GOP veto-proof supermajority in Mo. House could be in danger

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A veto-proof supermajority in the Missouri House of Representatives, celebrated by Republicans as they kicked off the 2013 legislative session last week, could slip away under several possible scenarios.

Tim Jones

Retaining the supermajority can happen only if Republicans are able to hold onto their 109 seats in the 163-member House. It's a number being watched closely by House Speaker Tim Jones as the Republican agenda for the session includes cutting taxes, tort and tax-credit reform and changes to teacher evaluations.

Several pieces of legislation -- such as right-to-work bills and a bill that would change the process for filling vacancies in statewide offices by requiring the governor to call a special election after appointing a temporary officeholder -- would need every Republican vote for a veto override.

Supermajorities also can change tax rates, put constitutional amendments on the ballot, rewrite legislative rules and establish a quorum for business without any participation by the opposing party.

The first strike to the supermajority could come through gubernatorial appointment of House members to state boards and commissions -- although the appointments must be approved by a Senate committee.

"I'm asking members that, if they receive a call from Jay Nixon, to make the second call to me before any decision is made, so we can work through the process together," Jones said at a news conference marking the opening day of the session last week. He responded to questions asking if he is concerned about the supermajority.

Jones criticized Nixon for what he called an "unprecedented" number of openings on state boards and commissions, which Jones perceives as an attempt by the governor to "play political games," during his second term.

The governor's spokesman, Scott Holste, said he could not speak to the accusation by Republicans. Holste said the boards and commissions keep the number of members they need to function, and there is no particular schedule the appointments follow.

"There is certainly no shortage of work to be done," he said.

Don Ruzicka, R-Mount Vernon, was the most recent Republican House member to be appointed to a state board by Nixon. House members are replaced through special elections, opening the door for Democrats to make a run at these seats. Appointments to better-paying positions -- such as for circuit judges -- for House members also are a concern for Republicans who want to retain the supermajority.

Claim on one House district is still up in the air while an election snafu is worked out in court. Kent Hampton, R-Malden, was seated in the House last week, but his opponent in the November general election, Democrat Tom Todd, is challenging the outcome of the contest. Some voters who live in a neighboring district were given wrong ballots and vice versa.

Jason Smith
Todd Richardson

Another threat to the supermajority exists because of the jockeying for a nomination from a congressional committee to replace U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in the 8th Congressional District. Emerson, who was re-elected in November, plans to resign to take a job as director of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith is a potential nominee, as is state Rep. Todd Richardson.

Ed Martin, newly-elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said the goal of Republicans is to "get the best person who can serve at whatever level."

Ed Martin

"We shouldn't try to be too calculating about that," he said. "We're so confident we can succeed in races -- whether they are a state rep or state Senate race or whether it's a congressional seat when people resign. We just want to get the best people we possibly can."

There seems to be only a small threat from the upcoming 8th District vacancy to the Republican majority in the Senate: Republicans hold 24 of 34 Senate seats. Two of the party's state senators, Wayne Wallingford and Dan Brown, have expressed interest.

Scott R. Clark, a member of the congressional committee that will select a Republican to run for the 8th District seat, said the gap that could be created by state lawmakers will be a consideration of the committee.

"I am looking at every thread and every scenario of what happens if 'then,' and 'then this' and 'then that,'" he said. "But, at the same time, I think that is applicable to any individual who is running."

Clark said that during the nomination process he will be looking at "what makes sense for the overall picture. And it's also about the issues, and where people stand on particular issues that are important to me, and as well as those issues that are important to voters in the 8th District."

Some House Democrats claim not to be concerned with the Republicans' supermajority.

"The idea that Republicans can do anything because of their veto-proof majorities is rather overblown," said House Minority Whip John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, on Thursday in a news release outlining the Democrats' agenda. "Republicans hold just two more legislative seats in the current General Assembly than they did in the last General Assembly," the release said.

Because of GOP infighting, the last legislative session "was the least productive in memory," the release continued. I don't know that two more Republican lawmakers will change things much."

One seat in the House considered vacant is that of Ruzicka. The other belonged to a Democrat, Chris Carter, who left the 76th District to run for a seat on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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