Updated July 23 with the nominee — Democratic committee members in St. Louis and St. Louis County have nominated House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, as their party’s candidate to replace former state Sen. Joe Keaveny.
Keaveny resigned as the state senator for Missouri’s 4th District after the 2016 legislative session to become an administrative law judge.
The democratic nomination committee convened Saturday in south St. Louis to vote on their nominee. Hummel won by a wide majority.
The special election to replace Keaveny will coincide with the general election on Nov. 8.
Original story from May 25 — Few events in Missouri politics make party committee members more popular than an unexpected vacancy.
That’s because when someone leaves an office before their term is up, these elected party stalwarts are charged with picking a nominee for a special election. The decision becomes especially important when the vacancy is in an area dominated by a particular party — which happens to be the case with soon-to-be former state Sen. Joe Keaveny.
The St. Louis Democrat is expected to leave the Missouri Senate to become an administrative law judge. And that means it will be up to Democratic committeemen and committeewomen in the 4th Senatorial District to select a person to serve out the last couple of years of Keaveny's term. (The 4th District is heavily Democratic, so winning that party's nomination is usually tantamount to election. It is possible, though, that someone could run in the special election as an independent.)
Already, a number of state lawmakers have expressed interest in vying for the nomination — and it’s not too hard to figure out why. Even as a member of the minority party, an individual senator can play a big role in shaping or stopping legislation. And the two senators from St. Louis are often critical to getting major legislative initiatives passed for the city.
But the nomination process isn’t as straightforward as, say, a regular election. So this reporter thought it would be instructive to break down some of the guidelines for how committeepeople will choose Keaveny’s replacement.
Who gets to vote on Keaveny’s replacement?
Easy answer: The committeemen and committeewomen who were elected to represent wards or townships that make up the 4th Senatorial District.
In St. Louis, that includes the committeepeople elected in the following wards: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th and 28th.
In St. Louis County, that includes committeepeople who represent Clayton, Hadley, Gravois and Jefferson townships.
Are all committeepeople’s votes created equal?
No. Some committeepeople will cast more votes than others.
According to the Missouri Democratic Party Constitution, the actual number of votes is determined by the number of people who voted for Gov. Jay Nixon, divided by 1,000. Here’s a hypothetical example: If a committeeman and a committeewoman live in a city ward that’s completely within the 4th District and 5,000 people voted for Nixon in 2012, those two people would get a total of 10 votes.
But if a committeeman and a committeewoman live in a ward with only a couple of 4th Senatorial District precincts, and 1,000 people voted for Nixon in those precincts, then those two people will get a total of two votes.
What happens if fewer than a 1,000 people voted for Nixon in a ward?
Then the committeeman and committeewoman will get one vote. And a somewhat extreme example of this scenario applies here.
The 4th Senatorial District takes in a very, very, very tiny piece of the 15th Ward. In fact, literally one 15th Ward resident voted for Keaveny in the 2014 Democratic primary. But the two Democratic committeepeople who represent that ward will get a total of two votes to replace Keaveny.
Who are the actual people who will get to vote for Keaveny’s replacement?
The answer to this big question depends entirely on when Nixon announces the election.
There’s a somewhat broad assumption that the election to fill Keaveny’s seat will take place in November. But if Nixon announces the date on, say, May 31, then it's highly possible that current committeepeople will select the nominee. That’s because state law stipulates that a nominee "shall be filed with the secretary of state or proper election authority no later than 5 p.m. on the day which is midway between the day the election is called and election day." (State law also says the following: "The chair of the nominating committee shall, as soon as possible, but in no case later than two weeks after being notified of the vacancy, call a meeting of the nominating committee for the purpose of selecting a candidate to fill the vacancy." )
This matters in this situation, because there could be a pretty sizable turnover of Democratic committeemembers after the August primaries. Not only are some newcomers running against incumbents, but some incumbents aren’t running for re-election. And different people could very well have different preferences for who becomes the 4th District's next state senator.
Who are some possible contenders for Keaveny’s seat?
As of now, pretty much all of the possible candidates are sitting members of the Missouri House. They include House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, state Reps. Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis, Karla May, D-St. Louis, Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, and Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights.
It’s not out of the question that some local officials or non-electeds may try for the seat, but as of now none has stepped forward to express interest.
If a Senate aspirant is also a committeeperson, can they vote for themselves?
Yes. And that’s happened before: When the 4th District seat became vacant after Sen. Jeff Smith’s resignation, Keaveny was the 28th Ward committeeman. And he voted for himself. (Keaveny still holds that post and will get a say on who gets to replace him.)
Currently, Hummel is the 11th Ward committeeman. But that ward has only one precinct in the 4th Senatorial District, which means Hummel’s vote probably won’t have a huge impact. There's also a possibility that May could vote for herself, but a lot would have to happen: First, May would have to beat St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones in an August race to become the 26th Ward committeewoman. And if that happened, Nixon would have to call the special election at a time when newly-elected committeepeople would vote for Keaveny's replacement.
Where are the big population centers in the 4th Senatorial District?
There are basically three: southwest St. Louis (which includes the 12th, 14th, 16th, 23rd and 24th wards), northwest St. Louis (which includes the 22nd, 26th and 27th wards) and the central corridor (which includes the 17th, 18th, 28th wards and much of the county townships).
One of Hummel’s challenges, from a geographic perspective, is that his House district is basically split between the 4th and 5th senatorial districts. The other possible candidates’ House districts encompass a major population center: Kratky’s House district includes most of southwest St. Louis; Mitten’s (and to some extent Newman's) includes vote-rich areas of St. Louis County and southwest St. Louis; and May’s district encompasses parts of the central corridor and northwest St. Louis.
On the other hand, Hummel has almost certainly cultivated relationships with committeepeople all across the city – especially since he was the 13th Ward’s Democratic committeeman for a while before he moved to the 11th Ward. If his relationships are good enough for fellow committeemen and committeewomen to vote for him, then this could be an intra-party contest that won't break down on geographic lines.
So who will be the next senator from the 4th District?
As somebody who made some boneheaded presidential predictions, it’s probably not a good idea for me to be a soothsayer here.
But here are a couple things to consider: During the 2009 committee vote to replace Smith, none of the three candidates who ran had enough votes to win on the first ballot. When that happened, one of the contenders — Jerryl Christmas — was dropped from subsequent votes. And many of his previous supporters ultimately voted for Keaveny. That type of dynamic could affect the final outcome this time around.
There’s another important consideration: Just because someone says they’re going to seek the nomination doesn’t mean they’ll follow through. In 2009, then-state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, had initially been a candidate for the 4th District seat in 2009. When it was clear she wouldn’t get enough votes to snag the nomination, she decided to go to the movies instead.
Of course, Nasheed’s senatorial dreams were fulfilled several years later when she convincingly won election to the 5th Senatorial District. Which showcases yet another important variable: Even if a candidate doesn’t win this time around, they can try again when the seat up for election in 2018.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.