JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate made good on its promise to shut down the confirmation of nominees to the State Board of Education on Tuesday, starting with Eddy Justice.
After a 20-minute filibuster, President Pro Tem Ron Richard withdrew a motion to approve Justice’s nomination to the board. Justice still will have a chance to be confirmed if Richard decides to bring his nomination up for debate again during the legislative session, which ends May 18.
Justice was one of five nominees appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens without Senate confirmation last year and who then voted to remove education commissioner Margie Vandeven.
Critics of the firing said the five nominees Greitens appointed were pressured to fire Vandeven. In a four-month period last year, Greitens appointed 10 people to the board. Two declined, one resigned and the other two were removed by Greitens. The governor made the appointments when the legislature was not in session, and they were able to serve until the Senate convened in January and would have taken up their confirmation.
The board voted 5-3 to fire Vandeven on Dec. 1, 2017, after a first vote to fire her failed, 4-4, in November. All five of the votes to fire Vandeven came from Greitens’ appointees, who had not yet been confirmed. One of the appointees was sworn in the day of the Dec. 1 meeting.
Just minutes before the opening of the 2018 legislative session in January, Greitens withdrew and then renominated the five appointees. Otherwise, the Senate would have had only 30 days to confirm them, and many senators indicated they were not prepared to do so.
Earlier this month, Justice was approved by the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee along party lines, 6-3.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sens. Jason Holsman, Gary Romine and Rob Schaaf spoke against Justice’s nomination and Greitens’ tactics.
“This board was assembled and orchestrated to have a primary duty of removing the commissioner,” said Romine, R-Farmington, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “What is very frustrating and very telling is that they were meeting with staff and attorneys from the governor’s office to discuss how they would orchestrate the termination of Margie Vandeven.”
Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, took more than an hour on the first day of the session to criticize Greitens’ tactics.
On Tuesday, he said the governor has ignored the Senate’s request to withdraw the five nominees and put forth new ones.
Now, he and his colleagues are prepared to make sure Justice and the four others never make another vote on the board.
“The governor has ignored us,” Schaaf said. “It is you governor, not us, who are preventing them from ever being on the state school board.”
If the Senate doesn’t vote to either confirm or send the nominations back to the governor, the five will be barred from serving on the board.
“There is no possibility, now, that Mr. Justice can ever serve on the state school board,” Schaaf said to Romine, “because you and I will filibuster him.”
The education board lacks a quorum and cannot operate.
One of Greitens’ appointees, Claudia Greim, resigned shortly after voting against firing Vandeven in the November meeting.
In her resignation letter, Greim said leadership changes should require “thoughtful and independent study” and that she couldn’t “get comfortable” with the way the firing was taking place. Greim was replaced by Eric Teeman, and Vandeven was fired the next day.
Holsman, D-Kansas City, said he had met with Greim several times and said she told him she felt it was an expectation that she vote to fire Vandeven. Holsman said the entire process was a “miscarriage of justice.”
“I was offended that Claudia was removed for being independent. I was offended that she did the right thing, and she was punished for that,” Holsman said. “For those reasons, I am not going to support any of the nominees who have voted in favor of firing Margie Vandeven.”
The only senator who spoke in support of Justice was Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, who sits on the committee that initially approved Justice’s nomination.
Emery said he was impressed with Justice and believes that based on what Justice told him and the committee, the decision to fire Vandeven was his alone.
“Mr. Justice responded very effectively to all the questions and answered them adequately,” Emery said. “I think it was clear to the committee, and certainly clear in my interview of him, that he is definitely an independent thinker.”
Justice responded to the Senate’s actions Tuesday: “I trust the system will work, and I think we should wait to see how it plays itself out.”
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, firstname.lastname@example.org.