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Opinion: Congress should look to Missouri on dealing with legislative misbehavior

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Members of the U.S. Congress should take a look at Missouri's legislature on how to deal with U.S. Rep. George Santos of New York, who is facing a number of allegations.

Santos campaigned falsely portraying himself as Jewish, that his mother was at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and other claims subsequently proven as false.

In contrast to the inaction by Congress in dealing with his lies and alleged criminal actions, Missouri provides profound bipartisan examples in the last 15 years of admonishing government officials for unacceptable behavior. In those years, the disciplinary actions had overwhelming bipartisan support, regardless of the party affiliation of the person facing charges of misbehavior or the party in power pursuing action.

In 2017, a Republican-controlled Missouri Senate by a bipartisan vote censured Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, D-University City, for a social media post expressing a hope that President Donald Trump be assassinated. Even the Senate's Democratic leader, Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors in St. Louis County, voted in support of the censure.

Just a year later, a bipartisan group of Missouri legislatures pursued action against the state's highest official.

In 2018, GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson established a committee to investigate various allegations about a fellow Republican, Gov. Eric Greitens, involving charges of sexual abuse and campaign finance violations.

The committee's report, signed by both Republican and Democrat committee members, concluded the female victim was credible in her allegations. After that report, top Republican leaders ended up calling for the Republican governor to resign.

Although the House committee was not termed an "impeachment committee," legislators of both parties called themselves into a special session to impeach the governor based on the committee's findings. Greitens ended the impeachment session when he sent a message to the legislature of his resignation as governor.

Another example that members of Congress might want to consider is the 2021 decision by Republican House Speaker Rob Vescovo to strip the committee assignments of fellow Republican Rep. Trica Derges of Springfield after she was indicted for federal medical fraud violations. Vescovo went even further, moving her to a Capitol office the size of a closet.

Next on this list for members of Congress to consider is the overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the Missouri House, also in 2021, to expel newly elected Rep. Rick Roeber, R-Lee's Summit in Jackson County, after his children sent to the Republican House speaker allegations of sexual abuse. Not one House member voted against his expulsion.

Significant for Congress to consider about that action is that the allegations against Roeber were about his actions before he became a member of the Missouri House.

Missouri House action on Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis City, was a vivid demonstration of the bipartisan ability of Missouri lawmakers to deal with misbehavior.

In 2021, the Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee found Price had lied about an allegation that he had a sexual encounter with a legislative intern. Then by an overwhelming vote of both Republicans and Democrats, the House voted to censure him and expel him from all House committees as well as fining him for the cost of the legislative investigation.

These legislative examples from the Show-Me State illustrate striking differences in how the U.S. House likely will deal with misbehaving members, especially since the U.S. House speaker's party has a slim and fragile majority.

I would be remiss in this column if I did not acknowledge the bad behaviors of a few legislators I covered decades earlier. There were some truly egregious incidents, including a male legislator who attempted to assault a female staffer in another room during a committee hearing.

But in subsequent decades, I've been impressed at the degree to which Missouri's legislature has cleaned up its act and become more aggressive in enforcing inappropriate behavior.

Maybe Missouri members of Congress could point out to their colleagues from other states how Missouri's legislature has handled misbehavior of their own members.

Phill Brooks has been a statehouse reporter since 1970, making him the dean of the Missouri statehouse press corps. He is director of Missouri Digital News and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism.

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