Kelly no longer ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee

Thursday, December 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:16 a.m. CST, Tuesday, December 8, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly will lose his designated title as the ranking Democrat on the state House Budget Committee.

Kelly will now serve on both the Budget and Judiciary committees but is relinquishing his responsibilities as the ranking Democrat on the former — a position charged with assisting and communicating with the budget chairperson and coordinating with other members of the caucus.

"The minority leader and I, I agree with him, that you can't do everything," Kelly said. "If I want to go to judiciary, I give up being a ranking member on budget. It doesn't change anything for me, and it's at my request."

Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, has designated Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, as the new ranking Democrat. She has served on the committee for two years.

Kelly's history of bipartisanship might have been a factor in the shuffle, but he said he has no intention of changing his approach.

During the 2009 legislative session, he was known for maintaining a good relationship with the committee chairman, Republican Allen Icet of Wildwood.

The first day after the 2008 elections, Kelly came down to the state Capitol to extend an offer of cooperation with Icet.

The two voted the same on a majority of budget issues, including on a bill that would have given voters the chance to scrap the income tax in favor of higher sales taxes. A vast majority of Democrats opposed this measure.

"Maybe I bring an old-fashioned sense of bipartisanship — at least I try to do that," he said.

Lampe said she's looking forward to a leadership role on the committee but said Kelly's experience will be "invaluable." 

"It's not about Chris not doing a good job, but it is about us needing his expertise in other areas as well," Lampe said.

Kelly said he is pleased to serve on both.

"The Judiciary Committee is probably the second most important committee, so now I'm on first most important and second most important committees," Kelly said.

With all the loss of state revenue, next year is going to be a big year for the budget, but House Democrats do not always vote lock step on every issue.

"We have a very diverse caucus, and what I'm looking for more than anything else is someone who can bring people together and educate and guide," LeVota said.

This diversity may present challenges to the ranking Democrat.

"We have a large tent, and we accept other viewpoints," Lampe said. "We accept that, and we want someone who can say 'Talk me about your concerns.'"

Although Kelly will no longer hold an official title within the committee, several Democrats said his experience still makes him a go-to man for budget issues. Kelly served as Budget Chair when Democrats controlled the House from 1992-94.

"Chris, in my mind, is the expert when it comes to the budget in the legislature and in the state," LeVota said.  "His knowledge will lead many people."

Kelly said he is convinced his voice will still be recognized: "I'm mousy. I'll just have to be able to squeak loud enough to be heard."

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