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Speaker Race Back to Square One

January 09, 1996
By: Emily Goodin and Dana Coleman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Last November, the Democratic Caucus nominated Sam Leake, D-Laddonia, as their candidate for speaker.

Tuesday (Jan. 9), the caucus ended up with no nominee.

"I have offered at this point to step aside to see if someone else can put the votes together necessary to go out and win the speaker race," Leake said.

Leake made his announcement after it became apparent there was little immediate chance Leake could win support from the Legislative Black Caucus.

"There is no reason that we should support him," said Caucus Chair Paula Carter, D-St. Louis.

Democrats do not hold a large enough majority in the House to elect a speaker without support from black Democrats - as was demonstrated by Leake's failure Monday to win House approval when all but one of the black Democrats withheld their support.

Carter cited Leake's rural district and lack of support in the past for urban issues as reasons for the caucus opposition.

"Please understand he's from a different region in this state and there are things that he cannot do if he wants to maintain his seat as a state rep.," Carter said.

"We need somebody that's going to be sensitive to the areas we represent, to the plight of our people and to the fact that this House has historically excluded African Americans."

Asked if there was anything Leake could do to get the votes of the Black Caucus, Carter replied "I don't think so."

Carter said she had met with House Speaker Bob Griffin the night before to communicate the caucus position.

Up till Tuesday, Democratic leaders had expressed confusion about the position of the Black Caucus saying the group had not provided a list of specific demands.

It turned out, as Carter explained it, there were no demands for their support of Leake - rather, they simply would not support the Democratic nominee.

With Leake hitting a political brick wall, the Democrats went into yet another closed-door caucus to reopen the campaign for the Democratic nomination for speaker.

Griffin said there were four formal candidates seeking votes - Leake, Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield; Steve Gaw, D-Moberly; and Ron Auer, D-St. Louis.

But there is another Democrat waiting in the wings - Speaker Pro Tem Jim Barnes, D-Raytown.

Griffin says Barnes was unacceptable to the Democratic caucus. Barnes has been openly critical of Griffin's leadership and has been criticized for high absenteeism during the 1995 session.

But Carter said the Black Caucus could support Barnes. And Republicans argue Griffin simply should resign and let Barnes assume the duties of speaker.

Barnes met with the Democratic caucus briefly Tuesday afternoon. "I went in there and I told them what my intentions were and they needed to discuss that among themselves," Barnes told reporters after emerging from the caucus.

Those intentions, as Barnes listed them, would involve dramatic changes in the legislature - changing legislative rules, banning liquor in the Capital, restricting lobbyists gifts, hiring more blacks on legislative staff and replacing committee chairs with newer members.

"I told them that chairmanships would change," Barnes said.

"I asked them to think about those chairmen who are getting ready to retire to consider stepping down and putting a newer person in that chairmanship - somebody who's going to be running through the election cycle next year and would have the opportunity to gain some experience."

But some Democrats scoff at Barnes as a solution to leadership deadlock, accusing him of disloyalty to the party.

"The overwhelming majority of the caucus does not have confidence in him," said Griffin who also issued a warning: "I think that in the not too distant future, he probably would not be the speaker pro tem."

Barnes said he was asked to speak at the caucus by several Democrats include Rep. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.

Jacob was one of a growing number of Democrats expressing frustration at the schism in the Democratic party.

"Right now we are not a party. We are a group of people, who have let personal agendas get in the way. We have forgotten what we are here to do," Jacobs said.

Leake agrees that personal agendas are at the heart of the Democratic conflict.

"Some people in the Democratic caucus are putting their personal agendas ahead of the good of the Democratic party and the state of Missouri," Leake said.

Democrats caucused again in the evening as part of their process of, again, picking a speaker nominee. A formal caucus vote is scheduled for this morning with the full House reconvening in the afternoon - the fifth day a House vote has been scheduled on the speakership race.

In the meantime, bills continue to pile up awaiting assignment to committee by whomever becomes speaker. Without assignment to committee, no action can be taken on the legislation.