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Ten area legislators call themselves 'Blue Dogs'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 16, 2009 - Almost a dozen St. Louis area state legislators, most of them from the region's southern half,  have joined a new state House group called the Blue Dog Democratic Caucus.

The Blue Dogs are more conservative, particularly on fiscal issues and gun rights, a couple of the leaders say.

Democrats as a whole "get tagged very easily on the gun issue that we're all the same,'' said state Rep. Sam Komo, D-House Springs and the new caucus' co-chair for policy.

In the case of the Missouri Blue Dogs, most of its 27 members -- who span the state -- support gun rights, Komo said. Left unsaid was the implication that many Democrats, particularly in the urban areas, support some firearms restrictions.

Overall, Komo added, “The Blue Dog Caucus is committed to bridging the gap between the partisan and ideological extremes that have caused gridlock in Jefferson City.''

St. Louis member Vicki Englund, D-St. Louis County and the caucus' national-affairs co-chair, said that fiscal conservatism is the chief tie that the binds the caucus members.

The caucus strongly favors actions that protect small businesses and encourage their growth, said Englund. She's a small business owner herself, specializing in commercial real estate.

The Blue Dogs’ goals, announced in Monday's release, include "strengthening the state’s small businesses and family farms, improving health care access, expanding educational opportunities for all Missouri children, improving the state’s infrastructure and protecting Missourians’ constitutional rights."

Komo said the Blue Dog Caucus is not taking a position on the volatile abortion issue, because it has members on both sides.

Although the new caucus was only officially rolled out Monday, Komo said it had been active for several weeks.  And it may already have had some political impact.

The Blue Dog Caucus joined the Democrats' rural caucus in opposing the budget cuts that Gov. Jay Nixon had originally proposed for the state university system's extension program.

Late last week, Nixon announced that he had found some surplus money elsewhere, and was restoring most of the cut extension funds.

The Blue Dogs make up more than a third of the Democrats' 74 seats in the state House. (The GOP holds 89, and is in the majority.)

Komo and Englund says the Missouri Blue Dogs are modeled, in part, after their national counterparts in the U.S. Congress. Englund explained that one of her jobs, as national affairs co-chair, "is to get up-to-date on the role of the Blue Dogs in Congress'' and what issues they have been involved in.

Besides Englund and Komo, the St. Louis area Blue Dogs include:

Rep. Kenny Biermann of St. Charles

Rep. Ron Casey of Crystal City

Rep. Belinda Harris of Hillsboro

Rep. Michelle Kratky of St. Louis

Rep. Tim Meadows of Imperial

Rep. Ed Schieffer of Troy, whip

Rep. Sue Schoemehl of St. Louis

Rep. Pat Yaeger of St. Louis

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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