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Battle of Sexes in House

November 29, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A "battle of the sexes" may be shaping up among House Democrats in the race to replace Democratic Floor Leader Bob Ward, D-Bonne Terre.

At least that's the suggestion voiced by the assistant majority floor leader, who wants the job.

"Because a man was elected speaker, they are going to elect a woman floor leader," Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, said Wednesday.

Crump is among three Democrats who have announced they will seek the job that Ward announced he was giving up because of health reasons.

The other candidates vying for the House's second most powerful position are Rep. Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield, and Rep. Gary Witt, D-Platte City.

Because a woman has never held one of the House's top two posts, Crump expressed concern that the election will be based on gender rather than merit.

"I don't know if views are as big an issue as sex right now," he said.

While Witt said gender plays some role in any election, he said he believes the body is interested in electing the most qualified person who can bring the floor leader position to its full potential.

"The Democratic Caucus needs someone who can defend its position, take on the Republicans and be more involved - not just a traffic cop," he said.

Rep. Sheila Lumpe, D-University City, who narrowly lost the speaker's race to Rep. Sam Leake, D-Laddonia, said she has decided not to run. Instead, she said she will support Backer.

"We need more women in leadership positions and Gracia is an excellent person for the job," she said.

Last year, Ward suffered a stroke after he underwent coronary bypass surgery. Ward served as majority leader for the past five years and as a House member since 1982.

"Bob will always be remembered as an effective and fair floor leader," Leake said.

The majority leader is the second most powerful position in the House. He controls the chamber's day-to-day flow of business.

Unlike the speaker, who is elected by the full House, the floor leader is elected by his party's caucus.

No date has been set for a caucus of the Democrats to elect their floor leader.