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Sanders steps down at Missouri Democratic Party chair, with Temple in the wings

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 31, 2013: Jackson County Executive Director Mike Sanders just announced that he’s stepping down as chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party as of Aug. 24, a move that sets the stage for a new party chief who's likely to be closer to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

Sources say statewide Democrats favor former state party executive director Roy Temple, most recently a political consultant based in the Kansas City area, as Sanders' replacement.

Temple was among the founders of the now-defunct Firedup website, a progressive mouthpiece aligned with Democrats, and spent some time as a consultant in Washington, D.C.

Temple is close to the Carnahan family, running the campaigns of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan in the 1990s and that of his widow, former Sen. Jean Carnahan, in 2002.

"Congratulations to Mike Sanders on a highly successful run as party chair," Temple said Wednesday afternoon.""I am interested in the position and look forward to discussing that with others within the party in coming days."

The state party’s executive board will elect Sanders’ replacement in Jefferson City on Aug. 24.

Sanders oversaw 2012 Democratic effort

Sanders’ announcement wasn’t unexpected. He had said months ago that he planned to step down by this fall to focus more on his own re-election bid in 2014.

Gov. Jay Nixon chose Sanders to head up the party in November 2011. He was re-elected last January. St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green is the state party's co-chair.

As the Beacon had reported earlier, McCaskill and Koster – who’s running for governor in 2016 – are among the statewide party officials taking a heightened role in state party activities, a move that would appear to reduce Nixon's influence. Nixon is the titular head of the party.

Nixon – who cannot seek re-election in 2016 -- has been focusing on other policy issues as well as his own political future.

Some Democrats have criticized Nixon, most recently in 2012, because his campaign organization also controlled much of the state party’s operations, which in effect became an arm of his re-election effort.

McCaskill is believed to want a more assertive state party that more regularly takes on Republicans, although she has not discussed the matter publicly.

Some party activists asserted that not enough focus has been on legislative contests, where Democrats have fared miserably; the GOP now holds veto-proof margins in both chambers.

In any case, today’s announcement was jointly announced by Nixon, McCaskill and Koster.

Top Democrats praise Sanders' tenure

'Said Sanders in a statement:

“I am thankful that I had the opportunity to lead the Missouri Democratic Party during the successful elections of such strong leaders like Gov. Jay Nixon, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Treasurer Clint Zweifel, Secretary of State Jason Kander, and Attorney General Chris Koster. I greatly appreciate the support we had along the way and look forward to working with the party’s next chair to continue moving Missouri and the Democratic Party forward.”

Said Nixon in his statement:

“Without a doubt, Mike Sanders will be remembered as one of the most successful leaders of the Missouri Democratic Party in recent memory, and I’ll be forever grateful for his service. Mike showed the entire state of Missouri what the people of Jackson County already know – that when he commits himself to something, he gets the job done. In what was a very challenging political environment, Mike’s tireless work helped Democrats win five of six statewide races on the ballot last fall. When it comes to Mike’s future in public service in our state, the sky is the limit.”

Said McCaskill:

"Mike Sanders is a strong leader, and that's evidenced by the fact that he's leaving the party strong. Mike's been generous to give so much of his time and energy over these years to helping Missouri's families. And he'll continue to play a key role going forward, as Democrats keep working on the priorities that matter most to Missourians -- giving our kids a quality education, fixing our crumbling roads and bridges, and boosting job opportunities across the state."

Said Koster:

"Mike Sanders has done an outstanding job through his tenure as chairman of the Democratic Party. He brought financial stability and order to our organization. He traveled the state tirelessly and he was eloquent and persuasive on issues important to Democrats across the state. And, in a time when Democrats were losing statewide races across the country, Mike's strong leadership led to victory in five out of six statewide offices in Missouri. We often feel the closest bonds, professionally, to those of our own generation; and as Mike and I are nearly identical in age and share both a Kansas City background and prosecutor’s career path, my gratitude toward what he and Georgia have done is particularly deep. As they now turn their attention toward Mike’s current job as Jackson County Executive, I ask that we again show him our deepest appreciation.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.