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No Volunteers to Quit

August 21, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Democratic leaders said they are not seeking early resignations from a few Senate Democrats in an effort to retain control of Missouri's senate in the early months of 2001.

Though it seems strange, early Democratic resignations might be necessary to assure Democratic control in the upper chamber in January and Feburary.

It's that issue that's dominated discussions in the hallways of the Capitol.

The buzz surrounds multiple scenarios, any one of which could evolve depending on who wins crucial elections this November. With the partisan make-up currently 18-16 Democratic and four senators seeking higher office, a small number of empty seats could likely lead to more severe stagnation than the 2000 session, a term when fewer bills passed than any session in memory.

One likely scenario has the GOP claiming tenuous control of the upper chamber for the first time in decades.

Three Democratic senators--each in the middle of their terms--are seeking higher office. If elected, they will have to resign their Senate seats, leaving the Senate 16-15 in favor of the GOP.

When the Senate convenes in early January, the Republicans could then elect a president pro tem and floor leaders--crucial offices that control the chamber's agenda--but they would lack the necessary 18 votes needed to pass legislation.

The governor would call special elections to fill the empty seats, but by law they couldn't be held until at least 10 weeks after the member resigns.

If the Democrats retake the empty seats, they would reclaim the majority. But the pro tem, the Senate's most powerful position, would still be a Republican unless Democrats could find a parliamentary way to undo the leadership election. Can you spell gridlock?

The timing of the resignation could be key.

One of the three Democrats in question is Sen. Bill Clay, D-St. Louis. Having won the primary, Clay is a virtual shoe-in for Congress in a Democrat-dominated district. If he was to resign now, a replacement could be on the ballot in November.

But Clay said he'll wait at least until after the election to decide when to retire.

"No one sets the timetable but the voters," he said.

The Missouri Democratic Party said they are focusing on the races, but have thought about the possibilities.

The Executive Director, Roy Temple, said the party would explore the timing of resignations after the elections, but no talks have taken place yet.

"We want to make sure we don't needlessly jeopardize the majority," Temple said. "We'll make sure as we get closer and see the potential outcomes that we explore our options."

Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, is running for lieutenant governor. He said if he wins he will resign the "next day" after the election. A November resignation would permit, at the earliest, a mid-January special election in his district.

The other Democrat, Sen. Ted House, of St. Charles, said he hasn't really thought about when he would resign, but he has considered the scenarios.

"I have thought about the various possibilities, but it's really speculative at this point," House said.

Other possibilities loom. Sen. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, is also running for Congress. He faces a tough race against the son of retiring U.S. Rep. Pat Danner, D-Mo., but if he wins he too would have to resign. His exit, if the three Senate Democrats win their elections, would lock the Senate at 15-15, giving the lieutenant governor, Maxwell, the deciding vote for pro tem.

Interestingly, a Maxwell loss to his GOP counterpart Wendell Bailey, could help his party retain a majority vote in the Senate.

The permutations are enormous, said Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, the current pro tem.

"We'll deal with it when the time comes," he said. "There's no point in speculating."