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Political talk swirls over new Jefferson City hires of Roepe, Danner

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 10, 2009 - Aside from Tuesday's snafu over the unfounded "hostage" situation that briefly shut down High Street, politicos in the state Capitol spent at least part of the day reading the partisan tea leaves to discern the significance of two new hirings.

For the Republicans, it's Chris Roepe, who's moving from being the top aide to state Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, to a new post as political director for the state Republican Party.

For the Democrats, it's the Missouri Tourism Commission's decision to name political veteran Katie Steele Danner as the state's new director of tourism. She replaces acting director Bob Smith.

Roepe's shift largely reflects the traditional beefing-up that state parties undergo as they prepare for major election years. In 2010, the big focus will be the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by retiring Republican Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo.

And the contest already is shaping up to a hot one between members of two of Missouri's most prominent political families: Republican Roy Blunt, the congressman from Springfield, versus Democrat Robin Carnahan, now Missouri's secretary of state.

Roepe's hiring signals that the state GOP expects to be an active player in that battle, as it was in 2002, when the state party's negative TV ads helped defeat Carnahan's mother, then-Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo.

Said Roepe in a statement:

“Thanks to success in recent elections and Democrat over-reaching at the national level, Republicans are as energized as ever. As we enter this critical election year, I look forward to working with our many grassroots supporters to build a strong, bottom-up coalition that will lead to Republican victories across the state.”
Meanwhile, Danner's ascension signals the influence of Gov. Jay Nixon, who has made Danner his go-to person in recent months (and the target of some conservative blogs). Katie Steele Danner has just finished a stint as the acting head of the state's Department of Economic Development, after the ouster of St. Louis lawyer Linda Martinez.

According to the Post-Dispatch's JCity bureau chief Virginia Young, who first reported the move, Danner's hiring apparently unsettled the state's top Republican, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who sits on the commission.

Danner is a former state legislator and the wife of former state Sen. Steve Danner, a lawyer and Missouri National Guard colonel (and Nixon ally) who now is the state's adjutant general. (He's also the son of former U.S. Rep. Pat Danner, a Democrat from northwest Missouri.)

Coincidentally, Steve Danner spent part of Tuesday with Secretary of State Robin Carnahan at a news conference to unveil the latest 2009-2010 version of the state's Blue Book, which is dedicated to the state's National Guard.

Which just goes to show that in the byzantine intertwined worlds of Missouri politics, there's a link -- albeit remote -- in the orbits of Roepe and Danner.

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.