Missouri Lobbyist Discusses Changing Political Climate

According to Jefferson City lobbyist Jorgen Schlemeier, changes are on their way in Missouri legislation. As a man with over 25 years of experience in political lobbying, he should know.

Schlemeier spoke Wednesday at the Rotary Club meeting.

For those unfamiliar with what lobbyists do, Schlemeier offered a brief explanation: "We advocate on behalf of clients for legislative proposals that would be to their benefit."

Schlemeier has seen the role that lobbyists play change significantly over the time he's worked at one. He traces it back to a single event: Missouri passing term limit laws.

"The term limits (essentially) say that the maximum amount of leadership experience a Missouri politician can have is six years," he said.

While members of the Missouri General Assembly are limited to eight years in office, he said that it's only after the first two years most take on leadership roles.

Back when he first started as a lobbyist in 1992, he knew a senator who'd held office since 1947. Now, with term limits, that sort of institutional memory is gone, meaning that a majority of politicians — especially many new politicians — are uninformed or uninformed on a number of topics.

"Nov. 8 was the election, and Jan. 9 is the inauguration," Schlemeier said. "In between, (Governor-elect) Eric Greitens has to set up an administration."

Schlemeier recalls hearing an incoming staffer say that the Missouri budget is a lot more complicated than he was expecting.

Part of his job as a lobbyist, then, is to teach politicians about the issues and existing laws surrounding the legislature he's trying to promote.

"I have to start educating them over the summer, try to meet with them at least four or five times," he said. "If you wait until January it's a lost cause."

President-elect Donald Trump often spoke against lobbyists and the influence they leverage, and Schlemeier sees those views potentially reaching Missouri.

"The Trump Train went through Missouri, too," he said.

He foresees ethics reform for lobbyists in the form of a ban on lobbyist gifts and expenditures towards politicians, and in fact Schlemeier totally supports such a ban.

"The reporting process for lobbyist gifts and expenditures is tremendously cumbersome," he said. "I'd just as soon get rid of them altogether."

He sees other changes coming down the pike with Missouri's current super-majority Republican government.

"We may lose right to work, we may lose prevailing wage reform, we may lose paycheck protection," he said.

"This may be the beginning of the end for unions as we know them in Missouri."

Another big area of change is likely to be in education reform.

"Public schools had a very strong Democrat backing," Schlemeier noted.

New Republican lawmakers may support charter schools and vouchers so children can attend private schools.

Schlemeier also addressed some misconceptions people have about lobbyists. They aren't as powerful as some believe, he said.

"I can work a legislator — say Jeanie Riddle — and I see her 20 times in a day, and mention issues 10 of those times," he said. "I'll constantly be giving her new pieces of information about the legislation and building a case. But if she gets three calls from constituents saying 'I don't like that bill,' she's done."

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