Legislative leaders look to move up

Sunday, January 11, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- During the entire 20th century, Republicans spent just six years in charge of the Missouri Senate.

"Any team can have a bad century," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, citing conservative columnist and baseball aficionado George Will's line about the historically hapless Chicago Cubs.

As he enters his fourth and final year as Senate leader, Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, says one legacy of his tenure will be his role in building and maintaining Republican control of the chamber.

"We now have a working majority and one I believe will be sustained over much, if not all, of the next decade," Kinder said.

While the GOP Senate takeover in 2001 boosted Kinder's political profile, Southeast Missouri picked up additional legislative clout when Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives. Joining Kinder in ranks of top legislative leaders in 2003 were House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, and House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

After this year, however, all three lawmakers will leave those leadership posts.

Kinder, who is term-limited, is running for lieutenant governor while Crowell hopes to replace Kinder in the Senate.

Jetton will run for a third term as state representative and is poised to move up from the No. 2 post he now holds to become the next House speaker, the first from Southeast Missouri in 70 years.

Tough budget years

With the state mired in budget difficulties in recent times, Kinder joked that Republicans could have timed their legislative takeover better after spending decades in the wilderness as the minority party.

"We have faced, and I believe worked through, three of the toughest budget years in the last 75 years of our state," Kinder said. "We've done our best and I believe you can have a worse legacy than that."

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said the long-standing Senate tradition of collegiality has been replaced with hostility under Kinder's leadership.

"When people are shut out, it is very difficult to achieve proper public policy and represent all of the people of the state," Jacob said. "I saw it happen on the Democratic side when I was in the House. I didn't like it then; I don't like it now."

Jacob is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor against former Secretary of State Bekki Cook of Cape Girardeau. Kinder said the fact that he and Jacob are both eyeing the same political office shouldn't elevate the rancor of Senate debate. However, Jacob said he will make an issue of what he perceives as Kinder's abuses of authority.

Kinder has admitted some mistakes, such as attempting to force through sweeping Senate rule changes without Democratic input during his first year as pro tem.

"I would listen more and try to empathize with fellow senators more," Kinder said. "I'm striving to do that each and every day in this last of my 12 sessions."

Crowell, who as majority leader is the No. 3 ranking House member, has also drawn criticism for using his power to shut Democrats out of debate. He said he'll endeavor to take a more conciliatory approach this year.

"I know one thing for certain in this world, and that is that I don't know everything," Crowell said.

With 163 members, House debate could drag on endlessly on controversial matters if the chamber's rules didn't allow for forced closure. Crowell makes no apologies for employing those rules if necessary to keep the chamber on track.

"When it comes to completing the mission, I'll do whatever it takes," Crowell said.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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