Missouri state senator and likely attorney general candidate Chris Koster announced Wednesday morning that he is leaving the Republican Party and joining the Democrats.
Calling himself a moderate, Koster said he has no place in today’s Republican Party. In his speech in front of the MU Columns, Koster said one of the main reasons for his split is the GOP’s efforts to criminalize embryonic stem cell research. Koster said he welcomes the opportunity for such research in Missouri.
“The very same Harvard scientists celebrated throughout the world for their potentially life-saving research would, within the borders of Missouri, be imprisoned for 15 years for conducting the identical laboratory work,” Koster said.
He added, “Go to Boston for your Nobel Prize. Come to Missouri for your leg irons.”
While Koster has yet to officially announce his candidacy for attorney general, his campaign committee, Missourians for Koster, had raised $314,304 as of April 15, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission. James Stowers of The Stowers Institute of Medical Research, a biomedical research organization based in Kansas City, gave $125,000 to the committee, and Supporters of Health Research and Treatments, a political action committee, gave $75,000. That’s at least three times as much as the group has given to any other candidate.
More than half of all Koster’s campaign contributions, as of April 2007, were from pro-stem cell research organizations.
While Koster said the issue of stem cell research was the primary motivation for switching parties, it isn’t the only one.
“Their far-right crusade has infected everything, from the life-saving research itself to economic development in our state, to the sale of the MOHELA assets, to the larger debate over abortion, to the nomination of curators and high governmental appointees, to the reform of our state’s Medicaid system,” Koster said. “I cannot in good conscience remain in Republican ranks and pretend that attempting to modulate extremist priorities is enough.”
Jared Craighead, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, issued a statement Wednesday calling Koster’s decision a calculated attempt to win the attorney general primaries. State Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, is also running for the statewide post.
“Simply stated, Chris has done the political calculus and does not believe he can win a Republican primary and does not believe that Jeff Harris is a formidable opponent,” Craighead said.
Likely Republican primary opponents include Catherine Hanaway, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern Missouri District, and state Sen. Michael Gibbons, president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.
Minority Floor Leader Maida Coleman said she welcomes Koster to the Democratic Party. The change creates a Senate split of 21 Republicans to 12 Democrats, with one vacancy.
“I congratulate the senator on his choice to leave the Republican Party. I think it leads to an interesting dynamic for the next legislative session,” Coleman said. “I’m pleased that I have an additional Democrat to support democratic values.”
Coleman did say that some of Koster’s agenda runs completely opposite to Democrats’ goals.
“I expect that Chris will resign from the Senate immediately and stand for election as a Democrat in a special election so that the people of the 31st Senatorial District have an opportunity to decide whether they want him representing them now that he has totally reversed his positions on important issues like gay marriage, Second Amendment rights and Medicaid reform,” said Craighead, executive director of the GOP.
In response to accusations that Koster saw an easier opponent in Harris, Coleman said Koster will have to gain many Democrats’ trust before earning a nomination. She said Koster would be mistaken to think of Harris as anything less than a formidable opponent.
“He certainly has a real force to reckon with in Rep. Jeff Harris, who announced his campaign for attorney general almost a year ago,” Coleman said.
Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said he supports Koster’s switch.
“We are pleased that Sen. Koster is following the lead of Republicans and Independents across the state and rejecting (Gov.) Matt Blunt’s failed policies and embracing the mainstream priorities of the Democratic Party,” Cardetti said in a written statement.