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Gender battle erupts in Missouri Legislative Black Caucus

November 14, 2000
By: Kate Miller
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A gender-related battle has been sparked in the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus -- the organization of black legislators.

Less than a week after Democratic women captured every office in the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, all but two male members have left in protest.

Several resigning members complain that former vice-chairman Rep. Carson Ross was denied the chairmanship, they argue, because he is a Republican.

The members base their arguement on the caucus' longstanding tradition to rotate the chairmanship between St. Louis and Kansas City, with the chairman and vice chairman from different cities. Rep. Quincy Troupe, D-St. Louis, has been a member of the caucus for 22 years and said the position has always rotated during his tenure, with the vice chairman always becoming chairman.

Members voted last Wednesday to end this tradition by electing another St. Louis member, Rep. Amber Boykins, as chairman. Boykins previously served as secretary and did not return phone calls.

"The flag has to go up if I'm the vice chairman from Kansas City and its Kansas City's time and yet I'm ignored. The question is 'Is it because I'm the only Republican member?'" Ross said. "If the only Republican member resigns than its no longer a bipartisan caucus is it? It's a Democratic caucus."

Troupe agreed that partisanship was a culprit.

"We are in bondage to the Democratic Party. So much so that we couldn't accept a Republican chairman who had been in the caucus longer than any of them (female members) had been in the House," he said.

Troupe indicated that the inexperience of the remaining caucus members could become a problem. Ross has more than a decade and Troupe has more than two decades of legislative experience. Rep. Louis Ford, D-St. Louis, who also plans to resign, has 18. Troupe said almost all of the female members, including the officers, were either newly elected or had served just one term.

When the elections were held last Wednesday, women held a 11-6 majority by in the caucus. With the resignations or impending resignations of Ross, Troupe and Ford, along with the vacated seat of Sen. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, the women now outnumber the men 11-2.

Troupe said gender was never an issue within the caucus until the last four years. He said that back when the caucus was 90 percent male and 10 percent female, women still held 50 percent of the power, which sometimes included the chairmanship.

Ross, who was the MLBC's only Republican, announced his recognition on Monday, suggesting that the caucus should consider changing its name to Missouri Legislative Black Democrat Female Caucus. Troupe and Ford said they were drafting letters of resignation.

At least one female member, Rep. Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City, is trying to rectify the situation. Wilson was present during the elections, but said she didn't intend for males to be excluded.

"I was a little put out with myself that morning, when I realized how insensitive it was on my part not to nominate a gentlemen or recognize that we were all female," she said.

Wilson later offered to give up her position as treasurer-elect if a male member would accept it.

Upon hearing of the resignations Wilson said she was disappointed.

"We need that guidance and that leadership," she said.