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Government, Politics & Issues
On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

Campaign trail: Chris Carter ready to move from Missouri House to City Hall

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 17, 2012 - In the term-limited world of the Missouri General Assembly, it's not unusual for state lawmakers to run for an office closer to home when their constitutionally mandated time in Jefferson City runs out.

But term limits aren't the reason state Rep. Chris Carter is leaving the Missouri House. The St. Louis Democrat is set to succeed his uncle, Greg Carter, who was the 27th Ward's alderman before he died in a truck accident this August.

The St. Louis City Democratic Central Committee picked Chris Carter as its nominee to serve the rest of his uncle's term, which goes until March of next year. He is almost assured to win the Oct. 16 special election for the ward.

And while moving from the House to City Hall may not have been part of Carter's political plan, he told the Beacon he's ready to make the transition.

I couldn't have dreamed of any of this stuff happening and me being able to step into my uncle's seat at the time under the current circumstances, Carter said in an interview last week in Jefferson City. I'm just looking forward to taking care of some of the people in the 27th Ward, and continuing to serve them like they deserve to be served.

Carter's family has long been involved in St. Louis politics. In addition to his uncle who had served as alderman since 1993 Carter's grandmother, Paula Carter, was elected to both the state House and Senate.

Chris Carter worked for former state Sen. Jeff Smith and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill before he easily won a Democratic primary for the 61st District House seat in 2008. He's faced no opposition since that time, and he even managed to avoid a challenge this year when redistricting pushed many of his colleagues into competitive primaries.

While Democrats have little power in the GOP-controlled House, Carter sponsored legislation to change sentences for crack-related offenses that eventually was rolled into a broader crime bill. He was beginning to rise in Democratic leadership, as he obtained the position of minority vice chair.

But as a state legislator, Carter said there was a bit of distance between what was being deliberated in the Capitol and what was transpiring at home.

Being in up in Jeff, we kind of see things from a 50,000-foot view, Carter said. People care about what we do, but they are highly uninformed on what we do here. It was rare that I got any calls from a constituent about their problems with health care or with something that we could help. But hanging out with my uncle and working with him, people care about more about local issues about their alleys and their streets and their trash bins."

"From that aspect," he added, "I think that it'll be a huge difference in the amount of constituent activity. But other than that, everything else is simply the same.

Michael Butler -- who won the Democratic primary in the 79th House District said Carter is well-positioned to make the transition, mainly because he's spent time around City Hall working with his uncle. And Butler noted that Carter had already adopted an aldermanic style as a state representative.

A lot of people actually say that Chris was kind of an aldermanic personality as a state rep, Butler said. He actually gave away iPads and laptops and did a bunch of giveaways in his district. Those are things you don't expect from a state representative more from an alderman. And people are very excited in Jefferson City to see how he much he's going to turn up giving to his community and how much he'll focus on the 27th Ward.

Butler said there are some obvious differences between City Hall and the Missouri House. One is the fact that the Board of Alderman has only 28 members, while the Missouri House has 163. And Butler said state legislators tend to be much younger than aldermen who aren't constricted by term limits.

But one advantage that Carter has beyond his existing relationships in City Hall is his connections in Jefferson City. Butler who went to college with Carter at Alabama A&M said he'll try to match any local money going to fund the Neighborhood Ownership Model an anti-crime initiative sparked in Lafayette Park with state money.

I'm excited to try and improve public safety and reduce crime by working with Chris and [Board of Alderman President] Lewis Reed with that Neighborhood Ownership Model, he said.

Replacing the replacement

Carter indicated that two people Keith Tubbs and Chris Elliott are interested in succeeding him in the Missouri House.

Tubbs has been active in progressive politics for some time, as he's worked with Missouri ProVote and the SEIU. Elliott - who has served as an adjunct professor of social work at Saint Louis University and St. Louis Community College - unsuccessfully ran for the 77th District House seat in August. Carter noted that Elliott lives in the 76th District but decided against challenging a sitting lawmaker.

Members of the Democratic Central Committee who reside within the 76th District's boundaries will choose Carter's replacement by a weighted vote. And while Carter serves as the 27th Ward's committeeman, he said he'll have to resign after he's elected as alderman.

I think that both of them are great choices, Carter said. Out of those two guys, those are the only two that I've spoken with that are actually willing to run that would kick butt and are highly qualified.

Campaign Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

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