JEFFERSON CITY — With cheers and tears, Republicans commemorated a decade of power in the Missouri House on Tuesday, reveling in their accomplishments while also apologizing for their infighting.
About 130 current and former Republican lawmakers and staff gathered at the Capitol for a nearly two-hour ceremony replete with speeches from each of the five people who have served as House speaker, a group rendition of the national anthem, a group photo and a catered lunch.
The ceremony originally had been scheduled to occur in the House chamber but was moved to a nearby room after some officials raised concerns about using the chamber for a partisan gathering.
Republicans first took control of the state Senate in 2001 and the state House in January 2003 after about a half-century of Democratic dominance. Republicans now have two-thirds majorities in both chambers for the first time since at least the Civil War era, meaning they could override gubernatorial vetoes without any help from minority party Democrats.
On Tuesday, some former Republican lawmakers recalled feeling almost irrelevant when they served in the minority. Others recounted the long hours of morning-to-midnight campaign work that it took to win a majority. Many relished the bonds of friendship that developed. And Republicans proclaimed to themselves that the state was better off because of their past decade of governance.
House Speaker Tim Jones praised his fellow Republicans for pushing aside "decades of previous rule that had seen government grow out of control, become detached from the people and become a place largely run by special interests and special agendas and individual priorities." He asserted Republicans had returned the state "to its original, commonsense, fiscally conservative roots."
"We've truly seen a miraculous Missouri turnaround," said Jones, of Eureka.
Yet former House Speaker Rod Jetton, who held the post from January 2005 to January 2009, acknowledged that not everything had gone smoothly under Republican control. Jetton triggered divisions over his handling of legislation and was investigated — but never indicted — by a federal grand jury. After he left office and became a political consultant, Jetton got divorced and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge involving a sexual encounter with a woman.
Jetton wiped away tears Tuesday as he described in a breaking voice how he had lost a lot in his family life and valued the friendships of legislative colleagues.
"My biggest regrets are the fights" among Republican lawmakers, Jetton said. "I'm sorry."
The Republican reunion was organized by Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, of Joplin, who was a member of the freshman House Republican class in 2003 and served as speaker from January 2009 to January 2011. Also present was former House Speaker Steven Tilley, of Perryville, who resigned in August to become a lobbyist.
Former Speaker Catherine Hanaway, who led the Republican takeover of the House, served as the event's master of ceremonies. After her tenure in the Legislature ended in January 2005, Hanaway worked as a U.S. attorney in St. Louis and now is part of a private law practice with former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"What has persevered over time, when Republicans are at their best, is that we are a freedom-loving party that believes in the power of every individual," Hanaway said.
House Democratic Leader Jake Hummel, of St. Louis, remained in his office a floor below the Republican festivities. He took issue with the Republican claims of achievement. For example, he noted that while Republicans tout record levels of funding for K-12 education, schools still are not receiving the full amount called for under a law passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2005. And while Republicans tout improvements to Missouri's highways, Hummel noted that the transportation system is again in need of more money.
As for the state: "My personal opinion is it's worse off than it was 10 years ago," Hummel said.