Republicans warned of price of disunity

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The annual Lincoln Day dinner was a chance for Republicans to hear pep talks, warnings about the price of party disunity and to show their affection for a local lawmaker embroiled in a public feud with the top GOP leader in the Missouri House.

About 200 GOP faithful gathered at the Arena Building for the dinner sponsored by the Cape Girardeau County Republican Women's Club. Each of the state lawmakers representing the county was on hand, but it was Rep. Scott Lipke who received the warmest welcome.

As he was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, the crowd rose to applaud. They repeated the gesture when he had finished his speech. Lipke, a lawmaker serving his third term, was stripped of his committee chairmanship in January by House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, as punishment for including repeal of an unenforceable law against homosexual acts in last year's bill strengthening penalties for sexual predators. Jetton has said Lipke deceived his fellow lawmakers about the repeal.

"To say this session has been an eventful one is the understatement of the year," Lipke said. "The situation that occurred this year was difficult, not only for myself but also for my family."

Lipke has said he is considering a run for the Senate seat held by Sen. Jason Crowell, a close friend and political ally of Jetton. He didn't mention the Senate on Saturday, but he did say the 2008 election will be about leadership. "People want true leadership, they want to know where we are going and how we are going to get there," Lipke said. "We need to step up, each of us individually, and be true leaders in our lives."

Jetton, who has been a regular at past Lincoln Day gatherings, did not attend. He said a family commitment prevented his presence.

The evening's keynote speaker, Republican consultant John Hancock, warned against both a resurgent Democratic Party and problems that can arise from party bickering. The Democratic gains at the federal level, where the GOP lost both houses of Congress in 2006, can either be the first step toward party disaster or a wake-up call to work harder, he said.

America and Missouri have two paths, one that will lead to a Democratic president and a Democratic governor, with majorities in the legislature to back them up, Hancock said. Democrats believe they are on the verge of major gains, he added. "And they are right, they are absolutely right."

Instead of focusing on their political foes, Hancock said, "Republicans in Cape Girardeau County and in America are fighting among ourselves."

A unified party will mean low taxes and a strong commitment to conservative values, he said. "Folks, we cannot fight each other. Now is not the time for us to divide. If there are two Republican parties running against one Democratic Party, we are bound to lose."

The evening's speechmaking also included Gov. Matt Blunt and the other area lawmakers.

Blunt touted 80,000 additional jobs in Missouri -- "enough for a job for every man, woman and child in Cape Girardeau County" -- and his proposal to overhaul Medicaid, which he said shows his administration's "commitment to fixing a broken system."

Crowell told the crowd he is proud that the latest version of a higher education capital improvements measure includes $2.6 million for an autism diagnosis and treatment center that will "bring real autism services" to the area.

The evening also attracted Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons of Kirkwood. Barred by term limits from seeking another term, Gibbons is preparing a bid for attorney general to replace Democrat Jay Nixon, who will challenge Blunt for the governor's office. "I'm hitting the Lincoln Day circuit and testing the waters," said Gibbons, who was not invited to speak.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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