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Secret Ballot Rejected

December 6, 1995
By: ELIZABETH MCKINLEY
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House Speaker has rejected a request that the election of the state's next speaker be by secret ballot.

The request was made by Rep. Beth Long, R-Laddonia. On Friday, Long wrote a letter to House Speaker Bob Griffin requesting a secret ballot for the Speaker of the House election.

Griffin, under federal investigation into his legal work on riverboat gambling, has announced he will step down as speaker when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Although there has not been a secret vote in the House in recent memory, Long said she wanted the speaker vote to be a secret ballot because she felt members voted in fear in the 1995 speaker election, when Griffin came close to losing his office to Republican Floor Leader Mark Richardson.

"When we elected the speaker in 1995, to me it was a real fiasco. Arms were twisted while rumors about punishments and rewards were being offered to people," Long said.

"A secret ballot would allow the membership to vote in the manner they see fit," she said. "In the past, members have been afraid to vote their conscience. Those who challenged the speaker have been demoted by way of committee assignments."

On the opening day of the session in January, enough Democratic House members joined Republicans to block Griffin's election for one day.

A staffer for House Republican Leader Mark Richardson, said Long's request for a secret ballot did not represent a position of the Republican Caucus.

Although Griffin was not available for comment, in a prepared statement released by his office, Griffin said, "The Republican leadership agreed to support Mark Richardson as Speaker to keep him out of the Governor's race. Now they are really twisting arms to get their members to vote for him."

But, Long said she was acting independently and did not consult with anyone before asking Griffin for a secret ballot.

In Griffin's statement, he said a secret ballot would violate Missouri's Open Meetings law.

Republicans have not held a caucus to decide who will be running for office, Long said. Typically, they have nominated the minority floor leader for the speakership.

Long said that she did not request a secret ballot in order to allow party dissidents to vote with the other party, without the party members knowing.

"The outcome might be the same," Long said. "It's not going to change my vote, but it would give them the right to vote in a manner without feeling the pressure of coercion in any way, shape or form."