JEFFERSON CITY — Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, the Republican choice for Missouri House Speaker, laid out a vision of legislative sessions focused on jobs after a closed-door caucus of House Republicans on Wednesday.
"Let me be the first to introduce you to the largest Republican majority in the history of the state of Missouri," Tilley said.
"People want us to put people to work," he said. "Every speakership has their theme and what they'd like to accomplish. Mine's going to be real simple. It's about jobs."
Asked about traditional social agenda issues like abortion restrictions, Tilley put them on a lower tier.
"We're not running away from those issues. Those are issues that are still near and dear to our hearts," Tilley said at a news conference after the House Republican caucus. "But the average voter is worried about economic development. They're worried about jobs. And I think you have to prioritize everything. And my priority is jobs. That's what we're going to focus on."
The Republicans picked up 17 House seats, knocking off 10 Democratic incumbents and winning seven open seats previously held by Democrats.
At a press conference in the State Capitol, Tilley said it was the largest Republican pickup in state history and the largest by either party since the 1930s.
"The Republicans in the Missouri House heard the message loud and clear, and that's exactly how we're going to govern," Tilley promised, saying the voters of Missouri had sent a message demanding a government that is fiscally responsible and focused on job creation. Tilley made note of Missouri's 9.3 percent unemployment rate and difficult fiscal situation.
Ryan Silvey, the next chairman of the Budget Committee, made it clear that part of the Republicans' plan to deal with that fiscal situation involved budget cuts.
"The only way to get there is to make cuts," said Silvey, R-Kansas City. "If you're asking today, where are those cuts to come, I can't tell you. That's why we have a process."
Tilley disputed any suggestion that his party's good showing at the polls was the inevitable result of a non-partisan, anti-incumbent mood for the electorate.
"We didn't lose a single incumbent, but the Democrats lost 10 incumbents," Tilley said. "I would argue it was an anti-Democratic environment."
Rep. Joe Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, argued his party was the victim of a national trend.
"A lot of frustration at the federal level kind of (blended) down and carried through, and I can't come up with any other explanation," Fallert said.
George Connor, a political science professor at Missouri State University, said Republicans benefited from a national anti-Democratic environment and an increasingly conservative Missouri electorate.
"Missouri is increasingly becoming a solid red state," Connor said. "There was a big anti-Washington trend that's part of this, and Washington is being defined as Democrats right now, so that helped Republicans."
Arguing that attracting businesses to the state would be key to creating those jobs, Tilley vowed to work to repeal the state's corporate, franchise and income taxes.
Tillley also promoted legislation to limit damage awards against business, promising to make Missouri "as business-friendly as we can be."
When asked about efforts to reduce the amount of tax credits businesses receive, Tilley promised that he was more than willing to look at tax credits that might not be getting a good return on investment, but made it clear that any major restriction in tax credits would face an uphill battle in the House.
Claiming that Gov. Jay Nixon ran on a platform of "expanding welfare and restoring all the Medicaid cuts" and that his signature issue for the last legislative session was scaling back tax credits for businesses, Tilley gave the governor some unsolicited advice.
"The governor had better step back and look at the election results and see if he's on the right track," Tilley said.
But along with the benefits of being able to set the next two years' political agenda to a large degree, Republicans may run the risk of being blamed if they don't deliver the goods.
"They raise the risk of limiting their own electoral fortunes two years from now," Connor said. "People are looking for instant gratification to a certain degree. The Republicans could potentially set themselves up for failure in two years if they can't deliver as promised."