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Republicans control Missouri legislature; Sifton beats Lembke

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 6, 2012 - If there was any silver lining for Missouri Republicans on Tuesday, it was the party's perfromance in state legislative contests.

That's because Republicans will go into the next two years with super-majorities in both the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate, meaning they'll be able to override Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes without any Democratic help.

Even though state Rep. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, ousted state Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, Republicans have a 24-10 majority in the General Assembly's upper chamber, increasing their number by two. And Republicans actually managed to capture 110 out of 163 House districts, boosting their number by five seats.

With state Sens. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, running unopposed, the battle for the 1st senatorial district between Lembke and Sifton was the St. Louis area's only competitive state Senate contest. Sifton upended Lembke by fewer than 2,000 votes.

Lembke, a controversial and outspoken member senator, criticized everything from Missouri's nonpartisan court plan to red-light cameras. He was also a prominent critic of the state's tax credit system, which he termed "welfare for the rich."

While Lembke probably would have faced a competitive contest regardless, his re-election efforts weren't helped when the 1st District became more Democratic after redistricting. 

Sifton, a former Affton School Board member who is an attorney for Husch Blackwell, was almost diametrically opposed to Lembke on every issue. In addition to supporting some tax credit programs and opposing Lembke's push to change the nonpartisan court plan, Sifton was also much less socially conservative than Lembke. He is a proponent of abortion rights and spoke in support of extending nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation.

Lembke's defeat means that only two Republicans will represent the St. Louis area in the Missouri Senate. 

Sifton's win may be the lone bright spot for Senate Democrats. Republicans Doug Libla and Gary Romine won decisively in the 3rd and 25th Senate districts, which seep into southeast Missouri.

More notably, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, won decisively over state Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, in a district that had been represented by Democrats for decades. Schaefer, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, became the first Republican ever to win re-election to a state Senate seat that encompasses Boone County.

Republicans roll in Missouri House races

Meanwhile, Missouri Republicans increased their ranks by successfully defending incumbents who won in 2010 and knocking off Democratic legislators in rural districts.

For instance, in northeast Missouri, state Reps. Paul Quinn, D-Monroe City, and Tom Shively, D-Shelby County, lost their re-election bids. And former state Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, lost a close race with Republican Caleb Rowden in mid-Missouri.

Some Republican incumbents managed to win in Jefferson County, Greene County and the Kansas City suburbs. That was enough to push Republicans past the 109 members needed to override a veto.

But not all Republican incumbents will be returning next year. Former state Rep. Vicki Lorenz Englund defeated state Rep. Cloria Brown, R-St. Louis County, by about 300 votes in the 94th District. This is third time the two have faced each other in the south St. Louis County-based district.

And in Jefferson County, former Democratic state Reps. Jeff Roorda and Michael Frame prevailed in their comeback attempts. They'll be in the unusual position of serving with the Republicans who beat them in 2010, since state Reps. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, and Paul Wieland, R-Jefferson County, easily won their races in other legislative districts.

Kirkwood had an unexpectedly close race in which incumbent Rep. Rick Stream bested Democrat Deb Lavender by roughly 250 votes. Stream, R-Kirkwood, is poised to become the next chairman of the House Budget Committee, one of the most powerful posts in the Missouri House.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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