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Ransdall likely to lose $106,000 post on Missouri State Tax Commission
Ransdall likely to lose $106,000 post on Missouri State Tax Commission

Bill Ransdall
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Feb. 2, 2010) — To avoid conflicts of interest, longtime Waynesville politician Bill Ransdall had to resign not only from his seat on the Pulaski County Commission but also numerous other local boards and organizations last fall when he accepted an appointment by Gov. Jay Nixon to the Missouri State Tax Commission.

However, recent developments in the Missouri State Senate mean Ransdall could be returning to Pulaski County without Senate confirmation of his appointment to the state post paying $106,000 per year.

One underlying factor in the dispute is Ransdall’s participation in a unanimous vote of the Missouri State Tax Commission to follow a recommendation by the University of Missouri’s agriculture department that property taxes be raised on the state’s most productive farmland while lowering taxes on the state’s least productive categories of farmland. While the vote was unanimous and would have benefited the majority of farmers in Missouri, including most in Pulaski County who have relatively low-value pastureland, it would have raised taxes on land used for rice and for row crops such as corn.

State law requires the Missouri State Tax Commission to “publish a value based on productive capability for each of the several grades of agricultural and horticultural land” by Dec. 31 of each odd-numbered year, a vote in which Ransdall participated late last year shortly after Nixon appointed him to the commission. According to the statutes, “such values shall be based upon soil surveys, soil productivity indexes, production costs, crop yields, appropriate capitalization rates and any other pertinent factors, all of which may be provided by the college of agriculture of the University of Missouri, and shall be used by all county assessors in conjunction with their land grades in determining assessed values.”

State law specifies that the Missouri State Tax Commission’s new rules for tax rates would have taken effect on Jan. 1, 2011, unless disapproved by the state legislature. Both the Missouri House of Representatives and Missouri Senate voted last month to reject the proposed changes in tax values.

However, tax rates weren’t the main issue raised on the floor of the Missouri State Senate in a Jan. 21 debate.

Ransdall’s key antagonists include Sen. Jason Crowell, a Cape Girardeau lawyer who has twice received Missouri Farm Bureau awards and previously served as the Republican floor leader when he was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives. Crowell may be best known to residents of the Fort Leonard Wood area as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Pensions, Veterans Affairs and General Laws, but he’s also a member of the Gubernatorial Appointments Committee where he was one of two members to vote against Ransdall’s confirmation.

Crowell objected to Ransdall’s appointment in the committee and also on the Senate floor, tying it with his opposition to another former House of Representatives member, Philip G. Smith, a Democrat who Nixon had appointed to the Administrative Hearing Commission. Most of the state senate debate focused on Smith, though both Smith and Ransdall were pulled out of a long list of the governor’s nominees for various boards and commissions that require state senate confirmation and then subjected to individual scrutiny on the senate floor.

Senate procedure requires appointees for positions requiring state senate confirmation to obtain the sponsorship of their state senator; in Ransdall’s case, that means Sen. Frank Barnitz, a rancher from Lake Spring in rural Dent County. Nobody questioned whether Ransdall actually lives in Pulaski County and therefore in Barnitz’ district, but Crowell grilled Sen. Wes Shoemyer, a farmer from Monroe County in northeast Missouri who has numerous agriculture-related awards, on whether Smith actually lived in Shoemyer’s state senate district.

Crowell noted that the administrative hearing board to which Smith was appointed in December holds its hearings in Jefferson City and asked whether it’s possible for Smith to live in northeast Missouri while performing duties many miles away at the state capital.

“I just didn’t know if you should be the sponsoring senator or the senator from Cole should be the sponsoring senator,” Crowell asked Shoemyer.

“Senator, you’re asking me questions that I don’t know,” Shoemyer responded.

Residency requirements weren’t Crowell’s only concern, however.

Crowell asked Sen. Charlie Shields, the Republican chairman of the Standing Committee on Gubernatorial Appointments who had served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 1990 to 2002 where he was the House Minority Whip before being elected to the state senate, to comment on Smith and Ransdall, both of whom were members of what was then a Democratic majority in that chamber.

“I just wanted to know if you had any thoughts about that time of service or what your capacity as a minority member of the House was during that,” Crowell asked.

Shields’ comments focused on partisanship by Smith and Ransdall, and after citing several examples of Democratic legislators who he respected and with whom he had cooperated, said that wasn’t the case for Smith and Ransdall.

“I’ll try to say this as gently as possible,” Shields said. “The only thing I would tell you is that the two I held out my support from them, while I don’t know that my level of concern raises to the level of not supporting them, I would also be very honest, they do not fit in the same category of the folks that I just mentioned in terms of how they carry themselves in that body.”

Crowell affirmed Shields’ point in much stronger language.

“I would not expect this body to confirm me to a quasi-judicial office if it was dominated by Democrats,” Crowell said. “I’ve had conversations with these individuals that because they were former legislators they believe that they’re are entitled to these $100,000 a year jobs. Whenever a governor of their party rolls around, instead of looking at who is the best qualified individual, we focus on where our connected whatevers are.”

“In my opinion, I too concur that there are members that I have served with in the minority that are out there that I could see when the cameras aren’t rolling, when the questions aren’t occurring, when reporters aren’t present, their actions — it’s sort of like what they say, you’re really going to find out their character when no one’s looking,” Crowell said. “This individual does not fall in that category for me. I did not fall in that category when I served in the House. Believe me, I served in a partisan majority leader capacity ... I did not work with those individuals. I had a clear objective to move on a partisan basis our agenda as Republicans in the House. This individual has the same tone and demeanor within his capacity as the chairman in my service in the House, and there is no way I would believe I should be confirmed to this office, and there is no way that I believe this individual should be confirmed to this office.”

Shields tried to emphasize that he didn’t want to blame all Democrats for partisanship.

“I also will say this. There are my former colleagues of the other party that we have confirmed and I just want to be clear it is not just by whatever letter they put in front of their name,” Shields said.

While Crowell’s initial comments focused on Smith, he made clear that his opposition was to Ransdall as well. Crowell reminded the senators that Missouri governors cannot make appointments to boards requiring state senate confirmation without first making sure their local senator will sponsor them. According to Crowell, former Speaker of the House Jim Kreider, a Democrat from a heavily Republican region of southwest Missouri, couldn’t obtain the sponsorship of his senator.

“Make no mistake, the next person we are going to speak about, Billy Ransdall, Jim Kreider wanted his slot. Jim Kreider couldn’t get his sponsor,” Crowell said. “It doesn’t really matter where it occurs, sometimes it occurs in committee, sometimes it occurs with the sponsoring senator, sometimes it occurs on this board, but it happens.”

After Crowell’s speech and questioning of Smith’s fitness for office, the senators moved into an extended introduction and presentation of awards to long-serving Missouri dentists. When the senators moved back to the governor’s appointments of Smith and Ransdall, Crowell asked Sen. Kevin Engler, a Republican from St. Francois County and former mayor of Farmington who served one term in the House of Representatives and works as an Edward Jones investment representative, for his opinions of the two nominees.

“It’s my understanding that you have serious concerns about this nominee (Smith) and the one that’s on this desk to be nominated (Ransdall). Is that correct?” Crowell asked.

“I do have serious concerns,” Engler replied. “I don’t take this lightly and I do not take this without sincere thought on what is in the best interest of the state of Missouri, not what’s in the best interest of a former politician with political connections to get the nomination, but what is in the best interest of the state of Missouri, the temperament. And it’s my belief, and I’m not sure, I did not have the chance to research this, but it’s my belief that this individual ran for judicial office in his own home district and lost, so even the people that were there, if that’s true, if my memory serves correct, weighed him as a judicial officer and found him wanting.”

After Crowell’s extended criticism of Smith, Shields asked the senators to end the questioning on the state senate floor to give those involved the opportunity to settle the issue elsewhere.

“I know you have serious concerns, and I have no desire, and I believe that you have no desire, to spend a long period of time maybe elaborating on the faults of the possible nominees, that it would be better that if something possibly could be worked out with the governor and the nominee to get that done,” Shields said. “In the absence of working something out, then I think that the writing is on the wall and it won’t happen.”

As requested, Shoemyer withdrew his nomination of Smith and Barnitz did not nominate Ransdall.

“If something can be worked out, great, we’re all for it and bring it back, and if not, let’s not sit here for hours and talk about people or re-votes or whatever,” Shields said. “Let’s get on with business and go on.”

It’s not clear what will happen next with Smith or Ransdall. Even though they received a majority recommendation by the committee reviewing gubernatorial appointments, if the state senators don’t act, their nominations will die without a vote. Any senator, including Crowell, could also filibuster against a nominee and obtaining the large majority needed to break a filibuster by a Republican would be unlikely in a Republican-controlled chamber.

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