Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster

The Republican party holds a veto-proof majority of seats in both houses of the Missouri state legislature, but they discovered this past week that “veto-proof” means you have to keep your whole caucus together. After weeks of criss-crossing the state, Democratic Governor Jay Nixon caused enough sanity to break out among the MO GOP that he turned back the attempts to override vetoes on two major GOP initiatives:

But in the end, [Gov. Nixon] was able to claim victory on the year’s two most high-profile issues — a $700 million tax cut and a bill aimed at criminalizing enforcement of federal gun laws.

Fifteen Republicans joined with every Democrat in the Missouri House to put the final nail in the coffin of a tax cut bill that many Republicans pointed to as the marquee achievement of the 2013 legislative session. The override came up 15 votes short of the two-thirds majority required.

And while the House mustered the two-thirds majority needed to override Nixon’s veto of the gun bill, it eventually died in the Senate.

And the MO GOP was not happy. Not happy at all. They’d been pushing these things and cheering about them ever since last November’s elections gave them that veto-proof majority, and discovering traitors in their midst did not make them happy campers.

Within minutes of losing their epic tax-cut battle with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon late Wednesday, Missouri Republicans throughout the party zeroed in on some new enemies: 15 of them, to be exact, all fellow Republicans.“FIFTEEN WORTHLESS REPUBLICAN OFFICE HOLDERS,” tweet-shouted St. Louis conservative radio host Dana Loesch, in a Twitter tirade shortly after 15 GOP members sided with Nixon to sustain his veto of a landmark tax-cut bill.

“Don’t give another dime to the MO GOP,” she implored her conservative audience. “Not another dime.”

Others across the right chimed in, deriding the 15 members for breaking ranks and vowing to see that they’re challenged in the 2014 primaries. Former Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden posted an online “Wall of Shame” with their names and photos. By Thursday, Republican House Speaker Tim Jones was publicly hinting that those among them with committee chairmanships could lose them.

No, they are not happy.

Oh, and did I mention that Tim Jones is making noises about running for state attorney general? Steve Kraske of the KC Star mentions it rather forcefully, and also the role this played in this past week’s drama in Jefferson City:

What a guy. Jones openly threatened members of his own caucus for casting votes in what everybody under the dome knew was a losing cause. On this bill — the pivotal piece of legislation of the 2013 session by far — Nixon built a coalition and wound up defeating the GOP supermajority on a foundational party issue.

Then on the radio, Jones sold himself as a rock-ribbed conservative, which will help him in what’s shaping up as a tough GOP primary. That’s how you win GOP primaries. You tack as far to the right as you can.

The speaker opted to do so on the backs of his fellow Republicans.

If you believe the hallway yak in the Missouri Capitol, Jones sought a vote on the tax bill only because the Missouri GOP’s leading benefactor, Rex Sinquefield, demanded it. Jones wanted to keep the rich guy happy more than he did his own colleagues, even though the speaker knew the vote was a loser.

It’s one thing if you lose a key vote because one person bails on you, or you have to make serious concessions to keep that one person in line. (Yes, I’m looking at Joe Lieberman. Why do you ask?) It’s something else indeed when 10 members who voted for the bill the first time around change their minds in an outbreak of sanity.

I’d say “pass the popcorn,” but this isn’t an intramural GOP fight without consequences for me and the rest of Missouri. The howling on this one won’t end, and the push for even harsher rightwing policies and laws will continue to grow as those who lost this week will be demanding the heads of any who break ranks next year. We in Missouri dodged a couple big bullets this week, thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of folks around the state and spearheaded by Jay Nixon, but the MO GOP are still firing their guns. These folks are still trying to fight the civil war in their efforts to nullify federal laws. Losing that fight, not to Teh Feds but to Jay Nixon, really hurts them, and really really makes them angry and out for revenge — if not against Nixon then against those who allied themselves with Nixon.

There’s one other character in this story that deserves mention: Missouri’s democratic attorney general Chris Koster. A couple of weeks ago, Koster was asked for a formal opinion of the gun bill, and he noted that it was so poorly written that it would prohibit state and local police from cooperating with federal law enforcement on investigations that have nothing to do with guns. This, along with police groups backing up Koster’s position, no doubt led some of these GOP members to switch their votes.

Two more things about Koster. Have I mentioned that he’s running for governor, to succeed Jay Nixon when he’s term-limited out? Koster is looking to make friends across the state, and the fact that he’s making inroads into the GOP ought to really worry Tim Jones. But what they really ought to worry about with Koster is that if the Missouri GOP beats up on the “Flimsy 15,” Koster might just invite those folks to do what he did back in 2007: leave the GOP entirely.

And when Koster did that, he did it with style:

Let us be clear as to their extremist agenda. The Republican desire is to criminalize early stage stem cell research in our state. The very same Harvard scientists celebrated throughout the world for their potentially life-saving research would, within the borders of Missouri, be imprisoned for fifteen years for conducting the identical laboratory work. Researchers actively recruited by the States of Kansas, Massachusetts, Illinois or California would be prosecuted and imprisoned here at home. Go to Boston for your Nobel Prize; come to Missouri for your leg irons. And the Missouri Republican Party not only tolerates this lunacy, but embraces it.

Their far-right crusade has infected everything, from the life-saving research itself, to economic development in our state, to the sale of the MOHELA assets, to the larger debate over abortion, to the nomination of curators and high governmental appointees, to the reform of our State’s Medicaid system.

I cannot in good conscience remain in Republican ranks and pretend that attempting to modulate extremist priorities is enough. Faced with such stakes, there is no compromising left to be done . . .

Koster’s letter came back to me this week, and I’m wondering how many similar letters might be drafted in the coming weeks, when the GOP bloodletting really gets going.