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Black officials to meet again to discuss who to back for secretary of state

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 4, 2009 - State Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, has organized a second meeting of African-American elected officials from across the state to discuss a possible black appointee to the office of Missouri secretary of state, should incumbent Robin Carnahan win her 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate.

The meeting is to be held Saturday in Kennett, Mo., at the First Presbyterian Church Activity Center, 226 North Main Street.

Wright-Jones said in a statement that the session would build on the earlier meeting held in April in St. Louis.

The aim is to reach consensus on a potential black appointee by Gov. Jay Nixon, who would name Carnahan's temporary replacement in January 2011, should she be elected to succeed U.S. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., who is retiring and not seeking re-election next year. That replacement would serve the remaining two years of Carnahan's term.

(At the moment, only one Republican -- U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt of Strafford, Mo. -- has definitely announced his candidacy for Bond's seat. At least two others in the GOP, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and St. Louis lawyer Thomas Schweich, are considering bids.)

Wright-Jones is among a number of African-American officials and political activists who are concerned that no black has ever won statewide election in Missouri. The last black major-party statewide nominee was Democrat Alan Wheat, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1994.

Although Nixon has said nothing about Wright-Jones' effort, her side's aim is to get behind a potential appointee, and then pressure Nixon to follow through, if Carnahan does get elected to the Senate.

"We laid the groundwork for this process at our first meeting," Wright-Jones said. "We had a serious conversation about our goal to find a consensus appointee and/or a potential candidate to run for the office. We’ll begin looking at specific individuals at our gathering in Kennett this weekend and hope to name our candidate at the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus meeting in Kansas City in July."

"We just want to be ready in case the stars align and Robin Carnahan wins the U.S. Senate seat," Wright-Jones added. "We see this as an historic opportunity for a black elected official to hold statewide office should there be a vacancy in the Secretary of State’s office. The decision on who will replace Secretary Carnahan should she win in November will fall to the Governor, and we want to have a great candidate ready for his consideration."

The third and final meeting would be held during the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Foundation Conference in July in Kansas City.

The effort by black politicians and activists to persuade Nixon to select one of their own for secretary of state could prompt serious tensions among Democrats. State Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis, is white and among those who already have declared their interest in Carnahan's post, should she move on.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.