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Partisan Rift in House

January 08, 1997
By: Elizabeth McKinley and Angela Greiling
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The partisan discord that had plagued Missouri's House for the past two years reared its ugly head on the opening day of the 1997 session.

House members split on straight party lines on the first several votes taken by the House Wednesday.

Republican leaders, however, voiced hope for a more harmonious session than the past couple of years when partisan warfare had, at times, put the House into grid lock.

"There's an opportunity for some strong bipartisan cooperation," said Rep. Don Lograsso, assistant minority leader. "We certainly have extended that hand of cooperation over the years."

"We hope they will take that hand in the spirit it was offered and not slap it as they have in the past," said Lograsso, of Blue Springs.

But bi-partisan cooperation was not apparent when the House began voting on its officers.

For all three offices - temporary speaker, speaker and speaker pro tem - Republicans unsuccessfully challenged the Democrats' slate of candidates.

The Republican effort came the closest when the sole GOP black member was nominated for the post of speaker pro tem.

Although the GOP candidate - Rep. Carson Ross, R-Blue Springs - failed to win a single Democratic vote, a couple of black Democrats did not vote.

Last year, the post had been held by a black Democrat - the highest leadership position held by a black in state history.

But in November, Rep. Fletcher Daniels, D-Kansas City, was defeated by a rural white for renomination by the Democratic Caucus.

Immediately after House election of Rep. Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, Daniels rose to absolve his party of blame.

"For the community that I represent, I say to them it's not anybody's fault but mine that I'm not reelected Pro Tem," he said.

Daniels said he simply had failed to exert the effort needed to win. "I feel like we had a fair election, and I lost," Daniels said.

A short while later, partisan tensions again surfaced when the House began voting on resolutions to organize the House.

Republicans tried to impose a two-week time limit for temporary rules that Republicans argue grant too much power to the House speaker.

That effort was defeated on a straight party-line vote.

It was quite a different scene over at the Senate side.

There, Republicans declined the opportunity to challenge the Democratic candidate for Senate president pro tem - the chamber's top leader. In fact, every Republican senator voted for the Democratic candidate, Sen. Bill McKenna, Jefferson County.

Senate Republican Leader Steve Elhmann, R-St. Charles, said he thought bipartisan efforts in the Senate were possible.

"He's (McKenna) reasonable, not compulsive and can hear both sides of an argument. I'm hopeful we'll be able to work together," the St. Louis County Republican said.

McKenna emphasized tax cuts in his opening-session speech to the Senate.

"It would be hard to find a more popular issue than cutting taxes," McKenna said.

Repealing Missouri's sales tax on groceries will be the most noticeable change, he said.

McKenna said he sees managed care and welfare reform as other key issues for the 1997 legislative session. He also highlighted compensation for elected officials, an issue both chambers will address soon to meet the Feb. 1 decision deadline.

"We didn't ask for the money," McKenna said. "We really don't need any more salary."

The salary commission is currently discussing the issue, and there will be a hearing next week, McKenna said.

McKenna, who was elected unanimously to his first term as president pro tem, touted tradition as a Senate pillar and denounced constitutional term limits in his speech.

House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, cited many of the same issues in his chamber address, but stressed welfare reform and services for children.