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Former St. Louis County Lawmaker Takes Over As Acting Missouri Democratic Party Chairman

Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills
File photo | Tim Bommel I House Communications
Former Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills, is now the acting chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.

Citing her responsibilities as Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker is stepping away from her duties as Missouri Democratic Party chairwoman and turning over control to former state Rep. Clem Smith.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Baker said Smith, vice chairman of the party, “is the right person to lead our party at this critical moment.”

“My commitment to justice and service to our community has been a centerpiece of my career. In light of the recent developments in my position and the office of Jackson County prosecutor, I am stepping back from the role as chair of the Missouri Democratic Party,” Baker said. “The Missouri Democratic Party has long embraced inclusion and diversity, as well as the need to address racial injustices in our state and nation. Clem will rise to the challenges and recognizes the need for leadership at this time of great unrest.”

Smith is a Velda Village Hills native who served four terms in the Missouri House. He said in a statement, “I’m honored to be asked to help lead during one of the most important elections we’ve seen.”

“Between expanding Medicaid in August to restoring effective leadership in the governor’s mansion in November, this election will have historic consequences,” Smith said.

Baker became chair of the party after the 2018 election in which Democrats lost a U.S. Senate seat and made no gains in the Missouri General Assembly. 

This year, the party has a number of major focuses — including electing state Auditor Nicole Galloway as governor and capturing several Republican-held state Senate seats. National Democratic groups are also planning to pour money into state Sen. Jill Schupp’s bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin.

Whether any of that happens may depend on the presidential race, as the national environment often influences Missouri's statewide and legislative contests. President Trump’s nearly 19-point victory in 2016 almost certainly helped Republicans win up and down the ballot.

And the party’s fate may also be tied to whether candidates like Galloway can resurrect an urban-suburban-rural coalition that carried candidates like Claire McCaskill and Jay Nixon to statewide victories.

That may not be a slam dunk, as Republican candidates have racked up huge margins in rural counties throughout the past few election cycles — and dominated historically Democratic suburbs like Jefferson and Lincoln counties. Democrats, though, have gained significant ground in St. Louis County, the state’s largest population center. 

Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Storey said Baker's decision to step back to focus on her duties as Jackson County prosecutor is effective until at least the party's third-quarter state committee meeting in September.  He went on to say that Baker "is confident that Acting Chair Clem Smith will provide decisive, effective leadership, and assume day-to-day responsibilities of the Chair."

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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