Dave Schatz hopes his achievements speak for themselves.
He sponsored the first gas tax increase since the early ‘90s that will infuse about $1.8 billion toward Missouri’s crumbling highways and roads and helped shepherd the passage of Missouri’s trigger law banning nearly all abortions. Even if Missourians may not know his name, they’ve likely felt the impacts of the policies he’s worked to pass.
It’s a record Schatz hopes will propel him to the front of the pack in a crowded 21-candidate Republican primary vying for retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat. Yet so far, despite dropping $2 million of his own money into the campaign, he has been mired in single digits in most public polls of the race.
He faces a bevy of notable names to contend with, with former Gov. Eric Greitens, U.S. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and U.S. Congressman Billy Long and Attorney General Eric Schmitt all in the fray.
This is the fifth in a series of profiles of the leading candidates for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat. See the rest of the series here.
But rather than wielding blow torches and flash grenades or flying down to Florida to visit Mar-a-Lago to chase former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, Schatz is trying to speak to a different sect of Missouri’s Republican voters.
“They’re not looking for someone to continue to set things on fire and increase the rhetoric and say all the red meat issues,” Schatz said of voters. “They want a common sense person that obviously solves things and is results over rhetoric.”
As a business owner, Schatz said he knows firsthand the challenges small business owners have faced amid the pandemic, from rising costs to a dearth of interested workers.
Casting himself as a candidate who will remain steadfast in both his personal values and that of the Republican Party, Schatz has modeled himself in former President Ronald Reagan’s likeness, who famously preached his 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”
But Schatz is no stranger to the hardscrabble underbelly of politics, having served in the Missouri legislature for 12 years, with four of those as the President Pro Tem of the Senate, where he often warred with the chamber’s conservative caucus.
Can a campaign touting the ideals of the 1980s resonate with voters of a modern Republican Party forged in the image of Trump? Schatz and his supporters are betting it can.
“There’s no question that if Dave goes to Washington D.C. as our next United States senator, number one, he’ll make us proud because I know he’s a good person,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said at a campaign event late last month.
Focusing on results
Schatz says he never intended to jump into the race. But once he surveyed the field of candidates running, he said there was no one who he felt embodied Missouri’s values.
“I have five wonderful children, eight grandkids with two on the way,” Schatz said. “I want to see them grow up in an America and experience the opportunities and freedoms that I have. And who better to represent them than me.”
A Sullivan native, before Schatz entered politics he worked with his family in utility contracting. After his uncle died of cancer and the company was sold, an opportunity arose through the bankruptcy process to repurchase the family business.
“We bought a bankrupt business and began the process of putting it back together and turning that around,” Schatz said. “I can tell you, it was no small order to do that.”
Managing over 100 employees, Schatz now serves as vice president of Schatz Underground Inc., which installs underground communication lines. In a government often dominated by lawyers, Schatz said his experience overseeing his family’s business means he feels firsthand the effects of workforce shortages and inflation’s increasing costs.
“All of the businesses are facing the same thing,” Schatz said. “They’ve got to make tough decisions in order to make sure that at the end of the day they can make payroll and continue to provide jobs and opportunity for the people they employ.”
Finding a means to an end also extends to Schatz’s time as a state lawmaker. The past legislative session that ended in May was one of the most dysfunctional in recent history, with GOP infighting causing legislative work to grind to a halt for weeks on end.
Senators adjourned for the year a day early after passing a redrawn Congressional map — making it the last state legislature in the country to do so as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process.
Rather than an indictment of Senate leadership’s handling of its members, Schatz said it exemplifies how leadership was able to accomplish its constitutional obligations, resulting in using rare procedural moves to overcome what had been roadblocks all session.
“They tried to advance their agenda, their obstructionist policies, and they weren’t very successful at it,” Schatz said of fellow Republican senators who repeatedly blocked a map’s passage. “Obviously, they were successful at wasting time.”
While his leading Republican opponents all earned the endorsement of Missouri Right to Life, the state’s most influential anti-abortion advocacy group, Schatz’s name was absent from the list released last week.
In state Senate races, Missouri Right to Life has thrown its support behind some challengers to GOP incumbents in the primaries, citing the fact that lawmakers voted against stripping funding for Planned Parenthood in state statute this past legislative session. Lawmakers did zero out funding for abortion providers and their affiliates in the state budget.
“I can promise you, my position hasn’t changed,” Schatz said at a Columbia campaign event last month. “I don’t know how I could go from being endorsed in four previous elections, to all of a sudden not being a pro-life person. So again, maybe there needs to be another change in leadership at Missouri Right to Life.”
Schatz can’t run again for state Senate due to term limits. Looking back on his time in the legislature, he said the quality he’s had to learn the most was patience.
“Sometimes it’s not popular,” Schatz said, “the things that you’ve got to do,”
‘Return to Reaganism’
Standing on the steps of the Missouri Capitol in late June, flanked by a handful of political consultants, senators and their staff, Schatz stood behind a podium to call out Greitens’ “blinding ambition and obsession with attention-grabbing, self-promoting stunts” and “politics of hate and division.”
The day prior in a new ad, Greitens and extras in body armor burst into a house with a battering ram and flash grenades as he promoted a hunting permit to go after “Republicans in Name Only,” or RINOs. Despite writing the ad off as humorous, Greitens quickly faced backlash.
In response, Schatz launched an offensive of his own, calling for a “Return to Reaganism” and a time “where we judge ideas by their merit and politicians by their records and conservative results, rather than their stunts and their gimmicks.”
Schatz, who was in the legislature during Greitens’ short tenure as governor, called on Greitens to drop out of the race, take down the ad and not produce any more.
“Reagan called for peace among Republicans. Greitens is calling for war,” Schatz said, later adding: “For the betterment of our state and country, and most importantly for his family, he should seek the help he so clearly needs.”
If Schatz is embracing a Reagan-era mantra, then Greitens is the antithesis, said Daniel Ponder, a political science professor and director of the Meador Center for Politics and Citizenship at Drury University in Springfield.
“It is literally the other side of the coin of Reagan’s 11th commandment,” Ponder said. “He’s flat out attacking Republicans.”
Schatz’s campaign echoes the same themes of Reagan’s famous, “It’s Morning Again in America” ad, Ponder said, in which the focus was on the economic progress that Reagan had achieved as president — with no mention of his opponent.
The release of Greitens’ ad has renewed prominent Republicans’ efforts to go on the offensive to ensure he does not receive the GOP nomination. Standing beside Schatz at a campaign stop in Columbia, Rowden said candidates like Schatz whose positions have remained steadfast, would be able to push back on issues created by President Joe Biden’s policies, rather than Greitens who Rowden said will “continue to just stoke chaos.”
“If myself or anybody else are ‘Republicans in Name Only,’ that has to make Eric Greitens closer to Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan,” Rowden said, referring to Greitens previously identifying as a Democratic. “This man has no principles. He has no moral compass. He has no political compass, other than his own agenda.”
Schatz said if elected to the U.S. Senate, he’ll focus on delivering solutions for Missouri like he did as a state senator.
That means pushing back on Biden’s stance on fossil fuels and petroleum to tackle skyrocketing gas prices, which squarely affect the majority of rural Americans for whom it may not be feasible to own electric vehicles, Schatz said.
“They’re going to have to embrace the fact that we’re always going to need this type of energy,” Schatz said. “And we need to be able to figure out ways to make sure that we can make it affordable for people and not put us in a situation we’re in right now.”
Deploying broadband into rural areas and bolstering investment in infrastructure is also an area where the federal government can step up, Schatz said. Despite facing criticism for implementing a gas tax last year, “bridges and roads don’t build themselves,” Schatz said.
In an interview last month, Schatz said he had not seen the specifics of the U.S. Senate gun control deal Blunt helped negotiate and could not speak to whether he would support it. Instead, Schatz pointed to challenges in addressing mental health issues.
“It’s not the weapons, folks, that cause these problems,” Schatz said. “It’s the heart of the person.”
While Schatz said he believes there are common sense solutions that can be found to make schools more safe while balancing 2nd Amendment rights, red flag laws concern him, because, “the devils in the details of that.”
“In a red flag situation, you’re basically saying someone is guilty and you’re taking away their rights without any due process,” Schatz said.
Schatz said he would be opposed to the federal government codifying Roe v. Wade into law to supersede states’ abortion restrictions. In Missouri, nearly all abortions are now illegal and there no exceptions for rape or incest.
Schatz said those limitations don’t need to be revisited.
“Every life is precious, regardless of how, and where it began,” Schatz said, later adding: “Two wrongs never make a right. And unfortunately, that child that may have came from that environment had no control over that.”
Meanwhile, access to contraceptives — which have been in the spotlight following the overturn of Roe v. Wade — should continue as “those are decisions for individuals,” Schatz said.
Schatz said when he thinks about future generations, he thinks about the debt burden placed on them and wonders when years of “irresponsible spending” will stop. He wants to serve in the Senate to preserve the country he grew up in for his grandchildren.
“I want to make sure that they have the same freedoms,” Schatz said.
This article by Tessa Weinberg is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.