JEFFERSON CITY _ As the day House Democrats meet to nominate their House speaker candidate approaches, the seven contenders are doing a little campaigning, some fund raising, but not much back patting, in hopes of being the Democratic nominee.
"The candidates are traveling around the state talking to people, trying to round up the vote," said Rep. Gary Witt, adding that he's already decided to whom he'll give his vote to.
On Nov. 3, the Democratic members of the Missouri House of Representatives are scheduled elect their nominee for House speaker - the top leadership position in the House of Representatives.
The position frequently is described as the "second most powerful position in state government," because of the enormous power the speaker exercises over the legislative process.
The speaker appoints committee members, assigns bills to committee and rules on points of order.
The current speaker, Rep. Bob Griffin, D-Cameron, announced in the summer the he would step down when the 1996 legislative session begins. Griffin, who has served 15 years as House speaker _ the longest reign in Missouri history _ is the subject of investigations relating to his ties with gambling companies.
Allegations of Griffin's wrongdoing have left the speaker's position under a dark cloud, which Democrats say they want to disappear.
"The person who comes in does need to have incredible integrity," said Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield. "Most people know the candidates who are running. If you've dealt with someone for five or six years, you know what they're like."
The contenders for House speaker are:
Rep. Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield
Rep. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County
Rep. Jason Klumb, D-Butler
Rep. Sam Leake, D-Laddonia
Rep. Sheila Lumpe, D-University City
Rep. Bill Skaggs, D-Kansas City
Rep. Phil Smith, D-Louisiana
House Democrats say that the this year's race is unlike past campaigns.
"It's different," said Rep. Larry Thomason, D-Kennett. Thomason said that in the past, the speakers race has been dominated by political promises in exchange for a vote. "There's none of that involved."
The reason was because Griffin asked the candidates to agree to not change the current lineup committee members chairmen.
"So, there aren't a lot of promises to give," said Witt, D-Platte City.
On the issues, the major differences among the seven candidates include abortion, labor and agricultural issues, and gender.
"Just about every one of those [issues] are in the background, they're in people's minds," Thomason said. "But the race for speaker doesn't involve them."
But Hosmer gave more credit to issues.
"All of those issues that tend to play big outside the caucus is important inside," he said.
Normally, the majority party's nominee wins the speakership, since a simple majority is needed to secure the position.
But this year has been different, because Republicans hold more seats than anytime in the past few decades.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 87 to 76.
In January, defections by just a handful of Democrats nearly handed the speakership to the Republicans.
Fearing another Republican end-run, Griffin announced early this fall he would delay his resignation until after the January session begins - to make sure the post remains under Democratic control.
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