Jefferson City — On the opening day of Missouri's new legislative session, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden asked, “Will we focus on principled progress or political pandemonium?”
A new Freedom Caucus, based after one in Washington, D.C., shut down the chamber within days, demanding Republican leaders act quicker on GOP agendas. Tempers rose. Abuse flew. Rowden stripped Freedom Caucus leaders of committee chairmanships and premium Capitol parking places.
Republican legislative leaders in state capitols across are fighting a rising network of conservative lawmakers trying to drag the party right with aggressive methods against their own party members. Republican infighting has highlighted party divisions ahead of the November elections, even as former President Donald Trump consolidates party support.
The hardline Freedom Caucus got notoriety in the autumn when some of its members helped ouster Kevin McCarthy, but it's been active in the House since 2015.
The Georgia State Freedom Caucus Network was founded in 2021. With the Missouri addition, it now has chapters in 11 states and plans to expand. Unlike casual connections of like-minded politicians in many states, new State Freedom Caucus chapters are created by invitation from the national group and funded with personnel to vet legislation, devise strategy, and generate publicity.
Caucus members position themselves as real conservatives, pressuring colleagues to vote on amendments, obstructing discussion to make a point, and battling with Republican legislative leaders. “We’re willing to stand up and not be silenced by these guys,” said Missouri state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Freedom Caucus candidate for governor who has angered Senate leaders with his long and passionate remarks.
A Missouri Freedom Caucus bill would make it difficult to modify the state constitution with citizen ballot initiatives like abortion rights. Eigel and other caucus members blocked the Senate for a month to force a discussion on the idea. Other Freedom Caucus members have supported transgender medical restrictions and state National Guard troops at the Texas-Mexico border to dissuade immigration. GOP leaders are upset by their methods, not their policies.
Rowden recently called Missouri's Senate Freedom Caucus “a small group of swamp creatures” aiming to “destroy the institution” and said he was taking away their parking benefits and committee leadership, frustrated by their resistance.
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