JEFFERSON CITY _ At the instigation of House Speaker Bob Griffin, the House Democratic Caucus expelled one of their own members _ one month after the freshman representative opposed the beleaguered speaker's re-election.
According to House Democratic leaders, during a closed-door meeting the caucus overwhelmingly approved a motion by Griffin to expel Rep. Dennis Bonner, D-Independence.
Griffin, D-Cameron, said it was the first expulsion in his 14 years as House speaker.
Bonner was one of five Democrats who voted against Griffin's re-election Jan. 4. The other four dissidents have stayed away from the party's weekly caucus meetings, Griffin said.
"We had five Democrats who admittedly were not supporting the caucus," Griffin said. "Bonner continued to come to the caucus, take notes and report to the other four and to the Republicans.
"I respected the other four, but in the case of Dennis Bonner, not only was he a traitor _ he was a spy and a snitch," he said.
Bonner said fellow Democrats had ostracized him and threatened to run a candidate against him in the next primary race since his vote against Griffin last month.
Bonner said Griffin made the motion for his expulsion as soon as Bonner left the caucus. Bonner denied attending the party meetings to "spy" on behalf of other rebel Democrats or the GOP.
"That's their excuse," he said. "I believe it was done as punishment for my vote. This is Griffin's way to shoot back at me. If you look at his record, he has a history of punishing people."
Bonner noted that the speaker did not appoint Rep. Tony Ribaudo, D-St. Louis, to any committees after Ribaudo also opposed Griffin's bid for a record eighth term.
"He's got to go," Bonner said. "Under Bob Griffin's style of government, the caucus is his circus. It's not an open body where you can discuss issues. He never will be challenged. There are enough hard-core Griffin loyalists to keep him in office."
Rep. Phil Tate, D-Gallatin, said the expulsion was not because of Bonner's vote on the speakership, but rather because Bonner was reporting to the Republicans matters that had been discussed by the Democratic caucus.
Meanwhile, Griffin continued to rebut all allegations of wrongdoing. "I wouldn't expect anything," he said.
Federal officials and the Attorney General's office has been investigating the speaker's ties with casino companies.
Meanwhile the second in command in the Missouri House said Monday that senior House Democrats are discussing what to do about Griffin.
"We take this as a very serious issue," said Speaker Pro Tem Jim Barnes, D-Raytown.
"We see investigations by the FBI, the Attorney General...there's a constant flow of new issues."
Barnes said there have been talks about whether to remove Griffin as speaker or to that he suspend himself voluntarily.
But Barnes emphasized that these are just talks, and no consensus had been made.
"A lot of the senior Democrats are talking and nobody has come to any conclusions," Barnes said.
"It's all informal," he said. "None of the senior Democrats have plans to replace Bob Griffin. To my knowledge, none of the senior Democrats will be asking Bob to step down."
Griffin and other Democrats denied there had been an discussions about replacing Griffin.
Gov. Mel Carnahan called the investigations of Griffin "a problem in the House" and voiced confidence that lawmakers will deal with the issue effectively.
Carnahan, who called for a special session to impeach former Secretary of State Judi Moriarty shortly after she was found guilty of wrongdoings in office, said that the fate of Griffin's office is in the hands of Missouri lawmakers.
But the governor did not flatly rule out the possibility he might take a more active role.
"It may simply be an investigation," Carnahan said. "If it turns into something more tangible, there may be points where I'll be speaking out."
House members reelected Griffin to the position of House Speaker last month by a narrow margin. Griffin is serving his 15th year as House Speaker _ the longest anyone in Missouri history has held that office.