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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 1, 2010

Several Senate Republican sources say the equivalent of drawing lots was used to select their choice for Senate president pro tem next year.

The caucus, meeting behind closed doors, resorted to a drawing after several votes produced a tie between the current Senate Republican leader -- Sen. Kevin Engler from Farmington -- and the Senate Appropriations Committee chair who won the drawing -- Sen. Rob Mayer from Dexter.

Engler told reporters after the caucus that part of the reason for his defeat was a desire by a more conservative caucus to take a more aggressive stance with Democrats on getting a conservative agenda pass.

Elected majority leader for Senate Republicans is Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, who held the GOP leadership job when he served in the House.

Senate Democrats re-elected their conservative floor leader to another two-year term, despite the defeat of two of their more conservative members in Tuesday's election.

Re-elected is Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, who openly describes himself as a conservative on some issues including abortion and gun rights.

In Tuesday's election, two rural moderate-to-conservative Democrats were defeated -- Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, and Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring.

House Democrats elected Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, to serve as their floor leader. Talboy said Missouri can expect a much more professional caucus this legislative session. Talboy also said that jobs are his main priority.

In Tuesday's election, Democrats lost the seats held by their retiring floor leader (Rep. Paul LeVota, D-Independence) and by their retiring assistant floor leader (Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence). The party's House whip -- Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart -- was defeated Tuesday for re-election.

Kevin Keith will be MoDOT's new director, the state Transportation Department announced Thursday.

Keith has been the department's interim director since April, when former director Pete Rahn left to work for an engineering company in New Mexico. Keith has been MoDOT's chief engineer for nine years.

"We have full confidence in his ability to tackle the significant transportation challenges Missouri faces in the coming years," Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Rudy Farber said.

MoDOT's budget for new construction will shrink to $500 million from $1.3 billion over the next five years, the department has said previously.

For a third month in a row, Missouri's budget office reports that state tax collections are on the upswing.

For the the first four months of the fiscal year (July through October), the budget office reports tax collections are running 3.6 percent ahead of the same four month period last year.

That is substantially above the 2.3 percent revenue growth the administration had projected in the summer when it trimmed the spending plan approved by the legislature.

Even with the positive news about tax collections, State Budget Director Linda Luebbering and the incoming House Budget Committee Chair Ryan Silvey warned that hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending will have to be cut next year because of the end of federal economic recovery funds for states.

House Republicans chose their floor leader -- Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville -- to be the new speaker of the Missouri House.

After a closed-door caucus, Tilley told reporters that bills that create jobs and economic development would be the top priority -- ahead of social conservative issue like abortion.

"We're not running away from those issues," the Perryville Republican said. "But the average voter is worried about economic development. They're worried about jobs. And I think you have to prioritize everything."

The caucus met the day after Missouri voters handed Republicans their largest number in the House since formation of the Republican Party.

The Republicans picked up House 17 seats, knocking off a ten Democratic incumbents and winning seven open seats previously held by Democrats.

A Republican tidal wave swept through Missouri Tuesday, giving Republican Roy Blunt a U.S. Senate seat, throwing out a Democratic incumbent state auditor, unseating a senior Democratic congressman and expanding GOP control of the state legislature by as many as 20 seats.

While published polls had indicated the GOP would retain Kit Bond's U.S. Senate seat, the magnitude of other Democrat defeats exceeded even their most optimistic predictions.

Republican Vicky Hartzler was leading in the race for the U.S. House seat held by the House Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skeleton. Incumbent Democratic State Auditor Susan Montee was trailing. And Republicans are on the verge of increasing their majority in the state General Assembly by more than a dozen seats.

Incumbent state auditor Susan Montee made no public appearance or concession at her watch party held at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City.

Instead, she finished watching the election results from her home on the TV.

Montee plans to call Schweich after all the results are in.

The Democratic candidate lost the race as a wave of Republican candidates were elected to office on Tuesday.

A little after 11 p.m., Schweich announced that he had done the math and it was "mathematically impossible" for him to lose.

"I have not yet heard from Ms. Montee, but it does appear impossible for me not to win this race," Schweich said.

Montee had not conceded when he gave his speech.

"There's a lot of history made across Missouri today," Schweich said. "I got to play my little part in it."

Schweich is a fresh face in the world of elected politics but with a background in auditing and investigations for the federal government.

Republicans have made major gains in Missouri's House and Senate.

By late Tuesday night, the have gained more than a dozen seats in the House and defeated at least two Democrats in the state Senate.

Among the Democrats defeated were two of the party's rural, more moderate members -- Sen. Wes Shoemeyer, D-Clarence, and Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring.

Both had identified themselves as rural alternatives to the party's more liberal, urban wing.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan officially conceded her campaign to Republican Roy Blunt on Tuesday night.

In front of fewer than 100 supporters at a posh downtown St. Louis hotel, Carnahan said, "We didn't win this election tonight."

Carnahan was introduced by both State Treasurer Clint Zwiefel and current U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. McCaskill complemented Carnahan's political prowess, calling her "one tough cookie."

Carnahan told her supporters to stay involved in the political process.

"Never, ever let the fire go out," she said.

Meanwhile, in downtown Springfield, Blunt claimed victory in front of about 500 cheering supporters. He blasted Washington, D.C., and President Obama, and called for getting Americans back to work.

Blunt voted Tuesday morning in Springfield, his hometown, and spent the day calling and thanking campaign volunteers. His family joined him on the stage for his victory speech.

In the wake of a neck and neck race, democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton fell to Republican opponent Vicky Hartzler. In a press conference at his hometown watch party, Skelton called his 34 year service to Mid-Missouri, the "political highlight of my life."

Hartzler spent most of Election Day in Jefferson City.

She voted at 5 p.m. in Cass County for every Republican candidate.

Hartzler's treasurer Delbert Scott is giving the crowd updates on the polls.

Vicky Hartzler campaign party held in Garden City, Missouri at a venue called "The Farm."

Early poll results show that Hartzler has the lead over Ike Skelton.

More than a hundred supporters gathered.

Last Week

Police have captured a man suspected in connection with 3 killings and 1 injury in Holts' Summit Wednesday, the AP reports.

23-year-old Joshua William Maylee was arrested by police Thursday in Cooper County, Mo.

Police officials have yet to release a comment.

At a conference on higher education Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced he would give $100,000 to public universities during the next fiscal year.

He said he hoped the money would promote student performance and enthusiasm.

Professors at the conference said they appreciated the Governor's effort and desire to help higher education.

But because the funding represents only a miniscule part of Missouri's $23 billion budget, they still referred to it as a "token gesture" and "a drop in the bucket."

As the election nears, Republican Senate Candidate Roy Blunt pledges to visit 50 cities in one week, ending on election day.

Blunt touts his campaign as a referendum on Washington, according to the AP.

Democratic opponent Robin Carnahan reportedly compared her campaign to Harry S. Truman's campaign over Thomas Dewey, and urged her supporters to recruit people on election day.

The AP reports Blunt is in the lead, as evidenced by numerous polls putting him as the front runner.

A group of ministers and priests in St. Louis spoke against Missouri's Proposition A Tuesday.

The inter-faith coalition said they worried the legislation would hurt Missouri's poor, the AP reports.

Proposition A makes voters in St. Louis and Kansas City decide whether to uphold an earnings tax every five years and prohibits any other county from instituting the tax.

Clare Harris of Camdenton has an armadillo problem.

For the past two years they have created foot-wide holes in her yard as they dug up tree roots, cables and pipes.

The creatures have even made it difficult for Harris to walk around. "I can't even walk to my propane tank without just about twisting my ankle, falling in a hole. I have to have a certain path in the front on the side where I walk," Harris said.

As armadillos adapted to cooler temperatures, they started coming into Missouri in 1970s to avoid starving. Now they are in mostly every Missouri county, state Conservation Department Spokesman Jim Low said.

Camdenton Police spokeswoman Chasity Hodges has been receiving armadillo complaints in her area. "There is definitely a problem. We are having several- lots and lots and lots of calls on this problem," Hodges said.

Despite that, MU Fisheries and Wildlife Professor Robert Pierce believes armadillos will not cause widespread destruction. "They're probably more of a nuisance rather than a real economic loss because most of the damage is pretty localized."

So localized, friends of Harris see armadillos walk down the street, avoiding neighbor's lawns and going right to hers.

Her neighbor's yards are damage-free, but Harris will have a tree only a few feet away from her neighbor's property cut down because armadillos killed it.

Armadillos first invaded Harris' lawn when construction started by her house shortly after she moved in a few years ago.

Since then, she has spent almost $400 trying everything she can. Grub, anti-insect killer, fences, and traps have failed to deter the armadillos. Unique attempts at spreading human hair and urine over her grass have likewise produced no positive results.

The damage is so extensive Harris can only mow a quarter of her yard. The rest she has to weed whack by hand, turning what used to be a 45 minute project into a four or five hour ordeal.

As a result, Harris is considering alternatives. "There might be parts of my yard that I may have graveled because I'm tired of dealing with them. Nobody, nobody wants to help."

Harris has reached out for help to animal control, the Department of Natural Resources, and a damage control biologist who tested her soil, put up cages, and fenced everything off, to no avail.

No one is offering help, with the exception of a select few like Hodges, Harris said, and she "would just like someone to give a crap."

Although some are not sympathetic to her situation, Harris keeps a positive mindset. "It's at the point now to where you either cry about it or you laugh about it, and I choose not to cry."

Susan Montee has been State Auditor for the past four years and says she feels confident about elections because she's bringing a lot to the table with her experience.

Montee has continued to run audits through her campaign trail because she says it's her job and the campaign shouldn't keep her from doing it. She says she's been burning the candle at both ends and when elections are over, she just wants to relax at home for a couple of days.

Montee expects voters will vote in a non-partisan way, come election day. She says state auditor isn't a political office where policy decisions are made and for that reason she thinks people will vote based on who's right for the office.

The Mid-Missouri Major Case Squad reported three dead and one injured after a shooter opened fire in Holts Summit.

The victims have been identified as 46-year-old Jeffrey J. Werdehausen, 48-year-old Eugene Allen Pinet, and 57-year-old Jackie Lee Pinet. Werdehausen's wife, 41-year-old Gina M. Werdehausen, was injured and remains at Columbia's University Hospital.

The suspect, Joshua William Maylee, is still at large.

Hospital Director of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, Dr. David Wilson says that they treat about six to seven hundred animals annually.

Wilson says the move to St. Louis is to make the trip to the vet easier for the pet owners in southern Illinois and eastern Missouri.

The Animal Cancer Care clinic will take the place of a vacant Wentzville building that was formerly a human oncology center.

Gov. Jay Nixon outlined his plan to spend Missouri's broadband money Tuesday in Jefferson City, and the plan involves a lot of government bureaucracy.

More than 80 rural counties in Missouri will see broadband expansion within the next few years, Nixon said at a broadband kickoff event.

The $200 million in federal funds will be used to create technology planning teams, which will work with a proposed statwide office to come up with the Internet expansion plan. Nixon said he wants an Internet "transformation" in the next few years.

About 51 percent of Missouri's registered voters will vote in the Nov. 2 general election, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan said Tuesday.

There are more than 4.1 million Missourians registered to vote, and 105,000 first-time registered voters for next week's election.

For the first time, the state will e-mail absentee ballots to military personnel stationed overseas. Local election officials will oversee the process, which is secure, said Laura Egerdal, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office.

The e-mail system will cut down on half the time it would take military personnel to submit an absentee ballot, Egerdal said.

Deer season is in full swing and officials are searching for techniques to reduce deer-vehicle collisions. One technique the public frequently requests is to put up deer crossing signs.

MoDot's John Miller says according to research, the signs aren't doing much to prevent collisions.

Missouri Department of Conservation's Lonnie Hansen says studies are in the works for new deer crossing signs. He says the signs flash when they detect an animal's presence. Hansen says the signs are being tested out west.

Email alerts will be sent to Missourians who register to see where sex offenders are located in relation to their homes as of October 22.

The notification of a sex offender moving or changing addresses will be sent to neighbors within 24 hours.

Public Information director of the Missouri Highway Patrol, Lt. John Hotz says more than 1000 people have signed up for the new system.

Three men are still on the run after escaping from a Pattonsburg, Mo. jail late Sunday evening.

Authorities are still searching for Carlos Sarmiento, Nicholas D. McCleary and Timothy J. Baudour.

The convicts escaped Daviess/Dekalb County Regional Jail around 8 pm last night by crawling underneath the perimeter fence.

Sarmiento is a convicted murderer, and is scheduled to be sentenced on November 19th. McCleary was originally in jail for a property damage conviction, but received additional charges after a previous attempted jail escape. Badour was convicted of assault. McCleary is from Rayville, Mo. and Badour is from Mexico, Mo.

The three men were last seen in orange jumpsuits, with no shoes. Sarmiento is Hispanic with a woman wearing a sombrero tattoed on his right arm. McCleary is white with two lightening bolts near his left eye. Badour is white with a Tigger tattoo on his right arm.

The jail is located near to two major highways, Interstate 35 and Interstate 29.

Authorities say these men should not be approached if they are seen.