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Democrats Still Split in House

January 4, 1996
By: Elizabeth McKinley and Angie Gaddy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - By the end of the first week of the Missouri legislature's 1996 session, House Republican leaders said they had secured enough votes to oust Bob Griffin as Missouri's House Speaker.

And, they say, they will file an ouster motion unless Griffin resigns by Monday afternoon.

Both the House Republican Leader and the Republican whip said several Democratic members had joined what they termed a bipartisan coalition to end the House leadership stalemate that has dominated the first two days of the 1996 session.

The Republicans refused to name their Democratic allies, but said there were enough Democratic supporters that the coalition had a majority in the House.

"I am confident that there is complete solidarity to the Republicans and more than enough reform-minded Democrats that we can get Griffin to step down," said House Republican Leader Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. "We have the power and right to remove him for any reason at any time we want."

Griffin had planned to leave the post on Wednesday, with election of the Democratic Caucus nominee as his successor.

Those plans fell apart when the Legislative Black Caucus joined five dissident Democrats in refusing to support the Democratic candidate.

Since the loss of those votes would have handed Republicans an effective majority in the House, Griffin has refused to allow a House vote on his successor.

Griffin told reporters Thursday afternoon he would remain as speaker until Democrats were able to unify - although he also said that at some point, if unity were not achieved, he might resign.

If Griffin were ousted, rather than replaced in a speaker election, Speaker Pro Tem Jim Barnes, D-Raytown, automatically would assume the powers of speaker.

"We have a speaker pro tem that could serve to the end of the session, technically, in the absence of the speaker," Richardson said.

Barnes frequently has called for some of the same type of changes in the House process that Republicans have sought. In general, those changes would dilute the power of the speaker and require stricter adherence to legislative rules.

Ironically, just the day before, Barnes had offered to give up his own post so his position could be used to satisfy Black Caucus demands for a House leadership position.

Barnes, however, added that any such action would have to be accompanied with the changes in the legislative process.

The idea of Barnes taking over as speaker was rejected flatly by Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia.

Harlan said the Democratic Caucus had decided it would not accept Barnes in that role.

The Columbia Democrat said there were two objections to Barnes - high absenteeism during the 1995 legislative session and campaign finance disclosure violations.

According to Harlan, Barnes missed 20 percent of the session votes and now is facing charges for not filing a campaign finance report.

However, Harlan predicted the Republican ouster effort would force a House speaker election - whether the Democrats are ready or not.

"We have to have elections. We can't have someone like Jim Barnes be speaker by default," he said.

For much of Thursday, Griffin and the Democratic speaker nominee, Sam Leake, met with various Democrats trying to line up votes.

Black Caucus members said no agreements were reached from their meeting with Leake. Caucus members said they were demanding more than just a stronger role in the House.

"The Black Caucus demands fair access to tax dollars," said Rep. Lloyd Daniel, D-Kansas City. "It's not just about black, women and leadership positions, but also the young."

Griffin eventually convened the House - but more than five hours late. And the only vote Griffin allowed was to record attendance so members could collect their $35 daily expense allowance.