Republicans to elect possible House speaker

The party wants the early caucus to aid in a smooth transition of power.
Monday, September 10, 2007 | 9:25 p.m. CDT; updated 10:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY ­­— House Republicans plan to meet Wednesday to elect who they hope will be voted in as the speaker of the House for the 2009 legislative session.

The position will not be voted on by the Missouri General Assembly until January 2009, after the November 2008 elections.

The two candidates are Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who led the fight in the House to provide tax breaks for businesses and developers, and Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, the budget committee chairman.

Republicans say that the goal of the early caucus is to maintain a cohesiveness that will help make a smooth transition of power.

“It is a good idea in terms of planning and continuity,” Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia said.

The selection of a speaker-elect before a majority party has been voted in is unusual in Missouri. This is the first time a caucus will meet to choose between two candidates.

“Speaker (Rod) Jetton got the idea from other states,” Director of House Communications Aaron Willard said. “Florida is one in particular, where they chose a speaker elect, which is supposed to help with transition. If they do it a year ahead, then there is less turmoil within the caucus.”

Willard said that regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s caucus, nothing will be determined until 2009, when the entire House votes. The voting members of Wednesday’s caucus may not be the same members who vote in 2009, depending on the outcome of the election.

Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said that Republicans are “putting the cart before the horse” in voting for a speaker-elect in the caucus.

“House Republicans lost a number of seats last election cycle, and if they lose a number more this next cycle, they will actually be in the minority and not the majority anymore,” Cardetti said.

For the speaker to be a member of the Republican party, the Republicans must maintain a simple majority. Currently, the party has an 11-seat advantage.

Cardetti said the process is going to shut out freshman Republicans who are elected in November of 2008 from having a say in the party’s leadership.

Robb said he doesn’t anticipate possible first-year representatives taking issue with the process.

“They don’t even know anyone in the legislature very well, unless it is pure happenstance,” Robb said.

Robb said the Democratic caucus has the same option of voting in a speaker-elect in advance.

But Rep. Paul Levota, incoming Democratic floor leader, said Democrats are more focused on winning the majority.

“Elections matter, and that is what we are focused on: Communicating our message to the people of Missouri, not looking past to who will be in power,” Levota said.

But, Cardetti said: “Regardless of what happens, we think that either Rep. Richard or Icet could make a very fine minority leader.”

The Republican caucus is scheduled to meet Tuesday to select the Republican majority leader and to nominate its choice for the speaker pro tem for the 2008 legislative session. Both positions are vacant.

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