Term-limited representatives focus on state Senate

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- It is said around the Capitol that what every state representative wants most is to be a senator.

Prior to legislative term limits, a representative with senatorial aspirations might bide his or her time in the House for decades before getting the chance to jump to the upper chamber. But in this age of term limits, the best opportunity for many to make the move will be next year.

So far, 32 sitting representatives have formed campaign committees in preparation for possible runs for the Senate. With 75 incumbents ineligible for re-election to the House, the number looking to continue their legislative careers in the Senate promises to increase by the time the filing period for state office opens in late February.

Since only 17 of the Senate's 34 seats will be on the 2002 ballot, the large number pf representatives seeking to change chambers guarantees numerous contests between House colleagues in both the August party primaries and the November general elections.

Starting in the House and moving to the Senate has always been a common political progression. Of the senators who served in the 2001 legislative session, 22 -- nearly two-thirds -- had experience in the House.

However, next year's attempted mass migration will be unprecedented, though an anticipated byproduct of term limits.

"A lot of experienced folks are suddenly out of a place to go and are looking to move up," said Mike Kelley, executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party.

Missouri voters adopted the limits in 1992, capping an individual's length of service at eight years in each chamber. However, terms won that year or before didn't count against the limit, making 2002 the year of mass exodus for veteran legislators.

Of the 17 Senate seats on the ballot next year, 12 are held by incumbents being forced out by term limits.

Those open seats so far have attracted the most attention from House members, with as many as three vying for the same seat in some cases.

However, one incumbent running again -- state Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis -- already looks to be facing a primary challenge from two term-limited House Democrats. Two Senate GOP incumbents face possible challenges from House Democrats in the general election.

In the lone Senate race slated for next year in Southeast Missouri, state Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville, will seek to replace his cousin, state Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence. Staples is term limited.

Other House members could decide to run for the Senate once they have a firm idea of the district in which they would be running. A panel of judges is working on Senate and House redistricting, a process they must complete by Dec. 28.

Redistricting could also convince some of those who have already formed senatorial committees that a campaign next year isn't viable.

Scott Baker, a Missouri Republican Party spokesman, said the high number of experienced lawmakers running for the Senate will offer voters plenty of quality choices.

"When you get a couple of good candidates fighting each other in a primary, in the end it's the voters who win," Baker said.

Both Baker and Kelley said their parties won't take sides in contested primaries but will strongly support their nominees in the general elections.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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