State Sen. Brian Nieves is leaving the Senate the same way he entered it — by blasting the “establishment” and local Republicans he doesn’t approve of.
Only this time the tea party darling and standard bearer for wacky behavior in the Missouri General Assembly is accused of being complicit with the establishment.
Nieves signaled over the weekend that he would not be running for a second term in the Senate.
He said he would make an “official” announcement this week but told his friends on Facebook that he was throwing his “FULL, Un-throttled” support behind Speaker of the House Tim Jones who has been actively campaigning and seeking endorsements in Franklin County the past week.
That sets up one of the more intriguing Republican primary races in the state with the main battleground voters in Franklin County. It also is a window into the turbulent and factious political dynamics in the GOP-controlled Missouri Legislature where eating one of your own is now commonplace.
That Nieves wasn’t going to run again was no surprise. He had let a number of Republicans know last year that he was considering devoting his full attention to other interests and probably wouldn’t run. The handwriting was on the wall.
But in his Facebook post, Nieves couldn’t resist taking some swipes at Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, who filed for Nieves’ seat after learning he was going to drop out of the race.
Nieves praised Jones for not taking the positions that Schatz has in support of a 1-cent sales tax for transportation and for “requiring you to be treated like a criminal when buying Sudafed.”
Local Republicans say Nieves is really just angry at Schatz for throwing a monkey wrench in the inside deal he hoped to swing to get his buddy Jones into his seat.
Jones has amassed close to $1 million for a statewide run in 2016. As speaker, he is powerful and well-connected — the consummate insider. He could continue to cultivate that power base by staying in the Legislature rather than sitting out for two years.
Local Republicans say Jones attempted to broker several job swaps with county officials to clear his path to office. That’s not unusual. Horse trading comes as part of the speaker’s job. But it reinforced the deal maker image some have of Jones.
But that is precisely why Schatz is running. He feels that the people, especially those in Franklin County, should have a say in who represents them and isn’t scared of taking on — whoops — the Jefferson City establishment.
Schatz is positioning himself as an outsider running against a career politician and the preordained, politics as usual, insider.
Sound familiar? It was the same tactic Nieves used in his Senate campaign although Nieves trained his vitriol against John Griesheimer who he sought to replace in 2009. And the irony isn’t lost on local Republicans.
Schatz has already peeled off a number of Nieves’ supporters, including former campaign manager Robbie Brouk and former Sen. Jim Lembke, according to a press release issued Monday.
The 26th District encompasses all of Franklin County and a decent chunk of western St. Louis County. Jones, who is from Eureka, is said to have the edge in St. Louis County while Schatz figures to carry Franklin County. There are more votes in Franklin County so the race could come down to how many votes Jones can siphon off in Franklin County.
Jones is already touting his ties to the area, including working at his father’s animal clinic in Pacific as a child.
Democrats contend there isn’t much daylight between Nieves, Schatz or Jones in terms of political philosophy. All are ultraconservative, limited government, hard right Republicans. But any one of them would be hard to beat. That is probably why no Democrat has filed. It also indicates how far to the right the district has swung in recent years.
But unlike Nieves, Schatz and Jones are more than rank ideologues. They have the desire and horsepower to effectively represent the district in the state Capitol. Neither is likely to make national headlines for gaffes or outrageous conduct.
The only difference is that one is considered a fixture of the political establishment.