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AG candidate stepping down as minority leader

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:43 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

As Missouri House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, steps down from that position to focus on his bid to become the state’s next attorney general, the House Democratic Caucus is preparing to fill the vacated role.

The caucus plans to vote on Harris’s successor at its annual summer meeting July 21 in Jefferson City, Marc Powers, caucus spokesman, said.

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By Tuesday afternoon, only Missouri House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, had declared his candidacy to succeed Harris, Powers said. But more could enter the race.

LeVota, the first member of the Democratic leadership elected from Jackson County since 1987, was born and raised in the district he serves.

“It’s an honor to be a Democrat from an area with such rich history,” LeVota said, speaking of the region where Harry Truman also grew up.

LeVota said he hopes to build on what he accomplished while working alongside Harris for the past three years. He cited the creation of the Moving Missouri Forward Plan as a major milestone. The legislative agenda calls for increasing access to health care, creating jobs, improving schools and restoring integrity and accountability to government. LeVota said many of the same goals were his personal priorities.

House caucuses typically elect leaders after November general elections for a term of two years. But when someone steps down, an off-year election is triggered, Powers said.

On July 21, behind closed doors, the 70 Democratic House legislators will determine the next minority leader either by a voice vote of acclamation if there is only one candidate that everyone agrees upon, or by written vote if there are multiple candidates. Powers estimates the process will take about an hour.

The changing of the guard, however, will not be immediate. Harris will be minority leader until the conclusion of the one- to two-day veto session that starts Sept. 12. If the governor calls a special veto session, however, it could last a week or two. The new minority leader will serve until the next general election in November 2008, Powers said.

Although he’s stepping down as minority leader, Harris said he will finish his term as 23rd District representative, which ends in January 2009.

Harris said he is confident he is making the right decision. The duties that come with being House minority leader don’t allow enough time to focus on his campaign, Harris said.

“It’s not fair to people invested in the campaign and the caucus to be a full-time candidate and leader,” he said. “It is important to be focused on becoming the next attorney general.”


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