Fox 2 St. Louis: Intern scandals force examination of lawmakers’ conduct

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KTVI) – Embarrassing scandals in Missouri’s capital involving a handful of individuals has citizens asking what goes on in Jefferson City after hours?

Accusations of questionable behavior with college interns prompted two legislators to resign last spring and summer.  Another resignation in February following an extramarital affair and charges of sexual harassment against a former lobbyist last week kept the issue in the headlines.

Reforming Missouri state ethics laws is a top priority for both House and Senate leaders as well as Governor Jay Nixon.

But some legislators believe changing ethics laws won’t change personal behavior.  Oakville Republican Rep. Marsha Haefner told FOX2’s Betsey Bruce she is angry the issue is drawing attention away from positive work by the General Assembly.  But she notes, “It is a personal thing and you could have all the laws out there in the world you can’t change people’s behavior.”

State Senator Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, is following the debate closely.  “A lot of bills that are moving forward that are called ethics, but they are really not ethics bills that deal with bad behavior.”

Both Haefner and Schupp join a chorus of female lawmakers fed up with the behavior even though they agree only a small number of elected officials are involved.  Schupp points out a lawmaker who “steps outside of good moral behavior impacts people’s trust in the legislature and in the legislative process.”

Clayton Democrat Stacey Newman is often at work by 7:30 am  and stays until ten or eleven o’clock at night.  She thinks female legislators have a different outlook compared to male legislators.

“We leave behind family and other obligations at home. We’re committed to this.  We come here to work,” Newman said.  She prefers to meet with lobbyists in her office rather than accept an invitation for a drink or dinner.

Farmington Republican Rep. Kevin Engler recalls more partying when he began serving in the Missouri Legislature 14 years ago.  “The Anheuser Busch truck would deliver couple days a week and fill up refrigerators that’s just not done anymore.”

Engler added, “The vast majority of people are here for the right reasons. They are good family people and they are being faithful.”

A new policy is in place to guide and protect interns in the House and there is annual mandatory conduct and ethics training required of all lawmakers.

Personal connections are part doing business in the legislature.  Keeping in touch with constituents and lobbyists provides lawmakers with information about issues that impact their districts or the state.

The Director of Government Affairs for the Missouri American Water Company, Christine Page believes lobbyists and lawmakers must walk a fine line as they build connections in the capital.

“If you take somebody out to dinner or have a drink with them, it does help build that relationship,” she notes.

Page was a college intern in Jefferson City a decade ago.  She thinks the culture there is improving and believes, “The vast majority of people there are very dedicated to doing good policy work.”

Yet she is concerned about college interns and young women just starting out in government and public policy jobs.  That is why she and ten other women who work in government organized a not-for-profit mentoring and support group to advise and guide young women.

The group, Women’s Policy Network of Missouri hopes to offer support across the state in government offices at all levels.  (Register with Network at:   https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/77QGM9G or send email to [email protected])

“It is a very male dominated environment, so I think it is important that especially young females that are starting out whether they be interns or just starting their careers really have strong female role models,” Page said.

Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, who took over after Speaker John Diehl (R) St. Louis County resigned after a scandal involving an intern, has a zero tolerance policy toward unethical behavior.

“It is an important policy in any workplace and the Capitol is certainly no different.  We want to be living to the highest standards we can here,” Richardson said.

His standards were put to the test in mid-February when a lawmaker’s extramarital affair became public.  The lawmaker chose to resign and Richardson won praise from lawmakers eager to see a change in the Capitol culture.

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