Missouri's fortunes not likely to change after Gephardt

Friday, November 1, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- What happens to Missouri's interests when Dick Gephardt, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, steps down from his leadership post? Probably not much, his colleagues and observers said.

After a dozen years in Democratic House leadership, Gephardt said Thursday he would leave the job of minority leader, a spot he won after the party lost the majority in 1994. His party is reeling from Election Day losses.

Gephardt is mulling a run for president but said he would remain in Congress.

If that's the case, said his Missouri Democratic colleague, Rep. Karen McCarthy, the state should still benefit from Gephardt's considerable clout.

"He's so senior, and so admired, that I can't imagine that if there are certain things he wants accomplished for his district and the state of Missouri, that people wouldn't respond as they always have," said McCarthy, who has represented Kansas City, Mo., in the House since 1995.

Missouri has other potent watchdogs. Republican Sen. Kit Bond, an appropriations committee member, soon will find himself back in a Senate majority along with Missouri's new senator, Republican Jim Talent. And Republican Rep. Roy Blunt is about to be elected to the third-ranking House job as majority whip.

Bond and Talent, like Gephardt, are boosters of Boeing Co.'s St. Louis-based fighter jet plant.

Did have an edge

Blunt said the state still would feel some degree of loss. He said Gephardt's position has given him an edge in competing for various opportunities, such as getting a new federal courthouse for St. Louis or helping to position the region's aircraft manufacturers to sell planes to the government.

"When you lose a powerful leader in the House from your state, that obviously puts an obligation on everybody else to try to fill a very large gap," Blunt said Thursday. "That gap is less large as long as Dick is still a member of the House, but it's still a gap."

Dave Robertson, a political analyst who teaches at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, predicted that if Gephardt stays in the House, he would settle into a reasonably important committee that would make up for losing leadership clout. Gephardt served on the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in his early years in the House.

The state's fortunes will probably not shift, Robertson said, "particularly with a prospective presidential candidate out there." Official Washington pays attention to the state's priorities because Missouri is important politically: The Show-Me State is a swing state that is known as a bellwether and nearly always votes for the winning presidential candidate.

Gephardt and Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton have served in Congress longer than any other lawmakers in Missouri's delegation. He and Skelton arrived in Washington in 1977.

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