JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri House Majority Leader John Diehl is promising to raise money for the Republican cause — not his personal political aspirations — if colleagues nominate him as the next House speaker.
The fundraising pledge is one of several promises contained in a letter Diehl sent to colleagues as part of a behind-the-scenes campaign. A similar campaign letter was sent to House Republicans by Diehl's rival for speaker, Rep. Caleb Jones, but his letter makes no mention of fundraising.
The Associated Press obtained copies of both of the lawmakers' letters, which generally promise to give rank-and-file members a greater say in the way the House operates.
Republicans are meeting Friday and Saturday in St. Louis to discuss the potential override of Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes of 29 bills, including high-profile measures that would cut income taxes and make it a state crime for federal agents to attempt to enforce certain gun-control laws. Republicans are expected to vote on whom to nominate for House speaker in 2015 during a caucus meeting coinciding with the September veto session.
The House speaker, which is the top position in the 163-member House, is officially elected by the chamber on the first day of each biennial session. But because Republicans hold a commanding majority — currently 109 seats — they assume that their nominee will win. Under a tradition begun several terms ago, Republicans have been picking their next speaker nominee more than a year before the election to give the person plenty of time to prepare for the job.
As majority leader, Diehl, R-Town and Country, would be next in line to become speaker. But he is being challenged by Jones, R-California.
Diehl's speaker campaign letter, sent on his official House letterhead, pledges to "listen more than I speak" and to obtain "buy-in" from Republican colleagues before formulating policy instead of "scrambling to justify a position" or rally support on the day of a vote. He promises prompt starting and ending times for House sessions and to "work harder at resolving our differences." His letter pledges to strengthen the power of committees and review the future of the House Rules Committee.
"Finally, I pledge to you that all of the money I raise as your Speaker and Speaker-designee will go to the caucus. Let's be frank: this is an issue that must be corrected," Diehl writes while adding that he wouldn't use the position as a stepping stone for higher office.
Current House Speaker Tim Jones and previous Speaker Steven Tilley both amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in their campaign funds while considering a run for statewide office. Tilley, R-Perryville, ultimately opted against a bid for lieutenant governor and resigned from office while going through a divorce but has held onto his campaign account while working as a lobbyist. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has not said what office he plans to seek in the future.
Caleb Jones, Tim Jones' cousin, makes no mention of fundraising in his letter, which was not on his office letterhead. He focuses solely on proposed changes to the way the House operates, such as the elimination of the House Rules Committee, which Republicans created in 2005 as a gatekeeper for bills after they are voted out of a subject-specific committee and before they get to the House floor.
Jones pledges to eliminate caps on the number of bills each committee can submit for House debate, to make committee chairmen "accountable to the caucus" and to "give the caucus the ability to determine legislation." His letter also pledges to "hold real caucus meetings," asserting that Republicans' current meetings don't allow much time for discussion of upcoming legislation.
"We need to change the entire process in how we function," Jones said in an interview.
Although not mentioned in the letter, Jones said he would not run for a higher office in 2016 if he were serving as speaker.
Diehl said in an interview that he did not want to discuss his letter publicly, but he added that there was little difference between his platform and Jones' except for Diehl's pledge not to use the speaker's post as a financial stepping stone for a higher office.