The Missouri House Ethics Committee has sent a report to Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, about state Rep. Warren Love. In August, Love, R-Osceola, said on Facebook that Confederate vandals should be “hung from a tall tree with a long rope”. Love, who calls the phrase “an old cowboyism”, sparked public outcry from some calling the comment racist.
The report about Love includes a transcript of a January hearing the committee held on the controversial post. The panel voted to formally discipline Love and suggested that he be stripped of his committee duties. Love initially agreed he would accept the committee’s decision, but later had a change of heart and said he didn’t understand the initial question. The move left Love without any formal consequences from the panel.
The report also contains a letter dated November 2 from Love saying he planned to attend the January hearing. He goes on to say he planned to ask the committee for a full pardon with no condemnation.
All members could submit comments to include in the report. Committee chairman Kevin Austin, R-Springfield, submitted his logic for an interpretation of a committee rule that let Love back out of his initial support of the panel’s decision.
Members of the minority party also attached feedback.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, was the only committee member who did not sign the report. He opposes Austin’s interpretation of the rule used during the hearing.
“I think the whole committee agrees that we need to clarify this rule to actually match the intention of the process in the committee. Honestly, I think the chair even understands that outcome didn’t even make sense. Because of that, I think that there will be a rule change that clarifies that,” Merideth tells Missourinet.
Merideth also says the group should’ve supported an investigative hearing. According to Merideth, holding one would’ve have allowed supporters and opponents to share their feelings about Love’s Facebook post. He says the dialogue would’ve been positive for the public, committee, and Love.
Now the matter is in the hands of Richardson.
“Todd Richardson has the authority to proceed with any punishment he wants,” Merideth says. “He could actually remove him (Love) from the body if he wanted. He can certainly censure him. He can easily do exactly what our committee voted to so.”
Merideth is not convinced anything will be done.
“That said, Todd Richardson has surprised me in the past. He’s a pretty reasonable guy. I think it’s perfectly possible that he decides to proceed with our recommendation,” says Merideth. “It’s also possible that he decides he has enough other things on his plate to worry about that he’d rather not deal with this again and just let it go.”
He says a variety of things have distracted the issue.
“Back when this thing first happened, even among the Democrats, some of us felt like this really wasn’t a top priority,” he says. “I think we all did find it offensive and inappropriate, but for this conversation to last and endure once we are back in session with a whole lot of issues that frankly matter a lot more to the people of Missouri.”
Merideth cites things like “policies that are attacking workers and consumers” and the controversies surrounding the governor’s extramarital affair and donors.