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Keaveny's impending resignation will set off a Senate scramble

Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny plans to leave his post early to become an administrative law judge.

The St. Louis Democrat’s decision could set off an intense political competition to represent part of St. Louis in the Missouri Senate.

Before the Missouri Senate convened today, Keaveny told St. Louis Public Radio that Gov. Jay Nixon’s office had approached him about becoming an administrative law judge. He said once paperwork and background checks go through, he’ll resign his seat.

Keaveny would have had to leave the Missouri Senate due to term limits after 2018, a fact that played into his decision to take Nixon’s offer. (Keaveny had also applied for other judgeships when they became available.)

“I’ve got two years left in my term,” Keaveny said. “This opportunity came up. I love working in the Missouri Senate. I love representing my constituents. But I was going to be gone in two years anyway, this opportunity came up and I decided to take it.”

Nixon praised Keaveny at the governor's post-session news conference Friday. But Nixon declined to say whether an appointment was imminent.

Keaveny was first elected to his post in a special election after Sen. Jeff Smith resigned. The only elective office he held before the Missouri Senate was 28th Ward committeeman, a post that he still holds.

For years, Keaveny was known as a fairly low-key legislator who rarely tried to block legislation. He successfully handled a number of bills that were important to the legal community and the city of St. Louis.

But after he was elected minority leader after the 2014 election cycle, Keaveny led a caucus that became especially adept at filibustering. He said it was one of the consequences of leading a diminished caucus that can still stop legislation through talk-a-thons.

“When I became minority leader, I can’t say a fire got lit up inside me,” Keaveny said. “I felt a responsibility to stand up for issues that when I was just dealing with my own district really weren’t front and center on my radar screen. I took my responsibilities very seriously.”

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, speaks on the House floor before the end of the legislative session.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, speaks on the House floor before the end of the legislative session.

Domino dancing

Keaveny’s 4th District seat encompasses most of the western part of St. Louis and parts of St. Louis County. Because it’s a heavily Democratic seat, whomever Democratic committeepeople choose as their nominee will almost certainly become Keaveny’s successor.

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, confirmed that he would seek the Democratic nomination. Hummel, who is departing the Missouri House due to term limits, was already planning to run for the seat in 2018.

“I knew that it was a possibility,” said Hummel, referring to Keaveny leaving his seat early. “I would have liked to have a couple more years to prepare for an election. But nevertheless, I’m excited about the possibility of moving over to the Senate.”

Another person seriously considering vying for the nomination is state Rep. Michele Kratky. The St. Louis Democrat represents southwest St. Louis, which often has the highest vote turnout in the city.

“You have to look at all the options, but I am definitely keep my options open and actually looking at it,” said Kratky, who could also potentially run for 16th Ward alderman if Alderman Donna Baringer, D-16th Ward, becomes a state representative. “I will have to talk to all the committee people that are actually in the senatorial district and just see how it plays out.”

Other potential candidates include state Reps. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, and Karla May, D-St. Louis. Local officials like St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewson, D-28th Ward, may also vie for the job.

There are a lot of political machinations to consider, including who the committeepeople will be after the August primary election. Keaveny, for instance, is still a committeeman and will get to vote on choosing his successor. Hummel recently became the 11th Ward committeeman, while Mitten’s husband is a committeeman in a St. Louis County township.

(The timing of when Nixon calls the election could affect the outcome, since a number of committeepeople posts are contested during the August primary election.)

Keaveny's departure will also mean the seven-person Democratic caucus will need a new minority leader. Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, will take over for the upcoming veto session. It's possible that any of the seven Democratic senators (assuming they win re-election or, in Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal's case, is unsuccessful at running for another office) could permanently vie for the position.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.