Ryan Silvey and Ron Richard are both Republicans, and they both serve in the Missouri Senate.
But any notion that they play for the same team blew up this week. Richard removed Silvey from one of the General Assembly’s most important roles: serving as a key negotiator with the House on the state’s next budget. Silvey, who is from Kansas City, then ripped Richard’s leadership as the Senate president pro tem.
It was ugly. It was personal. And it was very, very public.
“I and many others are comforted by the fact that you only have one year left to play these political games,” Silvey wrote in an open letter to Richard, which Silvey’s office released to reporters. Richard’s decision, Silvey added, “epitomizes the worst of petty personal politics.”
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Quarrels this dramatic aren’t common, and they begin to explain why the Senate remains mired in dysfunction. Lots of significant measures are backed up. Frustrations are peaking. Parliamentary procedures are being employed to muck up the works.
How bad is it? Even with deadlines looming, the Senate met for only minutes on Tuesday for the second consecutive day. On Wednesday, two senators launched into “Kumbaya” on the floor in a plea for peace. A week ago, one senator ordered 1,200 doughnuts to sweeten the atmosphere.
At the center of it all are Richard and Silvey, who clearly have had it with each other.
This development could have real consequences for Kansas City, as Silvey has emerged as a key player when it comes to pursuing this town’s interests. He is widely regarded as a whiz when it comes to the budget, having worked on it for years. He’s something of a novelty as a Republican representing a big chunk of a heavily Democratic city.
Silvey has nipped at Richard all year. Rebuffed in his bid to chair the Senate appropriations process as he once did in the House, Silvey criticized the Senate leader for pushing legislation to benefit a major GOP donor. Richard’s actions were worthy of legal review, he said.
Last week, Silvey was one of a band of renegade senators who maneuvered around GOP leaders to fully fund public schools in the state for the first time in history. That meant adding $45 million to match the House’s allotment.
“Budgets are documents of priorities,” Silvey said at the time.
That was enough for Richard. When the Senate’s key budget negotiators were announced, Silvey’s name was missing. That was highly unusual because vice chairmen of the Senate Appropriations Committee — a post that Silvey holds — are always included on the Senate team. It’s a powerful position.
There are lessons here.
Silvey, who has expressed interest in a bid for Kansas City mayor in 2019, is not one to be pushed around. He has battled Gov. Eric Greitens this session over “dark money,” with Silvey calling for more transparency. He was routinely critical of former Gov. Jay Nixon, whom Silvey referred to as “King Jay.” Silvey once fought Gov. Matt Blunt, a fellow Republican, over patronage fee offices, with Silvey demanding reform.
Meantime, Richard’s hold on the Senate is slipping. The only man to ever lead the state Senate and House, Richard seems not to understand that he can’t twist arms as aggressively in the Senate. By design, senators are more autonomous.
He’s sure not twisting Silvey’s arm.