Minority party members in the Wisconsin legislature have decided to go to some other state to protest anti-union efforts by the majority party and the governor. Several years ago, minority members of the Texas legislature took off. Could Missouri minority legislators head for the hills and snarl the legislative process if they felt inclined to do so? In fact, they did. But that was many, many years ago.
The last time Missouri experienced anything like Wisconsin legislators leaving the state was in 1861 when Confederate Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and his sympathizers in the legislature conducted business on the run for a few months before finally fleeing to Arkansas, where he died. Missouri’s rebel government eventually set up shop in Texas. But it was pretty much a sham. It was not a quorum of the duly-elected lawmakers from the 1860 elections and the things it did, including passage of a secession bill, carried weight only with the confederacy. A Union-supporting government continued in Missouri although the entire situation on both sides would be considered bizarre today.
But could our 21st century minority lawmakers take off? Sure they could. But it wouldn’t do much good. And it would be expensive. They not only would lose their per-diem checks but they would have to pay for their room and board without reimbursement AND they’d wind up paying for their forced return–at least if they’re Senators. Senate staffer Farrah Fight pointed out to the press corps this part of the Senate rule book:
Rule 8. Upon the call of the senate, the names of the senators shall be called by the secretary and the absentees noted, after which the names of the absentees may again be called. Those absent senators from whom no sufficient excuses are made may, by order of a majority of those present, if ten in number, be taken into custody as they appear, or be sent for and taken into custody wherever found by the sergeant-at-arms, or other person appointed by the senate for that purpose, at the expense of such absent senators or senator, respectively, unless such excuse for nonattendance shall be made as the senate, when a quorum is convened, shall judge sufficient.
The House also allows seizure of absent members if necessary although it doesn’t say the absent member will be charged the costs of being hauled back to the Capitol:
Rule 102. Upon the call of the House, the names of those members present shall be recorded and the absentees noted, and those whose names do not appear may be sent for and taken into custody wherever found by the Sergeant-at-Arms or special messenger appointed.
The big question is, why would they do it? The numbers for the minority party in both chambers are so small that members’ absences would not keep either chamber from having a quorum. The majority party could just transact business without them.
The governor, of course, is not a member of the legislative majority party and he might have a lot to say about what they would do. Although the minority could not stop a veto override in the Senate, it could block it in the House just by staying away.