© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wright-Jones' radio show to focus on Smith's possible Senate replacement

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 18, 2009 - State Sen. Robin Wright-Jones will apparently give radio listeners later today her first public perspective on the possible legislative departure of her St. Louis colleague and fellow Democrat, state Sen. Jeff Smith.

Wright-Jones' advertised topic for her regular weekly radio show (the "Wright Side of Politics") on WGNU (920 AM) -- to air today from 5-6 p.m. -- is entitled, "Potential Changes in the 4th Senate District."

That title would seem to allude to the rumored resignation by Smith, who has been caught up in a federal probe of campaign activities during his failed 2004 bid for Congress. (The Beacon was the first news outlet last Friday to report confirmed accounts of Smith's troubles, and on Monday those of a fellow legislator and Smith ally, state Rep. Steve Brown, D-Clayton.)

Wright-Jones views of the Smith controversy could be particularly interesting because of her upfront role in a different, but possibly intertwined, political matter. Wright-Jones has been leading the effort to recruit and promote an African-American to be appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to be Missouri secretary of state, should Democratic incumbent Robin Carnahan win her bid next year for the U.S. Senate.

Wright-Jones has been holding meetings around the state with various African-American officials, civic and religious leaders, to come up with a consensus black candidate for the post. (Wright-Jones has noted that no African-American has held statewide office in Missouri and that it has been 15 years since an African-American made a serious statewide bid: then-U.S. Rep. Alan Wheat, D-Kansas City, who won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1994. He was soundly defeated that November by the GOP candidate, then-former Gov. John Ashcroft.)

Wright-Jones' recruitment effort for secretary of state already has run into one potential road block -- state Rep. Rachel Storch, who is white and who has indicated an interest in the post. Storch is widely respected and also happens to be close to the politically influential Carnahan family.

Which brings us to Wright-Jones' radio topic today. Storch also is among several Democrats, most of them current or former legislators, who have been named as possible contenders for any special election to replace Smith, should he resign from his 4th District Senate seat.

The other names bandied about include: state Reps. T.D. El-Amin and Jamilah Nasheed, former state Rep. Fred Kratky and 28th Ward committeeman Joe Keaveny.

As it has in the past, race is likely to be a factor in any such special-election battle in the overwhelmingly Democratic 4th state Senate district. Some African-American Democrats believe that the 4th District seat should be held by a black, as it once was until a decade ago. (Boundary changes in 2000 dramatically changed the racial demographics in that district, and Wright-Jones' 5th District. Both hold more African-American residents, but the racial makeup is close among those registered to vote.)

Although Smith has made a point of reaching out to minorities, he won the 4th District post in 2006, in part, because ;the contest's ;three African-American rivals split the city's black vote. (Another white candidate also was in the race. And based on housing patterns, it appears that far more white city voters cast ballots in the 4th District in that 2006 Democratic primary. )

State Rep. ;T.D. El-Amin, one of the talked-about candidates this time, is the spouse of Yaphett El-Amin, one of the unsuccessful Senate contenders in 2006.

Storch also had been cited as an early potential 2006 contender for that Senate seat, but she opted against running. Behind-the-scenes accounts included at least one alleged private meeting between Storch and Smith

Although Storch has cited personal reasons for her 2006 decision, the word at the time also was that the Carnahans had encouraged her to step aside. That story alleged that some Carnahans were concerned that any appearance that the family was indirectly challenging Smith in the 4th District in 2006 might embolden him to make another run for Congress in 2008 against U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, who narrowly edged out Smith for the congressional seat in 2004.

This time, the Carnahans might be reluctant to play any behind-the-scenes role in the 4th District, in part since it was the FEC complaint filed by Russ Carnahan's 2004 congressional campaign that put Smith in the fix he is in today.

As for Storch, she may have to decide whether she wants to be in the Senate or run for secretary of state. She likely cannot try for both posts. Either way, Storch -- and the other potential 4th District candidates -- will have to deal with Wright-Jones.

Which could make Wright-Jones' radio show today a must-hear.

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.