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Sifton drops out as 2016 Democratic candidate for Missouri attorney general

State Sen. Scott Sifton angrily speaks on Wednesday. The Affton Democrat was a key figure in grinding business of the Senate to a halt after Republicans stopped a filibuster of right to work.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Democratic State Sen. Scott Sifton has set off political turmoil in south St. Louis County -- and elsewhere -- with his announcement that he’s dropping out as a candidate for Missouri attorney general in 2016, and running for re-election instead.

Sifton is from Affton and represents the 1st state Senate district, which takes in much of south and southwest St. Louis County. Sifton’s decision initially left St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman as the only Democrat running for attorney general.

But by Thursday night, former Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley announced her candidacy. Sifton and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce (who had backed Sifton) swiftly endorsed her.

Two Republicans also are competing for the post: state Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia and University of Missouri Associate Professor Josh Hawley.

Former state Rep. Vicki Englund, a Democrat, had been running for the 1st District Senate seat. But she confirmed she has dropped out and is endorsing Sifton, as mentioned in his release.

The only announced Republican for the 1st District Senate seat is state Rep. Marsha Haefner of south county.

Haefner and Englund had recorded Politically Speaking podcasts for St. Louis Public Radio. Haefner’s appearance is already available for listening. Englund’s now will be dropped, since she is no longer a state Senate candidate.

Sifton, from Affton, appears to be bowing to some pressure from party leaders, lawyers’ groups and some labor organizations who see him as their best hope in retaining the 1st District Senate seat. Sifton had narrowly ousted Republican incumbent Jim Lembke in 2012.

Zimmerman also has been out-raising Sifton, and Democratic leaders had sought to avoid an expensive primary -- especially since it looks like the GOP now could have such a battle between Schaefer and Hawley.

Said Zimmerman in a statement: “Scott Sifton is an outstanding public servant; he has also been my friend for many years.  His voice on behalf of hardworking Missourians is needed now, more than ever, in the halls of our state capitol.  I am especially eager to work with him on ethics reform.  In Jefferson City, too often the special interests seem to hold all the cards.  I know Senator Sifton will continue to fight tirelessly to level the playing field."

Sifton’s news release announcing his switch includes glowing endorsements from current Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat running for governor in 2016, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Koster and McCaskill are increasing calling the behind-the-scenes shots in Missouri Democratic politics.

In his statement, Sifton said, “It has become clear that I can best serve the citizens of south St. Louis County and the state of Missouri by returning to the Senate.”

Sifton has been a major Senate force in battles against “right to work,’’ which would curb union powers in the workplace and in favor of reproductive rights. He has led filibusters on several issues, including Senate Democrats' failed effort to block a bill -- now law -- that requires a 72-hour waiting period in Missouri before a woman can obtain an abortion.

His statement doesn’t mention either issue, instead focusing on his work “in incentivizing donations to food pantries, reforming the state’s Second Injury Fund and requiring day cares to engage in best practices for limiting the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome.)

“I have spent my entire tenure in the Senate advocating ethics reform, and we clearly need it,” he added. Sifton called for banning lobbyists’ gifts, “changing Missouri’s school transfer law and providing property tax relief for senior citizens.”

McCaskill said in a statement, “Scott has proven to be an invaluable member of the state Senate. He is a difference maker. We need his leadership in the Senate now more than ever.”

Koster offered similar words, citing Sifton’s work as a lawyer and previously as a member of the Affton School Board.

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