Republicans keep majority in General Assembly

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 | 2:54 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Republicans were swept out of nearly every statewide office, but they increased their majority in the Senate and held on to power in the House.

Going into the election, Republicans held 92 of the 163 seats in the House, where it takes 82 members to control the chamber. Half of the 34-member state Senate also was up for election, where Republicans held a 20-14 advantage over Democrats.

In complete but unofficial results from Tuesday's elections, the GOP appears to have added three Senate seats, which would give Republicans a veto-proof 23-11 majority, and dropped three House seats, giving them an 89-72 margin.

That sets up a repeat of the situation several years ago when Democratic Gov. Bob Holden had to work with a Republican-controlled Legislature.

House Majority Leader Steven Tilley said Wednesday that many of the veterans of those fights are no longer in state government. He said he's optimistic legislative leaders and the governor's office will be able to work together, but acknowledged legislative leaders would be firm when disagreements arise.

"The people have spoken and elected a strong, Republican majority in the House and Senate," said Tilley, R-Perryville. "We have an obligation to the people in this state."

Nixon insisted voters had expressed a mandate for his agenda of reversing the 2005 Republican-made Medicaid cuts and expanding college scholarships, but he also pledged Wednesday to work with Republican lawmakers.

"Folks are going to see a much different tone, a much less strident partisanship," Nixon said.

One of the Senate seats that the Republicans appear to have picked up was held by No. 2-ranking Democrat Sen. Chuck Graham, of Columbia. Republican challenger Kurt Schaefer, a former attorney at the Department of Natural Resources, led by about 1,500 votes out of more than 91,000 cast, according to complete but unofficial returns.

Republicans also appear to have won races for two open Senate seats. Rep. Jim Lembke claimed victory by 56 votes of the 87,500 cast in a race to replace term-limited Democratic Sen. Harry Kennedy in St. Louis. Rep. David Pearce, of Warrensburg, took more than two-thirds of the vote in a western Missouri district to succeed Democratic Sen. Chris Koster, who was elected attorney general.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Smith said his party couldn't get Nixon's lopsided victory in the governor's race to trickle down to the state Legislature.

"There is no way to spin it. It wasn't a good night for us," said Smith, D-St. Louis.

It also appears that two Republican House members lost their re-election bids in razor-thin races. Rep. Vicki Schneider, of O'Fallon, was down by 75 votes out of 21,815 cast, to Democrat Kenny Biermann. And Ed Robb, of Columbia, was down by 411 votes out of 24,571 cast to Democrat Chris Kelly, a former lawmaker making a comeback bid.

During the 2008 legislative session, Schneider was chairman of the local government committee. Robb had been a key member of the budget committee since he was elected to the House in 2004.

Republicans have controlled the House since 2003 and the Senate since 2001. Democratic leaders had acknowledged that everything would have had to go right for them on Election Day if they were to regain control in the House.

Before voters even began casting ballots, Republican House members selected Rep. Ron Richard, of Joplin, to lead the chamber next year. House Speaker Rod Jetton is term-limited and cannot seek re-election.

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