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Three Columbia-area legislators out after this year

January 12, 2004
By: Christie Smythe
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -- This year begins the final year in Missouri's House for three Columbia-area legislators, and their circumstances are hardly conducive for going out with a bang.

Boone County's state senator and two of its representatives to be outsted by term limits find themselves in the minority party, with limited power to push their legislation onto the top of the legislative agenda.

After a nearly 50-year reign of the Democratic party in the Missouri General Assembly, the Republican takeover in 2002 still stings for Democratic legislators.

Chuckling about what he would try to do if could reprise his four terms in the House, Rep. Chuck Graham said: "I'd stay in the majority for my last year. I don't like being the minority very much."

Sen. Ken Jacob, Democratic floor leader and 22-year veteran of the General Assembly, found less to laugh about his party being in the minority position.

"I don't come up here nowadays with a radical conservative group of legislators -- that's just their political philosophy -- and expect to pass a lot of bills," he said.

Still, there are hopes.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson has proposed a number of bills pertaining to issues she has championed in the past. Those she's choosing to focus on in her last term include extending health insurance benefits to mental health care and a program that would better coordinate services for early childhood development.

"There are always things you wish you had more time to work out, but that's all part of the process," Wilson said.

As a response to the July death of Christine Ewing, who fell 20 feet from a portable climbing wall, Graham has sponsored legislation that would require licensing and yearly inspections for portable and stationary climbing walls.

Graham said he is also searching for funding streams for new building projects for the University of Missouri system and scholarhips for Missouri students -- such as Bright Flight, A Plus scholarships and the Missouri Guarantee Scholarship Program.

When Democrats were in the majority, Graham was one of the forces behind legislation providing bond money to help finance the new basketball arena currently under construction at MU.

Columbia's newest member of the legislature and the only one not forced out after this year by term limits, is Rep. Jeff Harris who is serving his first term.

Harris has filed a constitutional amendment, that if approved by Missouri voters, would authorize toll roads. His is one of several toll-road proposals that have been introduced.

"I'm encouraged by the fact that we have bipartisian support for that in the House and in the Senate, and I think we'll have to be working for it," he said.

Jacob has filed bills proposing

Jacob, Wilson, Graham and Harris have all been strong supporters of the University of Missouri, and say they will continue to try to protect the university's interests. Cuts to eduction and other services will be difficult to head off, Jacob said, however.

Although term limits call for an end to their occupying their current positions, at least two Columbia-area legislators have announced they are seeking higher offices. Jacob is running for lieutenant governor and Graham has said he plans to seek Jacob's seat. Wilson also said she might be interested in the Senate seat.

As the 2002 election saw the Democrats lose 14 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate, another election might further increase the Republican majority.

Republicans have already announced candidacies for Wilson's and Jacob's positions. The Republican candidate for Wilson's seat, Joel Jeffries, ran against her in 2002 -- getting about 42 percent of the vote.

Wilson said thinking about upcoming elections is not the most important thing on her mind this session.

She said, though: "I intend to do everything that I can to see that people who share priorities that I have, which I think are reflective of the priorities of my district, be able to have an impact by holding this seat."

Graham, who is already talking to Democratic candidates he believes are promising, is not overly concerned with who will claims his seat after elections in November.

"It's in someone else's hands to win now, not mine," he said. "So, I'm just going to worry about the Senate seat"