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GOP's likely to keep control of Missouri Legislature

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 3, 2008 - Although most public attention for Tuesday's election is focused on national and statewide races, plenty of political drama could occur between Democrats and Republicans over control of the Missouri House.

These races are important because the party controlling the House and the Senate will in large measure determine whether the gubernatorial candidates will make good on their campaign promises, such as Democrat Jay Nixon's effort to restore Medicaid cuts, and Republic Kenny Hulshof's efforts to spend more on higher education. Both measures would require getting spending measures through the Legislature.

At the moment, Republicans have the upper hand in the House, where they control 89 seats -- seven more than a party needs to control the chamber. Democrats control 70 of the remaining seats, and four seats are vacant.

Lower Expectations

Before the August primary, Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley projected that the GOP would pick up more seats, but now he's being cautious, saying only that the House will remain in GOP hands. He acknowledges that the situation is fluid with the outcomes of maybe a dozen seats determined by between 200 to 300 votes. Meanwhile, Rep. Rachel Storch, chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, isn't willing to predict how many seats her party might win on Nov. 4.

At one time, Democrats were more hopeful. On the eve of Tuesday's election, however, they were speaking of the outcome as one in a series of incremental victories to retake the House. Meanwhile, political analysts expect no major changes in the makeup of the 34-member Senate, where the GOP enjoys control of 20 seats.

Unpredictable battlegrounds

Still, Democrats are holding out hope of taking some seats. One involves the 17th District in St. Charles, where Democrat Kenny Biermann is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Vicki Schneider. Democrats think she might be vulnerable since she won by fewer than 300 votes and because it's a district Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill won by 51 percent in her unsuccessful gubernatorial race against Jim Talent.

But one of the liveliest House races involves the 24th District in Columbia, where incumbent GOP Rep. Ed Robb faces a strong challenger, Democrat Chris Kelly, former chair of the House Budget Committee.

In addition, Democrats are hopping to knock out GOP candidate Cloria Brown in the open seat in the 85th District in Affton. She faces Vicki Englund. Still, Tilley expects Brown to win partly because she has knocked on 7,000 doors and has good name recognition.

Meanwhile, Democrat Jeanne Kirkton is hoping to take the House seat in the 91st District, which she carried in her Senate race against Michael Gibbons in 2004. Kirkton, whose opponent is GOP candidate Randy Jotte, is a proponent of stem cell research and is willing to bet that her position is closer to that of voters in the district. On the other hand, Tilley stresses that Jotte "is a good candidate" who should win the race.

Other local House races to watch include:

  • 16th District (St. Charles): Republican Mark Parkinson faces off against Democrat Kristy Manning.
  • 78th District (Florissant): Clint Zweifel vacated this North County seat to run for treasurer. T.R. Carr, the Republican, is given a good chance to beat Democrat MargoMcNeil.
  • 82nd District (Creve Coeur): Sam Page vacated this seat in Creve Coeur to run for lieutenant governor. Frank Plescia is the Republican, and Jill Schupp is the Democrat.

There are two local Senate races worth watching:

  • 1st District (South County): Jim Lembke, a Republican, is a state rep who has tried to make inroads with labor. He's running against Joan Barry, a Democrat, who's a registered nurse with a history of working on health and children's issues.
  • 15th District (Webster/Kirkwood): James Trout, Democrat, faces Eric Schmitt, a Republican in what is usually GOP territory, but Trout almost won a House seat last time.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.