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Politically Speaking: Sen. Sifton on his big decision to bow out of the attorney general's contest

Scott Sifton
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On this week’s edition of Politically Speaking, state Sen. Scott Sifton joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies to talk about his decision to scuttle his attorney general bid.

The Affton Democrat was the first person in his party to jump into the 2016 contest to succeed Attorney General Chris Koster, who is expected to run for governor. St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman jumped into the Democratic contest as well, setting up a potentially contentious primary.

After months of rumors and apparent behind-the-scenes maneuvering, Sifton announced last week that he would not run for attorney general and instead would seek re-election to his south St. Louis County-based state Senate seat. As of now, that puts him on a collision course with state Rep. Marsha Haefner, an Oakville Republican who’s had a generally cordial relationship with Sifton in the past.

Sifton isn’t endorsing Zimmerman's attorney general bid. Instead, he’s backing former Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley, who lost re-election last cycle and also fell short in unseating U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler in 2012. Henlsey also nabbed the endorsement of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, who had been backing Sifton until last week.

Sifton’s decision also has broader implications in south St. Louis County. Former state Rep. Vicki Englund, D-Green Park, had announced her state Senate bid, but is instead set to run for the Missouri House against state Rep. Cloria Brown, R-St. Louis County, for the fifth straight election cycle.

Englund and Brown have each won two victories. Both Englund and Brown are scheduled to record episodes of Politically Speaking shortly.

Among  Sifton's key points that he made during the show:

  • He denied that he had been under pressure from top Democrats (including Koster, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon) to drop his statewide bid and run for re-election instead. "I came to the conclusion after giving it careful thought, that I could have the biggest impact by returning to the state Senate. ... This was a decision I made, alone."
  • He sees Hensley as better qualified than Zimmerman for attorney general, because she was a long-time prosecutor.
  • He sees the GOP-controlled Senate as playing a key role in deciding the fate of contentious legislation, such as "right to work," which curbs union rights: "It's really going to matter who we have in that chamber from 2017-2020."
  • He remains on good terms with Englund, despite edging her out of her own Senate bid. He praised her as a tenacious campaigner and hard worker: "We're good. Vicki and I are good friends."
  • Sifton praised outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles. "He's somebody you can work with. If he reaches an agreement with you, he will stick to that agreement. ... He will take arrows from his own side to hold up his end of the bargain. We need more of that in government."
  • Sifton decried the climate in Jefferson City that has led to some cases of sexual harassment against college-age interns. He said corrective action is imperative. "We need to change the culture in a lot of different respects."

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter@jmannies

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter@jrosenbaum

Follow Scott Sifton on Twitter: @scottsifton

Music: “Break Down the Walls” by Adam Morenoff & Jim Johnston

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.