JEFFERSON CITY - With the possibility of controlling Missouri's Senate for the first few weeks, Senate Republicans on Thursday selected some of their most conservative members to their top leadership team.
Republicans met for more than four hours behind closed doors to elect leaders and discuss how to handle the upcoming legislative session that begins Jan. 3.
With a 17-17 tie in the Senate and three seats to become vacant after senators move on to higher office, Republicans are guaranteed to have a 16-15 edge for the first weeks of the session until special elections can be held.
The Republicans nominated Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, for president pro tem with Sen. Bill Kinney, R-Lee's Summit, as floor leader. Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis, would be assistant floor leader. Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, was elected caucus chairman and Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-St. Louis, becomes secretary.
"We face a unique situation in the recent history of our state," Kinder said. "None of us was around the last time this happened, at least not anywhere near this building."
Kinder said the Republicans were looking to cooperate with the Democratic leadership in the Senate and with the administration of Gov.-elect Bob Holden.
"Bob Holden is my governor, and I'm looking forward to working with him," Kinney said.
Kinder said the most pressing issue was the special elections to fill the vacancies when Sens. Joe Maxwell, Lacy Clay and Sam Graves ascend to higher office. Maxwell was elected lieutenant governor, while Clay and Graves won seats in Congress.
"We hope the governor or the governor-elect will discharge their responsibility in an absolutely even-handed manner," Kinder said.
Once a senate vacancy occurs, it is up to the governor to call a special election or leave the seat vacant. The election would be on the 10th Tuesday after the governor calls the special election.
"It is our hope that these elections would be set at the same time," Kinder said.
Later Thursday, Maxwell said it didn't matter when he tendered his resignation from the Senate, but that he would issue a statement on Monday. He will be sworn in as lieutenant governor Jan. 8.
"We did some research and found out that it's irrelevant if I make a statement today, tommorrow or Monday," Maxwell said. "It's a 10-Tuesday thing."
The Republican leadership said they hoped the spirit of bipartisanship would take hold in January.
"Years ago when I served in the Missouri House, I promised myself that if I ever had the opportunity to lead, I would conduct myself in a more equitable and nonpartisan manner," Westfall said.
Kinder said the next move would be up to the Democrats.
"We can't enter into any discussions with them until we know their leaders," he said. "They know who they do business with on our side."
The Senate Democrats plan to convene their caucus early next week.
--Kate Miller contributed to this story.