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Republicans confident of winning House

November 01, 2002
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Some major drama is in store for next week at the Missouri Capitol:

Republicans are feeling so good about their chances to take over the state House in Tuesday's elections that they have moved up their elections for party leadership.

House Republican Leader Catherine Hanaway said she is "hopeful" her party will take over the House but is not overly confident.

"We have not been measuring for the drapes before we have the House won," said Hanaway, of St. Louis County.

Meanwhile, Democrats may be faced with the chance for a vote of either confidence or sympathy for a young member of the Carnahan family just two days after his mother stands for election to the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis City, is hoping his party will keep control of the House and then elect him speaker.

Leadership cannot be predicted until the outcome of Tuesday's general election is known. And even that is murkier now than it was just a week ago. Both the House and Senate are too close to call.

The House currently stands at an 84-75 majority for the Democrats with three vacancies. The Senate is at 17-16 for the Republicans with one vacancy.

In what appears to be a sign of confidence, House Republicans have scheduled their caucus meeting to elect a leader a day earlier than they usually do. They have decided to meet Wednesday afternoon instead of Thursday, when House and Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans are meeting.

Hanaway said she was not overplaying her hand with the early caucus meeting.

"If we do take over, we need every possible day to do our work," she said.

The Democrats' announced candidates for House speaker are Carnahan and Mark Abel of Festus.

Carnahan, the son of U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan and the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, is chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, which he has used to raise his profile around the state.

"I've done a lot of traveling and visiting with many of our candidates," Carnahan said. "I've spent many hours recruiting candidates."

Abel said he was also in the field campaigning for various candidates around the state. Abel has served four terms in the House but is avoiding the effects of term limits because three of his terms were served in the 1980s -- well before the limits took effect in 1994.

Asked why he would be a better candidate, Abel cited his experience from the years he served in the '80s as well as the two terms he has served since being elected in 1998.

"Experience to help with so many new members would be extra important at this time," he said.

He also said his experience last session as speaker pro tem would be important to help him in presiding over the chamber.

Carnahan said he expects 45 to 50 new Democratic representatives to join about 41 he expects will win re-election.

In the race for speaker, Republicans seem to be lined up solidly behind Hanaway, who has been minority leader for the past two years.

Hanaway said her top priorities include retaining and attracting jobs in Missouri. The state lost 61,000 jobs last year, she said -- more than any other state per capita. She said she also wants to reform laws on workers compensation and unemployment, make health insurance affordable and change tort laws.

Republicans also say they have only one candidate for the second-highest position in the House, speaker pro tem. Rod Jetton of Marble Hill is the only Republican in that race.

If the Democrats have control, they say the candidates for speaker pro tem will likely be Rick Johnson of St. Louis County, Philip Willoughby of Gladstone and Yvonne Wilson of Kansas City.

The Democratic candidates for majority floor leader are Chuck Graham of Columbia, Bill Ransdall of Waynesville and Tom Villa of St. Louis City.

Graham and Ransdall would both be barred from running for re-election in 2004 because of term limits. Villa, however, is a Capitol veteran who served 10 years in the House in the 1980s before being re-elected in 2000. But the years he served in the House prior to term limits going into effect in 1994 don't count against him, so he is eligible to serve until 2008.

Republicans are pushing Richard Byrd of St. Louis County, Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau and Merrill Townley of Chamois for floor leader if they become the majority party.

Byrd and Crowell were first elected in 2000 and would be term-limited in 2008, while Townley came to the Capitol after the 1996 election, making this his final session.

Races for leadership have ended up in near-catastrophic episodes several times in the past. In 1996, after Speaker Bob Griffin retired, the Democrats, who were in the majority, were almost unable to elect a speaker.

Rep. Sam Leake, D-Center, won the votes of most Democrats, but a small group of Democrats refused to vote for Leake. With that group of renegades abstaining from the vote, the Republican candidate had more votes. Eventually, the Democrats settled on a compromise candidate, Steve Gaw of Moberly, who won enough votes to win the speakership and served as speaker for four years.

Carnahan said he wants to be sure no similar controversy occurs this time, so he is trying to wrap up as many votes as possible.