Jefferson City, MO – Last week, the big news out of Jefferson City was the surprise election of Ron Richard as Majority Leader. This week, the fallout began with rumors swirling around the upper chamber about how the Majority Leader’s race unfolded and how it will affect the upcoming session.
Earlier in the year Senator Richard announced he was challenging Senator Mike Parson for Majority Leader, with both making large donations to their colleagues and candidates. However, by the end of the legislative session, Richard had dropped his bid and Parson seemed all but assured of victory.
Then two things happened: the August primary saw all three key Republican races break in Richard’s favor, and Senator Lamping decided to grab the bull by the horns and radically change the landscape of the General Assembly. The Republicans had three competitive primaries: the 27th, the 33rd and the 31st. In the 21st, Richard’s ally Ed Emery defeated Parson’s ally Scott Largent, adjusting the total by two. In the 27th, Parson attended an agriculture event for his longtime ally Ellen Brandom, and refused to allow eventual primary winner Rep. Wayne Wallingford to speak, again his victory most likely changing the tally by two.
In the 33rd, Mike Cunningham, a close ally and former chief-of-staff to Richard’s friend Senator Jay Wasson, pulled off what many considered an upset in a three way primary over Rep. Ward Franz, again taking a sure Parson vote and moving it into Richard’s column. “I always enjoyed working with Ron, but Mike and I shared an office complex one session, and he is of my best friends. I would have been a vote for Mike had I won”, said outgoing Representative Ward Franz.
According to several sources close to the situation, after Richard withdrew, Senator Brad Lager initially attempted to rally support to take on Parson, but could only muster between 3 to 5 votes. After his failure, senators close to the situation confirm that Senator Lamping was the strategist behind putting together a tightly organized, very quiet, and ultimately successful campaign to elect Senator Richard. This was a move that caught most Senate observers by complete surprise.
“I have to be honest with you, there were some things that happened last session that made me just throw my arms up and wonder what the hell are these people thinking. I have decided that if I am going to be in public service I am going to do everything I can to straighten out what has become a dysfunctional body. Along with several other Senators, we felt that although Mike is a terrific Senator, Ron had the skills to do a great job and decided to fully engage”, said Senator Lamping.
Richard, who was nominated by Senator Brown, when asked why he felt he was elected commented, “I was proud to be elected and will do my best, I believe that the members felt I could do a good job. Other than that you will have to ask them”.
Last week a story in the Post-Dispatch by Virginia Young advanced the theory that Richard was elected to limit the influence of former House Speaker Steve Tilley in the upper chamber. Senator Richard commented, “I have always gotten along very good with Steve, and think very highly of him so I don’t know, but you will have to ask the other members”.
Not all members of the Republican caucus agreed. Senator Scott Rupp commented, “I believe that some Senators were interested in limiting any outside interests that could limit the productivity of the Senate. Most importantly this race is done and over and we are all on the same page moving forward”.
Newly elected Senator Gary Romine felt that any former legislator or lobbyist were immaterial in the vote, “I have known Steve Tilley for some time and have enjoyed working with him and look forward to continuing to do so. I cannot imagine he played any role, positive or negative, in the election of our new Majority Leader”.
One rumor swirling around the capitol was that Senator Richard was Post-Dispatch reporter Virginia Young’s off-record source, which Richard denies, “I certainly was not the source for her story. I think a lot of Steve. I haven’t spoken with her about this at all”.
Another rumor was that the election of Richard as Majority Leader would make it more difficult for bills supported by Tilley or his clients to pass through the Senate, “That is certainly not the case. We will continue to work together as we always have”. When contacted for comment Senator Parson declined to speculate on what led to his defeat stating, “I am really focused on moving forward”.
The leader, Senator Lamping, of the movement that elected Richard explained, “I think Steve Tilley will have a great deal of influence in his position as a lobbyist, especially in the House. I have had very limited exposure to working with him while he was Speaker, but they were positive experiences. My door is certainly open to him to help me better understand any issue”.
One newly elected Senator who supported Parson felt this was a plan by Senator Lamping to pave the way for him to be elected floor leader next session if Richard stumbles. The senator also felt that Lamping being the only senator quoted in Young’s article served to confirm his suspicion. When told about this theory Lamping replied, “I am being straightforward when I say that I honestly do not have the time to be in Senate leadership right now. I have a very full-time job here in St. Louis and being a father to 6 children keeps me very busy. Everyone in our caucus has specific talents and I am of the opinion that the people of my district honored me by allowing me to represent them in the Senate. I don’t feel that being in leadership is where I would be in the best position to help make the Senate productive again. We are also fortunate to have Senator Kehoe as Assistant Floor Leader, and further I don’t believe that Ron is going to stumble”.
Incoming President Pro Tem, Tom Dempsey, feels the race will not have an affect on the Republican’s veto proof majority. States Dempsey, “I really do not think there will be any ill feelings going into next year. In fact, Senator Parson sent out a letter to the caucus yesterday about the importance of moving on and working together to see the state move forward. I really do believe we are all on the same page”.
One Senator who entered the Senate with Lamping commented, “John has really engaged this fall. He is bringing up a wealth of ideas and even moved the post election caucus retreat to November and added another one in December”. “I just want to see this body shed its reputation from being a place where ideas die, to one where solutions are born. Maybe it’s my background in business, or my lack of one in elected office, but I really feel that we needed to change things. A group of us freshmen began meeting in June 2011 to try and discuss ideas and all get on the same page, and I believe that this election is over and its time for everyone in our caucus and the entire body get to work”, said Lamping.
Richard, who is a former Speaker of the House, concluded, “I think my experience in house leadership will help me better communicate and understand their concerns, and better work between the House and Senate. I am looking forward to a successful session and I consider our member’s success my success as well”.