Missouri House Speaker Plocher will ‘absolutely not’ resign despite Republican criticism

Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher on Thursday said he would “absolutely not” consider resigning after reports surfaced that he has been receiving government reimbursements over several years for expenses also paid for by his campaign.

The top Republican’s aggressive stance comes amid a bevy of calls for his resignation, including from some top Republican lawmakers in the Missouri House. It also comes a day before the House Ethics Committee is scheduled to meet Friday for a hearing widely expected to focus on the embattled speaker, though lawmakers have released few details.

“There were some errors made. We found the errors. We self-reported. We corrected. We made the reimbursements,” Plocher said in an interview with “This Week in Missouri Politics,” a state politics livestream. “It’s embarrassing, you know. It’s a checkbook error, but there’s a lot of accounts bouncing around. It’s quite tedious.”

On at least nine occasions over the past five years, Plocher, who was first elected to the Missouri House in 2016 to represent suburban areas of St. Louis County, received reimbursements from the House for trip-related expenses also paid by his political campaign. The Missouri Independent first reported the expenses, which included a $1,199.60 plane ticket to attend a conference in Hawaii.

The revelations of Plocher’s reimbursements have started a new round of infighting among Missouri Republicans and risk dividing Republicans ahead of the 2024 legislative session.

State Rep. Chris Sander from Lone Jack, in an interview with The Star on Wednesday, was the first House Republican to publicly call for Plocher to resign. On Wednesday and Thursday, two other House Republicans, state Rep. Mazzie Boyd from Hamilton and state Rep. Doug Richey from Excelsior Springs also called for him to step down.

“I want to be clear — Dean Plocher should resign as Speaker of the House for the good of the state and the Republican Caucus,” Richey said in a statement on social media.

Other lawmakers have vouched for Plocher, including state Rep. Brian Seitz, a Branson Republican, who on Wednesday referred to the payments as “much ado about nothing.”

Copies of checks obtained through a records request show that Plocher last week started to pay back the House nearly $4,000 in money he received improperly.

In a letter attached to his most recent check, which he sent to House administration on Monday, Plocher wrote that he realized he had been reimbursed for a night at a hotel that he should have paid for personally. He “immediately reimbursed the House,” he said.

“Because of this error, I reviewed all of my travel reimbursements,” he wrote.

The House Ethics Committee, which reviews complaints against lawmakers and is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, is scheduled to hold a hearing on Friday. The description of the hearing states that the committee will “discuss a personnel inquiry” — a phrase not included in the Missouri House rules.

The hearing description indicates that the committee may not be discussing a formal complaint, which is typically what it reviews. However, the U.S. House ethics rules, which are used as a guide for Missouri House ethics rules, allow for House members, officers or employees to request written opinions “with respect to the propriety of any current or proposed conduct of such Member, officer, or employee.”

Four committee members The Star reached by phone on Wednesday said they wouldn’t know what’s going to be discussed until the hearing happens. Still, state Rep. Jerome Barnes, a Raytown Democrat on the committee, suggested the hearing would be about Plocher.

Plocher on Thursday declined to comment on the focus of Friday’s hearing.

“The House Ethics Committee is an important committee. It has its procedures and policies. I believe they’re going to draw conclusions as they are required,” he said.

In recent weeks, Plocher has also come under scrutiny over an unsuccessful push for the House to hire a company to manage constituent information and a decision to fire his chief of staff last week.

Several Missouri House speakers in the modern era have faced significant controversies, including Bob Griffin, a Democrat and the state’s longest-serving speaker who served from 1981 to 1996, who was indicted and later convicted on bribery charges. In 2015, then-Speaker John Diehl, a Republican, resigned from the post after The Star reported that he had been sending sexually-charged messages with an intern.

During Thursday’s livestream interview, Plocher’s phone rang. The phone announced that the call was coming from Diehl’s number.

“Sorry about that,” Plocher said. “I got a call coming in. I didn’t mute that.”