JEFFERSON CITY - Republicans took control of the Missouri Senate for the first time in more than 50 years after special elections held Wednesday.
The Republicans picked up two seats in the election, giving the party 18 seats, a concrete majority in the 34-member Senate and abolishing the power-sharing agreement that had dictated control of the upper house since the beginning of the legislative session.
"I am humbled and gratified to the people of Missouri," President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said outside his State Capitol office. "We have a lot to live up to."
Three districts held elections -- the Democratic-leaning 4th district in St. Louis City, the 12th district in the Republican-leaning northwestern part of the state, and the competitive 18th district in Mexico.
In the 18th district, Republican John Cauthorn, president of the Missouri Cattleman's Association, received 18,503 votes, or 54.2 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Secretary of State's office. His opponent, Rep. Robert Clayton, D-Hannibal, received 15,658 votes, or 45.8 percent.
The 18th district, formally represented by newly elected Lieutenant Governor Joe Maxwell, was the most competitive race, with both candidates raising and spending more than $300,000 to inundate voters with attack ads.
Rep. David Klindt, R-Bethany, won the 12th district seat, with 15,724 votes, 66.6 percent with 165 out of 186 precincts reporting. His opponent, Rep. Randall Relford, D-Cameron, received 7,901 votes, 33.4 percent.
In the 4th district, the Democrats picked up a seat when Rep. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, defeated Z. Dwight Billingsly, a Republican activist, 6,522 to 1,253 votes, a 67.8 percent margin of victory.
Surrounded by well-wishers bearing congratulatory cigars and champagne, Kinder spoke via telephone with national and state Republican officials and told reporters that he hopes to foster a conciliatory tone in the legislature.
The eight-year veteran lawmaker said he hopes to see "a relationship of mutual respect" between the parties "where we meet each other halfway" now that Republicans are in control.
"It's not about getting even now," Kinder stressed.
Despite the historic nature of the election, Kinder said observers should not expect much to change under the Republican regime.
"I think we've shown the way in how to try to approach doing the people's business," Kinder said, explaining that the Republican governing style was established in the past three weeks under the parties' power-sharing agreement.
That concord had both Kinder and Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, serving in the top post as President Pro Tem -- a compromise Kinder said should show the Republicans' good will toward the Democrats.
"There can only be one President Pro Tem and that was given up to the Democrats," Kinder said. "We didn't ask Sen. Quick to move out of his office."
The parties also equally divided the committees and committee chairmanships. Kinder said Wednesday night that reorganization of committees would be at the top of his agenda.
Kinder also said one of his first priorities would be to convene hearings on urban school districts in St. Louis City and Kansas City.
Meanwhile, other Republicans were focused on the politics of redistricting, a process that can help determine the distribution of political power for at least the next decade.
John Hancock, executive director of the state Republican Party, said he expected the Republicans to now be more involved in redrawing congressional districts, something he predicted would result in a "fairer" redistricting process.
Quick, the Democrat who plans to take over as Senate Minority leader, said the party will hold a caucus meeting to determine how to apportion minority leadership positions.
"I know the Democratic Party pulled the plug trying to win these races," Quick said. "But somewhere down the line, I guess maybe people really don't like to be prosperous."
Now a member of the Senate minority, Quick said the Republican majority would only last until November 2002 -- when half the Senate goes before the voters.
"This is just temporary, believe me," Quick said.