GOP legislature could be political plus for Holden

Friday, September 27, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden experienced the misfortune of taking office just as the booming state economy switched to bust.

As a result, the first 20 months of his administration has been dominated with keeping the state's budget precariously in balance with unpopular, though constitutionally necessary, cuts and withholdings.

In addition, the Democrat's ability to push his agenda through the legislature took a blow just weeks after his January 2001 inauguration when Republicans took control of the Senate.

It didn't take long for some to bestow on Holden the derisive sobriquet of OTB -- One Term Bob.

When the General Assembly convenes in January, it is quite possible Republicans could be gaveling in the session in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the first time since 1947.

It could be just the political break Holden needs.

During his two terms as governor from 1985 to 1993, Republican John Ashcroft built a career that led him to the U.S. Senate and eventually an appointment as U.S. attorney general by warring with a Democratic General Assembly.

President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, similarly scored political points in his never-ending fights with a Republican Congress during the 1990s.

Dr. Russell Renka, a political science professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said a chief executive can make political gains by painting a legislature controlled by the opposing party as the enemy.

"For purposes of re-election and purposes of campaigning, it is helpful," Renka said.

However, he quickly added that political benefits for the governor would be offset by his loss of the ability to set the policy agenda.

"If the legislature goes Republican that will just make it harder for him to do," Renka said. "There will be more vetoes and more disagreements."

Holden, up for re-election in 2004, dismissed as hypothetical questions about the potential impact a majority Republican legislature would have on his administration.

"We're not going to lose the House and we're going to gain back the Senate," Holden said. "As Harry Truman said, we're going to beat those Republicans and we're going to make them like it."

With the GOP holding a one-vote grasp on its Senate majority and Democrats having a six-seat advantage in the House heading into the Nov. 5 elections, a reunification of the General Assembly under Democratic leaders is also a possibility, as is the continuation of split control.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said Republicans aren't too concerned about the long-term political ramifications of winning both chambers.

"I happen to think that would be good for the state," Kinder said. "What it would do to the electoral politics between now and '04, I haven't thought much."

House Minority Floor Leader Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, said her party would work with Holden to make law GOP proposals that were dead on arrival in the House under Democratic leadership. However, she acknowledged the precedents of the Ashcroft and Clinton administrations.

"You can't ignore history," Hanaway said. "You can't ignore it in our state and you can't ignore it at the federal level after 1994. If we take over, we are going to try to do things that are good for this state. If you have a governor of a different party that means you have to be partners, not adversaries."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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