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St. Louis County Election Board makes another switch in GOP director post

This article frist appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 28, 2012 - The St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners held a special meeting Friday to make a last-minute switch in who will be the new Republican elections director. Charlene LaRosa, named 10 days ago, is out.

State Rep. Gary Fuhr, a Republican from South County, is in.

“That’s what the Republicans demanded,’’ said Election Board chairman Richard Kellett, a Democrat.

Kellett confirmed that LaRosa, a veteran employee who has been the GOP deputy elections director, submitted a letter Thursday saying that she would retire by Oct. 1 and no longer would take the top Republican staff post as planned.

She had been hired by the Election Board on Sept. 18, effective Oct. 1, and had been offered a one-year contract.

LaRosa decided to retire instead, said Kellett, because she had been told by some influential Republicans that she had to choose Fuhr as her new deputy. LaRosa preferred another veteran board employee already on the staff, Kellett said.

“She said, ‘If I can’t pick my deputy, I don’t want the job,’" he added.

Kellett said that former board chairman John Diehl, a Republican and state legislator, was among a number of Republicans involved in replacing LaRosa with Fuhr.

“This is not a Democratic thing. This is a Republican thing,” Kellett said, adding that he had a high regard for LaRosa. Of Fuhr, the chairman added, “I’ve never met the man. I don’t know him.”

Republicans act after Goeke ousted

Diehl, a Republican leader in the Missouri House, said in an interview that he and other regional Republicans had been conferring over the past two weeks, in the wake of the board's unexpected ouster last month of longtime GOP elections director Joe Goeke, a former judge. Diehl had been chairman when Goeke was hired in 2005.

Diehl said there was no objection to LaRosa serving as Republican director in the short term, but that area Republicans agreed that “we wanted Gary (Fuhr) in one of the top two spots” and to eventually replace LaRosa.

Fuhr, 64, “has a law enforcement background,” Diehl said. “He’s qualified, he’s a detail-oriented guy.”

Diehl said that Fuhr was seen as a stronger choice to hold the post for the next four years, through the 2016 election. “As a party," Diehl said, "our Number One priority is to get someone in with unquestionable integrity” and who party leaders trust.

Fuhr is not running for re-election this fall because the boundary lines for his district were dramatically changed during redistricting. He has, however, endorsed Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin and is featured on Akin’s website.

Fuhr must resign his legislative seat before beginning his new job.

Fuhr has no experience overseeing election operations, but that’s not unusual in those holding the top Election Board director or deputy director spots for either party. County Democratic elections director Rita Days, for example, is a former state senator.

For both parties, political connections often are more important for those jobs.

St. Louis County’s election operations – like those in the city of St. Louis, Jackson County and Kansas City – is overseen by dual staffs of Republican and Democratic employees, from the chief director on down. The director of the same party as the governor is in charge.

The four-member Election Boards are run the same way, with the chairperson always of the same party as the governor.

During the four-year term of Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, Goeke was in charge of county election operations. Some top Democrats privately allege that he was behind reductions in voting machines and equipment in some heavily Democratic areas, which they blame for huge lines in polling places in 2008 in African-American areas. Goeke previously has denied that any polling places were short-changed.

Diehl, a Republican leader in the Missouri House, said in an interview that he and other Republicans were taken by surprise when Goeke was ousted in August, less than three months before the Nov. 6 presidential election.

The Election Board voted 2-1, with one abstention, about five weeks ago to remove Goeke. Kellett and fellow Democrat Ann Pluemer voted in favor of Goeke’s removal, while board secretary Julie Jones – a Republican – voted against it. The newly appointed Republican member, John W. Siscel III, abstained.

LaRosa was hired a few weeks later, in order to make sure that a Republican was in place as a director for the Nov. 6 election, as required by law.

On Friday, the board voted 4-0 in favor of Fuhr, instead. Kellett said that area Republicans were threatening to block Siscel’s confirmation by the state Senate, when the next session begins in January, unless Democrats agreed to Fuhr as Goeke’s replacement.

Kellett said the board earlier had agreed to let Goeke to stay on for several weeks in September, and that he served as the Republican director for the special election last Monday to redo the Democratic primary in the 87th District state House seat.

“We let Joe retire with dignity, and gave him a 30-day severance,” Kellett added.

Flap over defaced picture of Obama in GOP director's office

Kellett then emphasized that he also wanted to correct any Republican misconception that “Democrats had fired Goeke" unfairly.

“He got himself fired for putting a picture of the President of the United States in his office as Pinocchio,” Kellett said. 

The chairman said that he had met privately with Goeke to tell him to remove the picture that Kellett said demeaned the presidential office, as well as incumbent President Barack Obama.

Kellett said he had hoped to keep the matter quiet, but someone took a photograph of Goeke’s office with the Obama-as-Pinocchio picture, and posted copies of the picture on board members’ cars and some homes.

The perpetrator told board members that the picture would be given to the news media unless Goeke was ousted, Kellett said.

Kellett, in office for about three years, lamented the political aspects of his post. For the Election Board, he said, "Our only job is to see that we have fair, honest elections.”

As for the Goeke-LaRosa-Fuhr saga, he added drily that the final decision is "supposed to make everybody happy.”

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.