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Government, Politics & Issues

Jetton's legislative losses could be other consultants' gains

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 9, 2009 - After the initial shock over former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton's arrest on assault charges stemming from a sexual encounter, Missouri's political insiders -- especially fellow Republicans -- are focusing on minimizing any damage and moving on.

Regardless of the outcome of his legal case, the lucrative career of Jetton as a political consultant is, by virtually all accounts, over.

The obvious follow-up question: Who will get Jetton's cadre of clients?

Even before he left the Legislature last year, Jetton -- with a Twitter moniker of "Jedi Jetton" -- had built a consulting business that quickly propelled him into the ranks of a handful or so of the most influential, and aggressive, Republican operatives in the state.

His most prominent competitors or business colleagues include:

-- Jeff Roe, the Kansas City-based consultant whose clients include Bill Corrigan, a Republican candidate for St. Louis County executive. Roe is close to U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, and is strongly disliked by U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. Roe has clients in a number of states, and generally is considered the most powerful GOP consultant in western Missouri. Last year, he assisted former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman in her failed 2008 bid for governor.

-- John Hancock, the St. Louis-based consultant who is the former executive director for the Missouri Republican Party, and still does some work for the party. A former state legislator, Hancock has held key posts in the gubernatorial campaigns of former Gov. Matt Blunt and Steelman's 2008 nemesis, then-U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof. Hancock currently has a number of clients in other states and has become nationally known for his firm's prowess at opposition research. Hancock and Jetton both did work for 2008 president hopeful Mitt Romney.

-- David Barklage, based in southeast Missouri and close to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has been at political odds with Jetton for awhile. (Note the lack of public comment from Kinder, the only statewide Republican officeholder in the state Capitol, about Jetton's troubles.) Barklage has legislative clients, but also has been involved in a number of issues campaigns.

-- James Harris, a former aide to Matt Blunt who has a number of legislative clients, but is arguably best known as the executive director of Show Me Better Courts, the group conducting an initiative petition drive aimed at changing how Missouri selects many of its judges, including those on the state Supreme Court.

The Kansas City Star reported late Tuesday that Jetton has been telling clients that his consulting firm's vice president, Eric Brooks, will open a new firm.

But some Republicans already privately speculate that many of Jetton's legislative clients want to avoid any public perception of any link -- no matter how remote -- to Jetton.

The most obvious beneficiary, say some: Harris, who handles legislative clients and is familiar to many in Jetton's circle, although Harris and Jetton apparently have been on strained terms for some time.

Harris, like Jetton, is based in Jefferson City. Harris was somewhat circumspect in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

"In my political practice, we don't actively seek out candidates," Harris said. "Most of my business comes from people who seek me out."

Has he been getting calls from Jetton's now-former clients? "I have spoken with lawmakers today," Harris said. "I have spoken with more than I normally do, and some were clients of Rod Jetton."

Jetton's assault charge, and the sexual nature of it, "came as a complete surprise," Harris continued.

"The alleged actions in this matter are unacceptable," Harris said. "The Republican Party places great emphasis on the family and we must work to strengthen families without tearing down values. The entire matter is now in the hands of the judicial system and we need to hope for justice.”

Harris then added: “I help outstanding Republicans who want to make our state a better place and stand for conservative values.”

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