An Avalanche of Opposition
It was a short but remarkable week at the Capitol. The Senate adjourned early due to our incoming snowstorm. Cutting this week’s proceedings short allowed legislators to travel home safely ahead of the storm and kept citizens who wanted to testify at hearings from having to risk their own safety in order to participate in the legislative process. But the decision also set up a dramatic end to one of the governor’s nominations. In an extraordinary turn of events, the Senate refused to confirm the governor’s pick for director of the Department of Health and Senior Services amid concerns that he was too sympathetic to mask and vaccine mandates.
According to the Missouri Constitution, the Senate has 30 days from the start of the legislative session to approve appointments made by the governor when the General Assembly is not in session. The deadline for confirmation was Friday, Feb. 4. Anyone not confirmed within the deadline would be barred from ever serving in the position they were nominated for.
Normally, Gubernatorial Appointments Committee hearings are routine, since the nominees are rarely controversial. That was definitely not true of Donald Kauerauf, who has been serving as the acting head of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services. Almost as soon as Kauerauf came to Missouri in July, he raised eyebrows with comments that seemed to criticize the state’s COVID-19 response. Some of his remarks struck a lot of folks as being supportive of vaccine mandates and mask requirements in schools, though he insisted, and said on record many times, that was not the case.
On Monday, a large group of protestors gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to express fierce opposition to Kauerauf’s confirmation. As the hearing began, the crowd moved to the hallway outside the hearing room and could be heard shouting while the nominee answered questions for several hours. I don’t sit on the committee, but several senators were asking the questions that I needed answers to as well. The governor issued a public statement in the nominee’s defense while questioning was still taking place, but the nomination was clearly in trouble.
As the storm approached, a number of individuals waiting to be confirmed to seats on boards and commissions received a constitutional reprieve. The governor formally withdrew those nominations, and will presumably restart the confirmation process by reappointing these people. Acting DHSS Director Kauerauf’s name was not withdrawn by the governor, however. His nomination was doomed, and he turned in his resignation soon thereafter.
Regardless of what anyone believes about the nominee, what we witnessed in the Senate this week was truly remarkable. It is extremely unusual for a governor’s pick to head a state agency to be rejected. I do know the governor to be a man who vets his nominees greatly. The majority of the concerns stemmed from things that the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services would never have the power to do – like forcing masking and vaccines. Y’all already know how I feel about those, I’ve been very vocal on the subject. I feel it is everyone’s personal choice – to mask or not, to get the vaccine or not. I don’t want people being mean to folks wearing a mask, any more than I want to see people getting all spun up over someone not wearing one.
Personal choice goes both ways. Some of the protesters in the hallways were really ugly acting to others walking by that had masks on. Some even yelled and cussed at their fellow Missouri citizens. I truly believe politics doesn’t have to be so mean-spirited. I’ve tried to raise my children showing them that we get farther speaking WITH others, than speaking or yelling AT them. Trust the process, be involved and make sure your voices are heard. This election cycle is looking to be a really good one for us. People are moving to our side because of our freedom loving policies. Let’s be sure we don’t run them off with our personalities – or “cut off our nose, to spite our face,” as my mama would always say!
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.