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Republicans gain Senate majority, at least for a while

November 08, 2000
By: Suzanne Bessette and Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Republicans will hold the majority in the Missouri Senate for the first time in more than fifty years -- at least for a few weeks -- following Tuesday's election results.

Resignations by senators moving on to higher office will lead to a 16-15 GOP plurality for several of next session's early weeks.

"With the vacancies coming Jan. 3, I believe the Republicans will have the majority for a while," said Democratic leader Sen. Ronnie DePasco, D-Kansas City.

Some Republicans, who have long toiled in the minority, are sounding the tones of bipartisanship, but one Republican who hopes to lead the party in the Senate is singing a different tune.

"If we have a majority, we will do precisely the same amount of sharing, the Democrats did -- zero," said Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau.

Two senators, one from each party, won congressional seats, meaning they will have to resign the Senate on or before the Jan. 3 start of sessions both in Washington and Jefferson City.

That would put the Senate at a 16-16 tie during its organizational period when leaders and committee chairmanships are determined.

Normally the lieutenant govenror would break tie votes, but following the death of Gov. Mel Carnahan and subsequent promotion of Roger Wilson, the lieutenant govenor's office is vacant.

Some Republicans and the secretary of state's office question whether Gov. Roger Wilson can appoint a Democratic lieutenant governor. If so, Democrats could elect Senate leaders who control the flow of legislation in the chamber.

Although Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, won the lieutenant governor's race, he won't take that position until Jan. 8. After that, Republicans will hold a 16-15 edge, but they will be shy of the 18 votes needed to pass bills.

The three vacancies would be filled by special elections called at Wilson's descretion. The earliest those could be held would be late January, depending on when the departing senators choose to resign. It takes at least 10 weeks to hold a special election after one is called.

Maxwell said he will decide Thursday when he will resign. He said he was weighing an early resignation, which would allow his seat to be refilled earlier but give the GOP key chairmanships, versus a late resignation that would mean his seat would be vacant longer but prevent a GOP leadership sweep.

Also weighing in on Maxwell's decision are key Democratic senators who met Wednesday in the Capitol. Maxwell said he chose not to attend the meeting.

"The people in my district deserve to be heard first, before the power (Democratic leaders) weighs in on what they want me to do," Maxwell said. "I understand that my decision affects what a lot of people are going to do."

Sen. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, who won a congressional seat long held by his father, said he has not thought about when he would retire.

"I'm focused on being a congressman-elect," Clay said.

Sen. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, also won a congressional seat. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Maxwell, the Democratic caucus chairman, postponed Thursday's caucus meeting pending his decision. Parties use caucus meetings to designate their legislative leaders.

The complicated web of possible scenarios also cause some uncertainty within the Republican caucus as leadership candidates are not sure what position they are running for. After all, can a chamber without a clear majority party have a majority or minority leader.

State House Republicans and Democrats will hold Caucus meetings Thursday as well. Democrats retained their edge in that chamber, even gaining a seat when independent Denny Merideth, of Caruthersville, joined the party.

Columbia Rep. Tim Harlan is running for House Speaker against Merideth and Speaker Pro Tem Jim Kreider, D-Nixa.

"The numbers are close," Harlan said. "You have to be able to work with all the members of the Democratic caucus" to garner the nomination.

The party chooses who it wants to be speaker, generally considered the second most powerful position in state government, at the caucus, then the whole chamber votes. With an 86-77 majority, the Democratic caucus is all but assured the Speakership.

Lauren Shepherd contributed information to this report.