2003 start for state's Legislature tests new lawmakers

Sunday, January 5, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After a decade of waiting and speculation, Missourians are about to discover what impact term limits will have on the legislative process in the General Assembly.

While supporters heralded them as ushering in a golden age of true citizen lawmakers, opponents warned of untold problems that would result from mass legislative inexperience.

But it has always been agreed that change would come with term limits, which were authorized by voters in 1992 but only started keeping longtime incumbents off the ballot in the last election cycle. However, a nexus of circumstances will provide a trial by fire for the new crop of lawmakers taking office because of the limits.

With Missouri entering its third year of continuing budget problems, much of the experience that led to creative solutions that allowed the state to limp along through the crisis will be missing when the Legislature convenes for the 2003 session on Wednesday. And the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1954, which also makes for the first time the GOP has controlled both legislative chambers since 1948, adds to the uncertainty.

Freshman power

If they were so inclined, the 90 freshman in the 163-member House could seize control of the chamber where 82 votes constitute a majority.

State Rep.-elect Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, said those numbers give the freshman class much responsibility. Gone are the days when new lawmakers were to be seen, not heard. They will be expected to be productive from the outset.

"We do have a tremendous amount of clout and are going to make an impact because we do have a majority in the freshman class itself," Kingery said. "We are a part of history in Missouri with the massive change in the General Assembly."

However, state Rep. Wes Wagner, D-DeSoto, predicted there will be some rocky moments with the large number of rookies trying the learn the ropes and Republicans chairing committees for the first time -- all amid one of the worst financial crunches in state history.

"I think the learning curve is going to be very steep," said Wagner, who begins his third term. "The institutional knowledge that we lost I don't think can be replaced."

Except for a handful of members who served before the term-limit clock started ticking and left the House for a time before returning in recent years, most of the "veteran" representatives have six years' experience or less. That group includes the chamber's three top incoming leaders -- House Speaker Catherine Hanaway of Warson Woods, who begins her third term; and Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton of Marble Hill and Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau, both of whom are House sophomores.

Senate keeps experience

Because terms are staggered in the 34-member Senate, the impact will be less severe. A number of returning senators with more than 20 or 30 years of service won't be forced out until 2004. Of the 12 freshman in the upper chamber, most are House veterans.

Both of Southeast Missouri's two senators -- Republicans Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau and Bill Foster of Poplar Bluff -- are returning incumbents. Another Senate district that covers the northern and western rims of the region will be without local representation for the next two years because a quirk of process that redrew legislative boundaries for the recent elections.

The 20th District, which was represented by retiring state Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, was renumbered as the 3rd District, which had been in St. Louis city and is served by Democratic state Sen. Harry Kennedy, whose term runs through 2004.

Of the area's 14 state representatives -- 10 Republicans and four Democrats -- six are freshmen.

But what the new lawmakers -- both from the region and statewide -- lack in legislative knowledge they make up for in life experiences, said state Rep.-elect Kevin Engler, R-Farmington.

"There is concern that a lot of expertise is gone. The advantage is we get to take a different perspective," Engler said. "I'm very proud of Southeast Missouri's contingent of freshmen. We've got a diverse group."

In addition to Engler, who until recently was the mayor of Farmington, the area freshmen include a former prosecuting attorney, a retired high school coach and teacher, a farmer and a small business owner.

The oldest freshman at age 65, state Rep.-elect Otto Bean, R-Holcomb, acknowledged he has much learning to do and that listening to others will be important, especially in grappling with the budget problems.

"We have got to do the best we can," Bean said. "We know we have some challenges out there and are going to have to meet them."

State Rep.-elect Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, likewise said he has no preconceived notions as to how things should be done but that fresh faces would bring new solutions to old problems.

"I see it as a good opportunity with 90 new people," Lipke said. "There is a serious tone among the people coming in that there is a job to be done."

New issues to rise

Republicans hold a 20-14 Senate majority and 90-73 House advantage. With the GOP running the Legislature for the first time in more than a half-century, issues that made little progress under Democratic leadership are expected to come to the forefront, including tort reform and establishing a flat state income tax.

A key proposal Republicans pushed in the campaign for House control was for a Classroom Trust Fund. Such legislation would take the more than $200 million the state receives in gambling revenue out of the formula for equitably distributing state education money to local school districts. Gambling revenue would instead be given directly to local districts on a per-pupil basis.

However, detractors of the plan say that it would not only leave a massive hole in the formula that the state doesn't have sufficient funds to replace, it would shift money to wealthier districts at the expense of poorer, primarily rural districts, and lead to a lawsuit like the one that resulted in the current formula.

"I think once rural lawmakers get the chance to see exactly what the proposal is, they won't be so enamored with it," Wagner said.

Speaker Hanaway plans to make the trust fund the centerpiece of the House Republican Caucus' legislative package. The Senate, however, hasn't yet embraced the proposal.

"We will take that seriously," said Kinder, the Senate president pro tem. "What its fate will be in the Senate, I can't forecast."

Even if it cleared the Legislature, a veto by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden would be likely.

But that bill and all others, Kinder said, will take a back seat to the budget. The $19 billion spending plan lawmakers approved for the fiscal year ending June 30 is already about $300 million in the red due to lower-than-expected state revenue. Holden has already announced $67 million in mid-year withholdings, with more expected in the coming months.

Since the current budget was crafted using a lot of one-time funding, the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that lawmakers will begin working on this month will have to be cut by at least $500 million.

A number of lawmakers and interest groups plan to push for some type of overall budget reform, but Kinder said such a major policy shift will by necessity be a multiyear effort.

"That has not come clearly into focus, but we certainly need to tee up that debate." Kinder said. "We are realistic about what we can accomplish in a four-and-a-half-month session, but we plan to have these majorities for a long time."


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House of RepresentativesWes Wagner

Party: Democrat

District: 104th; Jefferson, Ste. Genevieve counties

Age: 31

Home: DeSoto

First elected: 1998

Term Limited: 2006Kevin Engler

Party: Republican

District: 106th; Perry, Ste. Genevieve, St. Francois counties

Age: 43

Home: Farmington

First elected: 2002; replaces Tom Burcham, R-Farmington, who served two years.

Term Limited: 2010Dan Ward

Party: Democrat

District: 107th; St. Francois County

Age: 51

Home: Bonne Terre

First elected: 1998

Term Limited: 2006J.C. Kuessner

Party: Democrat

District: 152nd; Iron, Reynolds, Shannon, Washington counties

Age: 60

Home: Eminence

First elected: 2002; replaces Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, who served 20 years.

Term Limited: 2010

Mike Dethrow

Party: Republican

District: 153rd; Butler, Carter, Oregon, Ripley, Wayne counties

Age: 50

Home: Alton

First elected: 2002; replaces Don Koller, D-Summersville, who served 18 years.

Term Limited: 2010Gayle Kingery

Party: Republican

District: 154th; Butler County

Age: 63

Home: Poplar Bluff

First elected: 2002; replaces Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, who served 12 years.

Term Limited: 2010Rod Jetton

Party: Republican

District: 156th; Bollinger, Madison, Wayne counties

Age: 35

Home: Marble Hill

First elected: 2000

Term Limited: 2008Scott Lipke

Party: Republican

District: 157th; Cape Girardeau, Perry counties

Age: 33

Home: Jackson

First elected: 2002, replaces David Schwab, R-Jackson, who served 14 years.

Term Limited: 2010

Jason Crowell

Party: Republican

District: 158th; Cape Girardeau County

Age: 30

Home: Cape Girardeau

First elected: 2000

Term Limited: 2008Rob Mayer

Party: Republican

District: 159th; Cape Girardeau, Stoddard, Wayne counties

Age: 45

Home: Dexter

First elected: 2000

Term Limited: 2008Peter Myers Sr.

Party: Republican

District: 160th; Cape Girardeau, Scott counties

Age: 72

Home: Sikeston

First elected: 1998

Term Limited: 2006Lanie Black III

Party: Republican

District: 161st; Mississippi, New Madrid, Scott, Stoddard counties

Age: 56

Home: Charleston

First elected: 1998

Term Limited: 2006

Denny Merideth III

Party: Democrat

District: 162nd; Dunklin, New Madrid, Pemiscot counties

Age: 51

Home: Caruthersville

First elected: 1997 (special election)

Term Limited: 2004Otto Bean Jr.

Party: Republican

District: 163rd; Butler, Dunklin, Stoddard counties

Age: 65

Home: Holcomb

First elected: 2002; replaces Phillip Britt, D-Kennett, who served four years.

Term Limited: 2010SENATE

Bill Foster

Party: Republican

District: 25th; Butler, Dunklin, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Ripley, Stoddard, Wayne counties

Age: 56

Home: Poplar Bluff

First elected: 2000. Elected to House 1993 (special election), 1994-98.

Term Limited: 2008Peter Kinder

Party: Republican

District: 27th; Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Mississippi, Perry, Scott counties

Age: 48

Home: Cape Girardeau

First elected: 1992

Term Limited: 2004

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