought the best thing to do is dial it down. Let’s take a deep breath and see what happens.”
The governor made the five appointments to the eight-member board last year while the Legislature wasn’t in session. Once he had a majority in place, the board voted to fire school Commissioner Margie Vandeven and begin the process of hiring a new education czar.
In the aftermath, some senators warned Greitens that they would block the appointees from being confirmed.
On Thursday, Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, again said Greitens “abused” his power to appoint people to oversight boards, who could take drastic action without having been confirmed by the Senate.
“These five only came on the board because they were willing to make a particular vote the governor wanted them to make,” Romine said.
Sen. Rob Schaaf agreed.
“They have proven they are willing to be puppets of the governor,” said Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.
The Senate, which opened its 2018 session Wednesday, initially had until early February to confirm the appointees, but Greitens withdrew their nominations and then re-appointed them, giving the Senate until the end of the session in May to take action.
But because the appointees can’t be seated until they are confirmed, the maneuver means the school board does not have enough members to hold a meeting until — and unless — the Senate approves them.
On Thursday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education canceled the board’s January meeting on Tuesday due to the lack of members.
Richard, R-Joplin, said Greitens, a political newcomer who has been in office for just one year, bungled the appointments.
“This education thing, it could have been handled better. I hope we can get past it,” Richard said.
Greitens did not respond to a request for comment from the Post-Dispatch.
Although Romine and Schaaf have pledged to block the appointees, Richard said time could ease some of the tension among senators.
“There’s a lot of quiet people who haven’t made up their minds,” Richard said.
Meantime, the Senate was able to confirm two former members to new posts within state government.
Former Sen. Will Kraus was confirmed as a member of the Missouri Tax Commission, while Sen. Ryan Silvey will move to a post on the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.
Both will triple their state salaries, earning $108,700 in their new jobs, up from the $35,900 they earned as lawmakers.
Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, was elected to the Missouri House in 2004 and moved to the Senate in 2010. He would have been term limited in 2018.
Silvey served four terms in the House, from 2005 to 2012 and moved to the Senate in 2013.
In a related move, former Sen. Jason Crowell, a Republican, quit his post on the Missouri Housing Development Commission, saying he had achieved what he and Greitens had sought during his short-lived stint on the board.
In December, after Greitens had appointed him to the panel, the commission voted 8-2 not to issue $140 million dollars in state low-income housing tax credits next year.
Crowell and Greitens said that developers abused low-income housing tax breaks to enrich themselves.
“I went on the commission to provide necessary reforms. We accomplished those goals. I view my job as done for the time being,” Crowell said.