JEFFERSON CITY — Rep. Ron Richard, R- Joplin, is poised to assume the most powerful position in the state House of Representatives after the Republican caucus voted him speaker-elect for the 2009 legislative session.
But first, Richards must get re-elected, and Republicans must maintain their majority over Democrats through November 2008.
Richard was picked by the 90-member GOP caucus in a closed vote in the House chamber. He would succeed Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, as House Speaker.
“We thought we had an opportunity to win, we had a pretty good plan, we had a lot guys and ladies to help us, so, was I surprised? I don’t know if I was surprised, but I am relieved,” Richard said of the results.
The other representative vying for the position was House budget committee chairman Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood. Despite the run-off, Richard promised that he would re-name Icet as chairman of the most powerful committee in the House.
“I told him that if the majority does continue that I would look to him to continue as budget chair, that is the only promise I have made,” Richard said.
Before the vote, Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, said that Icet’s success as budget chairman might actually work against him.
“I had a couple of members tell me exactly that, ‘You are doing such a good job, we hate to see you go,’” Icet said. “That is kind of a two-edged sword. To say, ‘Well I appreciate that, but I still want you to vote for me.’”
The vote is a new exercise by the caucus, one that Republicans hope will help ease the transition of power following the November 2008 election.
Both Icet and Richard agreed that the process will help minimize the limitations of term limits in the House and help freshman Republicans decide their party’s leadership.
“Normally we would go through this in November of 2008, after the election. Whoever would win would only have two months to get up to speed, and I will assure you that two months is not nearly long enough,” Icet said. “So this gives an opportunity for Rep. Richard to transition and to meet people around the state and to take the time to move up that proverbial learning curve.”
Richard said that he will continue to work closely with Jetton leading up to 2009, but that Jetton is the one in charge.
“I will not take anything away from Speaker Jetton; I will not let that happen,” Richard said.
Richard recently gained attention for sponsoring an economic development bill to provide tax breaks for businesses and developers.
The Speaker vote by Republicans culminates almost a yearlong campaign for both Icet and Richard. Jetton proposed the idea of the Speaker-elect position, an idea he borrowed from other states.
Icet said that despite his loss, he is pleased with the process, and currently, he said, there is work to be done in the upcoming legislative session.
“I plan to continue to do the same things that I have always done to help out my colleagues,” Icet said.
In forecasting for his potential role following state representative elections, Richard said that he could bring bi-partisanship to the position.
“It takes a team effort, there is always a rule by 82 around here,” Richard said. “The speaker can’t do anything unless he has 81 behind him. So that is where I will be heading. Try to find out where our caucus wants to go and how aggressive their interests are.”
As speaker, Richard would have the duty and discretion of assigning bills to committees. But to get there, Richard and Republicans have a lot of work to do.
“Nothing is cut in granite. If it doesn’t work, the caucus wants to change, we’ll see,” Richard said. “This is a brand new process — first time it has ever happened — so let’s give it a little time and see if it works.”