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Nasheed Steps Down As Head Of Missouri Legislative Black Caucus

Jamilah Nasheed
Tim Bommel | Mo. House of Representatives
State Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D, St. Louis) speaks on her bill to return control of the Metropolitan Police Department of St. Louis to the city.

(Updated 4:16 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10)

Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis,  has unexpectedly resigned as chairman of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus after touching off some political discord  when she appeared at a recent news conference with Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican.

Nasheed resigned late Thursday amid splits within the ranks of the caucus’ 18 members, who come from the state House and Senate.  She has been an outspoken chairman, andrecently touched off controversy with her high-profile dispute with Gov. Jay Nixon, a fellow Democrat, over his move to delay approval of low-income housing tax credits.  She also criticized the governor over his administration's recent move to cut food stamps.

Sources say that some caucus members -- and Nixon -- were particularly upset over Nasheed's decision to allow Kinder, a Republican long at odds with the governor, to join her at the Dec. 23 news conference blasting the governor over the tax credit issue.  Kinder has been on good terms for years with Nasheed and some other city officials, black and white.

Nasheed said in an interview Friday that she made no apologies for joining with Kinder to defend the low-income tax credits. "If you're going to stand up with the indigent and the poor, I'm going to stand next to you,'' she said.

But Nasheed emphasized that she strongly disagreed with Kinder over several other issues, including his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his support for "right-to-work'' legislation that would curb union rights in the workplace.

In the interview, she said there were only a handful of members who were angry with her leadership.

Nasheed added, however, that the news conference with Kinder appeared to have generated discord among a few caucus members, and that she feared the controversy would hurt the caucus' broader legislative aims.

"I want the focus to be on the agenda, not Jamilah,'' she said. "Stepping down was the right thing to do."

Sources at the caucus meeting with Nixon, held Wednesday in Jefferson City, said that the governor's anger was evident as he brought up the Nasheed/Kinder news conference.

Nasheed also has generated some controversy in St. Louis because she endorsed last year’s re-election of Mayor Francis Slay, who was challenged in the Democratic primary by Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who is African-American.

In her resignation letter, sent out Thursday night, Nasheed made no reference to any internal discord within the caucus.

Instead, Nasheed focused on what she viewed as her successes. For example, she noted that she had succeeded this week in “arranging the first ever meeting between the governor and the caucus,” to discuss concerns and legislative issues.

“The robust agenda we presented to him sets the tone and course for the Caucus for the 2014 session,” she wrote. “Thus, the 2014 session presents an opportune time to transition the Caucus leadership due to my burgeoning Senate duties and responsibilities.”

“I have enjoyed working with Caucus members to achieve the tremendous tangible successes we brought about this past year, including our great work in having the Governor quickly reverse his stance on SNAP, and our suffocation of the Voter ID Bill,” she added.

The letter makes no mention of  who might be chosen to succeed her. State Rep. Brandon Ellington, D- Kansas City, currently is vice chairman.

Nasheed has been in the state Senate just over a year, ousting incumbent Robin Wright Jones in 2012.  She previously served six years in the state House.

Nasheed said Friday that the latest episode won't affect her actions in the state Senate. "I don't have to be the caucus chair to get things done," she said. "I have bigger fish to fry."

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