Missouri Legislative Black Caucus strong despite political dust-up, members say

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 6:45 p.m. CST; updated 8:01 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 29, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — After holding its first meeting with a new chairman, the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus is focused and united.

Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-St. Louis, said he concentrated this week on achieving "unity among ourselves." The 17-member group works on African-American and minority issues.

The caucus's standing within the Democratic Party was called into question when Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, appeared with Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder in a December news conference. Together, they rebuked Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to delay $14 million for low-income housing tax credits.

The Missouri Housing Development Commission voted 6-1 to withhold their decision to extend the tax credits until March, according to the Associated Press. Kinder was the only dissenting vote.

Nasheed said although she and Kinder may have had different perspectives about the tax credits, she approached him about the issue, noting that there is nothing wrong with uniting for a cause. Appearing with Kinder, she said, was "worth it."

A few weeks later at a caucus meeting with the governor, Nixon launched into a "shouting tirade" against Nasheed, according to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The event prompted Nasheed to resign her leadership. Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, the caucus's vice chairman, acted as the interim leader before the group selected Pierson.

Despite the political flare-up, Pierson, Ellington and Nasheed said the caucus was not affected by changing leaders. Pierson said he was not elected unanimously, but, Ellington said, the elections were fair.

Pierson believes he will be a successful leader because he isn't campaigning for a higher office. "I don't have a hidden agenda," he said.

Pierson said education is a top priority. "We need to figure out how to educate our kids and neighborhood," he said.

School accreditation is of particular interest to the caucus because many of Missouri's unaccredited school districts, such as Normandy and in Kansas City, are in its members' districts. When a school loses its accreditation, it must pay for students' transportation to an accredited school, as well as the difference in tuition, Pierson said, leading to the school's bankruptcy.

In addition to reforming the education system, Pierson said the caucus is opposed to voter ID and "right to work" legislation.

Pierson, who worked 32 years at General Motors, drew on personal experience to explain his opinion.

"Had it not been for the union, I never would have made those 32 years. I never would have retired (from GM)," he said.

Planning ahead, Pierson wants to increase the number of Democrats in the House, and hopes the party will band together to elect people in districts that it narrowly lost in the last election.

As for Nasheed, looking back on her time as leader of the Black Caucus, she said she is happier to be on the sidelines.

Nasheed said she thought Pierson was going to be a good leader, but, she noted with a smile, "He's going to have to fill some big shoes here."

Supervising editor is Gary Castor.

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