Missouri Lawmakers Fight

In this 2015 photo, provided by the Missouri House of Representatives, Missouri state Rep. Michael Butler speaks on the House floor in Jefferson City. Butler is now the chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, and he used his authority to close a quarterly meeting to the public over the weekend.

The Missouri Democratic Party, reeling from a clean sweep against its candidates in statewide races, faced further division over the weekend when party leaders closed their quarterly meeting only to face a backlash from members and former candidates.

Three Missouri Democratic Party state committee members in Northwest Missouri told News-Press NOW they were against closing the meeting and meetings in the future. Bill Caldwell, a state committee member representing state Senate District 34, which includes Buchanan and northern Platte counties, said the process to close the meeting wasn’t transparent.

“I voiced my displeasure,” Caldwell said in a phone interview. “I hope it never happens again.”

Jay and Lynn Bosler, who represent state Senate District 12, which covers the northwestern corner of the state, also voiced dissent, according to a phone interview with Mr. Bosler. The meeting was closed by Michael Butler, chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, according to Paula Willmarth, a committee member who also represents state Senate District 34.

Elad Gross, a former Democratic candidate for Missouri Attorney General and civil rights lawyer, said the meetings should be open.

“There’s not really a political party who can succeed without having people behind it,” Gross said. “There’s a bad rap about politicians and parties who do things behind closed doors. There’s a lack of trust right now in institutions.”

Quick division over Saturday’s meeting likely signals deeper fault lines in the party, especially given its harsh losses in the 2020 election. Nicole Galloway, the state auditor and former candidate for governor, won about 40% of the statewide vote.

As one high-profile Democratic aide told the Kansas City Star, Democrats aren’t just one cycle away from making progress. They could be a decade away, a tough pill to swallow.

Most immediately, Missouri Democrats will have to rally around a candidate to run against Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in 2022. But both Gross and Caldwell said there was no conspiratorial backroom dealings during Saturday’s meeting, further driving confusion about why the meeting was closed.

“It’s no secret that... (in) Missouri’s Democratic Party that folks are not happy with each other,” Gross said. “My view is that folks see the brokenness in their own communities already. And you’re not really hiding anything from people who know that something’s not working.”

A spokesperson for the Missouri Democratic Party didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment about the meeting. The closure was apparently announced in a newsletter from the party on Jan. 23 signed by Executive Director Lauren Gepford.

Near the bottom of the letter, under “important dates and events,” the letter said the Jan. 30 meeting would be for “state committee members only.”

Willmarth told News-Press NOW that Butler explained why he was closing the meeting under his unilateral authority, but she declined to give details, saying she preferred Butler speak publicly about the issue first. She said his explanation was “reasonable.”

Butler apparently responded to the controversy on Twitter.

“To the folks who are spreading a false narrative, taking our meeting out of context, and telling untruths about the MDP, you are only being helpful to Republicans,” Butler wrote in the tweet. “To the people who want to do the work and be helpful to our party, the MDP will always be here for you.”

Under current rules, Willmarth said Butler has the authority to close meetings on his own, though she wants to see that changed.

“The body should vote,” Willmarth said.

Matt Hoffmann can be reached at matt.hoffmann@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NpNowHoffmann.