Dave Schatz declared his independence this week.
In an unusual move, the Republican state representative from Sullivan thumbed his nose at the political establishment and filed for a Senate seat against a member of his own party.
That in and of itself isn’t extraordinary. Politicians do it all the time even though it is considered bad form by some — particularly party leaders who prefer that decorum be observed.
But the circumstances surrounding Schatz’s decision to challenge Sen. Brian Nieves are intriguing and are raising eyebrows in the halls of the Capitol and within the Republican Party because they represent a crack in party hierarchy and unity.
For months, rumors have circulated in Republican circles that Nieves might opt out of a run for a second term in the Senate to pursue other interests.
The speculation picked up steam as Tuesday’s opening day of filing drew near. One scenario that was making the rounds and gathering momentum was that Nieves would file for re-election and then drop out of the race so that Speaker of the House Tim Jones could jump in and keep the seat warm until he launched his campaign for statewide office in 2016.
Jones is one of the most powerful politicians in Jefferson City. He is considered the top Republican in a Legislature that is dominated by the GOP. He sets the legislative agenda and determines which bills get fast-tracked for hearings. He pulls the levers behind the curtain.
Jones is also a prolific fund-raiser. He has amassed a small fortune — close to $1 million in campaign funds for an office he has yet to identify. He has juice, as the saying goes. Anyone who wants to take him on would have to think long and hard because of the size of his campaign war chest.
Jones is also good friends with Nieves. So when a trial balloon was allegedly floated where he would slide into the Senate race when Nieves dropped out it seemed like a solid plan. Jones resides in the 26th Senate District and has strong ties to Franklin County.
Nieves would file for the office which would serve to keep others out of the race and prevent a primary contest for an open seat. Jones would crush any Democratic opponent in the overwhelming Republican Senate district in an easy campaign. He could then launch his campaign for higher office from the Senate.
It all made sense — except to Schatz.
The Sullivan businessman felt the plan reeked of back-room, smoke-filled politics — the kind of thing that the legislature is regularly accused of. It wasn’t fair to the people of Franklin County who make up the majority of the district. The voters should have a choice, not an inside deal.
So Schatz did a very unconventional thing. He bucked the system and filed for the seat.