Missouri House Speaker-to-be Jon Patterson took unusual pathway to power
Missouri House Majority Leader Jon Patterson is surprised he’s on the verge of becoming speaker in 2025.
The Lee’s Summit Republican already had an unusual route into Missouri politics, as he spent his professional career as a surgeon before winning election to his suburban Kansas City House seat in 2018. He also managed to climb the chamber’s hierarchy, becoming speaker-elect earlier this year.
“I never thought in a million years that I would be the speaker,” Patterson said. “I just wanted to go there and learn the process, and try to get some things accomplished.”
During an appearance on The Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air, Patterson went into depth about his political philosophy, how he’s dealt with controversial issues and his plans to manage a caucus that often possesses divergent views.
Patterson was interviewed before the Missouri Independent published a story about current House Speaker Dean Plocher’s expense reimbursements. The publication detailed how Plocher received reimbursements for travel expenses that had already been paid for by the Des Peres Republican’s campaign.
Plocher has chalked up the situation to administrative mistakes and pushed back against some Republicans who are calling on him to step down.
Patterson said in a statement that the House Ethics Committee has a “process in place to review these matters and ensure that Missourians can have confidence in the integrity of the General Assembly.”
“Upon the conclusion of their work, we will review and act upon their recommendations just as we have previously with similar matters,” Patterson said.
The power of the speaker
As former state Sen. Jeff Smith remarked during a 2015 episode of the Politically Speaking podcast, “nothing a speaker of the House does not want to become law becomes law.”
When asked how he’ll approach a job that often brings scrutiny and criticism, Patterson said he’d lead much like being the chief resident of a hospital. And he added that a former legislative colleague, Independence Mayor Rory Rowland, recently told him “someone once said that a man would rather have his story heard than his wish granted.”
“And so I think in those kinds of positions, you do a lot of listening,” Patterson said. “I think anytime you're given positions of authority, you have to have people that are willing to tell you things that you don't want to hear. And I think when you lose that — that's when people in power kind of go off track.”
Patterson’s ascent to leadership is also unusual because he’s taken policy positions that diverge from the rest of his caucus. He was one of several GOP legislators who voted against barring transgender minors from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapy.
“Anytime you have the state come in and tell parents and kids what they can do in terms of medical treatment, I think that's very problematic,” he said. “I would like to have seen that we make counseling mandatory and have certain restrictions. And then I would have liked to have it been studied. Because when you're looking at medical procedures and treatments, you need data. And so we would have been able to study it and then eventually come to a conclusion whether we think this is good or bad.
“But by banning it, we've just kind of sent these kids to other states, basically,” he added.
As House majority leader, Patterson is in charge of putting legislation on the floor. But he added there was never a chance he was going to block the gender-affirming care ban for minors from a vote.
“When you go into leadership, you kind of set aside your personal priorities and bills,” Patterson said. “This was obviously a priority for 99% of our members. So there was never a point that I would have said, ‘we're not doing this.’”
When Patterson officially receives the speaker’s gavel, he will be the first person of Asian descent to ever hold the post. In fact, every single speaker of the Missouri House has been white — and only one, Catherine Hanaway, has been female.
“I do recognize that there have been a lot of people that have come before me that didn't have the opportunities I had because of their race,” Patterson said. “So I don't want to discount that at all. I think it's a great thing. I think if someone comes to the Capitol, like schoolkids and school groups, and they see someone on the dais that looks like them, and they're inspired by it, I think it's a great thing.”
According to the Pew Research Center, about 60% of Asian Americans are Democrats. Patterson said he fell into the 40% who identify as Republicans partly because of their less restrictive posture toward businesses.
He added, though, that he often gets into spirited discussions with his brother — whom Patterson described as an “ultraliberal Democrat.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.