Democrats look to future after tough legislative session

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As majority Republicans pushed through a legislative agenda focused on assisting businesses and reducing state services for the poor and disabled to balance Missouri's budget, Senate Minority Floor Leader Maida Coleman said Democratic lawmakers were resigned to the fact that there wasn't much they could do to stop it.

"We have to admit and realize that the Republicans control the House, the Senate and the Governor's Mansion," Coleman said. "At the end of the day, there is going to be a vote and they are going to win it."

Instead of engaging in obstructionism, Coleman, a Sikeston native who represents part of St. Louis city, said the Democratic strategy was to bring attention to the damage they believe Republican policies will cause with an eye toward building their numbers in the Missouri Legislature in future elections.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, said the legislative session that ended Friday marked a tremendous difference in tone in the Senate from the previous two years when Democratic leaders took a more hard-line approach to legislation they opposed. Gibbons gave Democrats credit this year for pushing their ideas while not trying to bring the legislative process to a standstill.

"They did an excellent job of articulating their position, fighting for what they thought was right and debating issues at times very vigorously," Gibbons said. "That's what the people of Missouri deserve."

Republican control

Republicans gained control of the Senate by one seat in 2001, and steadily built their majority over the next two election cycles. This year, the GOP controlled the chamber 23-11, with Democrats having their fewest members since at least Reconstruction.

In the House, which went Republican in 2003, the majority party ruled 98-64, with one vacancy. The number of House Democrats was at its lowest point since 1949.

By giving Republicans such wide legislative majorities and electing Gov. Matt Blunt, Gibbons said voters handed the GOP a mandate for a leaner government and a less restrictive entrepreneurial environment.

"We heard that; we acted on it; and we have made those changes," Gibbons said. "We have done it as well, as effectively and as aggressively as we were capable of doing."

Making it harder for injured Missourians to bring legal actions and collect financial damages, limiting protections for workers hurt on the job and cutting about 100,000 low-income people from Medicaid, however, isn't what voters had in mind when they handed the reins of power to Republicans, Coleman said. She anticipates the GOP will pay a price in next year's legislative elections as voters begin to feel the impact of the majority party's policies.

"It's going to be a very different situation, and there are going to be some big changes in the next campaign mode for the Republican Party when these terrible cuts start kicking in," Coleman said. "People are going to revolt."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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