Boone County GOP committee retracts demand for resignation of Missouri Senate leaders

Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, addresses reporters outside his office about the decision to remove Freedom Caucus members from their committee asssignments (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, addresses reporters outside his office about the decision to remove Freedom Caucus members from their committee asssignments. | Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent

Less than a day after a draft letter from state Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden’s home Republican county committee demanding his resignation began circulating on social media, the party’s chairman tried to retract it.

The letter, which also called for Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin of Shelbina to resign, was never intended to be a public statement and its final form hadn’t been approved, Boone County Republican Central Committee Chairman Tony Lupo said in an interview with The Independent.

“It was meant to go through some revision before it went to them only,” Lupo said. “It was never meant to be for public consumption.”

Rowden, a resident of Columbia, has represented Boone County in the legislature since 2013, first as a member of the Missouri House before winning election to the Senate in 2016. He is only the third Republican since the party was founded before the Civil War to represent Boone County in the state Senate and holds the highest position in the chamber ever achieved by a Boone County resident.

“We ask that you, Senator Rowden and Senator O’Laughlin, resign immediately and new and effective leadership be installed in the Missouri Senate,” the now-retracted letter stated.

In the statement retracting the letter, the committee said publication was unauthorized and asked “that everyone who shared this post retract/delete any and all postings and comments regarding this letter.”

In a statement to The Independent, Rowden said he is proud he has won four elections and to “have energized the county GOP in a blue area in the process. I am hopeful the Central Committee will remember that you can’t make a difference in a county like Boone unless you can get people elected.”

The Boone County Republican Central Committee isn’t the only local party organization to issue statements in support of the removed Freedom Caucus members, but it is the only one to retract the statement.

The county Republican central committees in Camden, Cass, Clay, Franklin, Saline, Perry, St. Charles, Vernon, Warren and Wright counties issued statements demanding Rowden and O’Laughlin resign their leadership positions.

“We are deeply disturbed that Senate Majority Leader O’laughlin has allowed the Missouri Senate to devolve into a place of petty antics & schoolyard grudges, meanwhile ignoring the voices and concerns of Missouri’s great Republican constituents,” the Wright County Republican Central Committee stated in a release issued Thursday.

The Pleasant Hill Missouri Republican Club also spoke up for the Freedom Caucus members and declared their views are shared widely.

“We the members of the PHMRC represent a very large voting bloc in our state and our connections run deep,” their statement read.

In a statement to The Independent, Freedom Caucus member Sen. Bill Eigel said that even with the retraction of the Boone County letter, the county committees that have denounced Senate leadership represent about 18% of the GOP electorate statewide.

“That is extraordinary,” Eigel said. “There has never been a Republican leadership team so swiftly and broadly rebuked by so many Republican Central Committees as the Rowden/Olaughlin leadership team this week.”

Prior to his election as president pro tem in 2023, Rowden was the majority leader. His tenure in leadership has been marked by some of the most bitter factional disputes in Senate history.

Rowden, who must leave the Senate after this year due to term limits, is seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state in this year’s election. One of the Republicans he’s facing off with in the primary is a Freedom Caucus member  — Sen. Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg. 

This year, six members who call themselves the Freedom Caucus have taken intra-party warfare to a new level under the direction of Eigel, who wants to be the Republican nominee for governor. Caucus members are filibustering confirmation of Gov. Mike Parson’s appointees until the Senate approves a bill making it harder to pass constitutional amendments by initiative petition.

In retaliation, Rowden on Tuesday removed four members of the Freedom Caucus from committee chairmanships. The removals were retaliation for the caucus stall tactics and Rowden called them “a small group of swamp creatures.”

After their ouster from committee seats, members of the Freedom Caucus poured out their stored-up grievances on the Senate floor for four hours. A Wednesday cease-fire allowed Parson to deliver his annual State of the State address to a joint legislative session, but the roar of battle returned with a vengeance on Thursday.

O’Laughlin said she was ready to vote to remove Eigel from the Senate in remarks to editors and publishers assembled for the annual Missouri Press Association day at the Capitol. She did not say she would actually seek his removal.

The letter from the Boone County GOP committee grew out of a discussion Tuesday evening at a regularly scheduled meeting, after Rowden removed the committee chairmen, Lupo said. 

A member of the committee, who Lupo did not name, was asked to write a letter for circulation and comment.

“The mood in the room that night before it was written was that somebody should write something,” Lupo said. “And then, with that first draft, there were people who weren’t willing to support that.”

The writer shared the letter with someone in Jefferson City who is not a committee member to check it for accuracy, he said.

“Then the next thing we know it’s all over the place,” Lupo said.

Three of the four senators removed from chairmanships – Eigel, Hoskins and Andrew Koenig of Manchester – are also term-limited and running for statewide office this year. The fourth, Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville, is seeking re-election to the Senate.

In a statement to The Independent, O’Laughlin said she is committed to passing conservative legislation on civil lawsuit awards, taxes, education and initiative petitions. All the Senate bills introduced so far are now in committees for work, she noted.

“The Senate has been facing a filibuster from a small group of senators who have kept the floor from daily orders of business,” O’Laughlin said. “We will continue working to achieve the above-mentioned goals and hope the senators blocking progress will join us in accomplishing Missourians’ priorities.

The retraction puts the committee on the record as disowning the letter, but Lupo said it won’t disappear from online posts.

“We can say that we retracted it, but yeah, it’s out there. It’s not coming back,” Lupo said. “If I could, I would sit all these guys and gals down and give them what for because they’re not being like statesmen at this point.”

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