Final push for 3 Boone legislators

Sunday, January 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:21 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — This could be the final year in Missouri’s Capitol for three Columbia-area legislators, and their circumstances are hardly conducive for going out with a bang.

Boone County’s senator and two of its representatives, who are scheduled to be ousted by term limits, find themselves in the minority party and with limited power to push their legislation to the top of the legislative agenda.

After a nearly 50-year Democratic Party reign in the Missouri General Assembly, the Republican takeover in 2002 still stings for Democratic legislators.

Chuckling about what he would try to do if he could reprise his four terms in the House, Rep. Chuck Graham said: “I’d stay in the majority for my last year. I don’t like being in the minority very much.”

Sen. Ken Jacob, Democratic floor leader and a 22-year veteran of the General Assembly, found less to laugh about with his party being in the minority position.

“I don’t come up here nowadays with a radical, conservative group of legislators — that’s just their political philosophy — and expect to pass a lot of bills,” he said.

Still, there are hopes.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson has proposed a number of bills pertaining to issues she has championed in the past. Those she’s choosing to focus on in her last term include providing health insurance benefits for all mental health care. In addition, she has sponsored legislation that would better coordinate services for children from birth to age 5.

“There are always things you wish you had more time to work out, but that’s all part of the process,” Wilson said, reflecting on her time as a representative.

As a response to the July death of Christine Ewing, who fell 20 feet from a portable climbing wall, Graham has sponsored legislation that would require licensing and yearly inspections for portable and stationary climbing walls.

Graham said he also is searching for funding streams for new building projects for the UM system and scholarships for Missouri students — such as Bright Flight, A-Plus scholarships and the Missouri Guarantee Scholarship Program.

When Democrats were in the majority, Graham was one of the forces behind legislation providing bond money to help finance the new basketball arena under construction at MU.

Columbia’s newest member of the legislature and the only one not forced out after this year by term limits is Rep. Jeff Harris, who is serving his first term.

Harris has filed a constitutional amendment that if approved by Missouri voters would authorize toll roads. His is one of several toll-road proposals that have been introduced.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that we have bipartisan support for that in the House and in the Senate, and I think we’ll have to be working for it,” he said.

Jacob has filed bills that propose adding a nonvoting faculty member to the UM Board of Curators, repealing the loss limit on gambling boats and repealing term limits.

Jacob, Wilson, Graham and Harris have all been strong supporters of UM in the past and say they will continue to try to protect the university system’s interests. But cuts to education and other services will be difficult to head off, Jacob said.

Although term limits call for an end to occupying their current seats, at least two Columbia-area legislators are seeking higher offices. Jacob is running for lieutenant governor and Graham has said he plans to seek Jacob’s seat. Wilson also said she might be interested in the Senate seat.

As the 2002 election saw the Democrats lose 14 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate, another election might further increase the Republican majority.

Republicans already have announced candidacies for Wilson’s and Jacob’s positions. A Republican candidate for Wilson’s seat, Joel Jeffries, ran against her in 2002 — getting about 42 percent of the vote.

Wilson said thinking about upcoming elections is not the most important thing on her mind this session.

She said, though: “I intend to do everything that I can to see that people who share priorities that I have, which I think are reflective of the priorities of my district, be able to have an impact by holding this seat.”

Graham, who said he already is talking to Democratic candidates he believes are promising, is not overly concerned with who will claim his seat after the November elections.

“It’s in someone else’s hands to win now, not mine,” he said. “So I’m just going to worry about the Senate seat.”

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