Democrats disappointed on Republicans' big day

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Bill Caldwell looked on approvingly as Democrat Robin Carnahan was sworn in as secretary of state. But he couldn't bear to watch what happened next.

Caldwell, a leader of Buchanan County's Democratic committee, turned and left Monday before Republican Matt Blunt took the oath of office as governor.

Grumbled Caldwell: "I'm not over this election."

On a day when Republicans were proudly celebrating their victories, many Democrats voiced disappointment about their minority status in the Capitol. Blunt's inauguration marked the first time a Republican governor took office with a Republican-controlled House and Senate since 1921.

The state has moved from five to three Democratic statewide elected officials -- Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Attorney General Jay Nixon and State Auditor Claire McCaskill, who lost to Blunt in November but still has two years left in her term.

Carnahan told supporters that while some see it as a bad time for Democrats in Missouri, "I'm hopeful. I think what folks want in this state is people getting something done in government."

In an interview, she said she was focused on how to do her job, not on how Democrats fared at the polls.

"There are great opportunities to work with the new governor and legislature," she said. "The goals of this office are things we can agree on."

Some Democrats, while perhaps wishful for better times for their party, said they appreciated the meaning and ceremony of a governor's inauguration.

Celebration of democracy

"Inauguration Day, first and foremost, it's a celebration of democracy, a peaceful transition of power," said House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia. "[Democrats] are going to come down here and work for the people who work hard. The values and principles that guide us should be relevant whether we have the majority" or not.

Nixon said it was lonely on the stage at the inauguration ceremony and promised to work hard to turn the party around.

"I think being the senior elected Democrat gives me both a viewpoint and a perspective to lead," he said. "This is a party of very disparate issues and disparate constituencies. The Democrats will not win elections in the future in Missouri with narrow coalitions. We must broaden our coalitions."

Some Democratic lawmakers said their role at the Capitol is all the more meaningful now that they are even more of a minority. Republicans gained seven House seats for a 97-62 advantage with one vacancy, and three Senate seats for a 23-11 majority. Two resignations -- Republican Sen. Sarah Steelman left to become state treasurer and Democratic Sen. Steve Stoll took a job as the Festus city administrator -- have now dropped the Senate numbers to 22-10.

"It's probably more important for me to be here," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis. "The agenda of the folks in control is largely to not respond to the solid working people of Missouri who play by the rules."

Said Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, "You just try to get through the day and then really get to work. I'm sure I'm not quite as excited as [House Speaker] Rod Jetton and the Republicans. I'm just happy and proud to be here."

Caldwell said he will use Monday's inaugural as motivation.

"My wife steered me away from some Republicans I thought I might smack," he said at Carnahan's reception. "They've been so smug. I'll work even harder in '06 and '08."

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