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Former House speaker selected for Senate leadership post

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 8, 2012 - Roughly four years removed from serving as speaker of the Missouri House,  Ron Richard will once again serve in a leadership role -- this time in the Missouri Senate.

Richard, now a GOP state senator from Joplin, was revealed Thursday as the Senate’s majority leader, a powerful post in charge of handling the legislative calendar.

He replaces Tom Dempsey, a St. Charles Republican who will become Senate president pro tem when the General Assembly goes back into session next year.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Richard said. “I’m very proud, and I’ll do the best I can.”

Richard served as speaker of the Missouri House from 2009 to early 2011. While past holders of that office – such as Republican Catherine Hanaway and Democrat Steve Gaw – faltered in bids for other elected posts, Richard won a southwest Missouri-based state Senate seat in 2010 without opposition.

But Richard’s election to leadership was something of a surprise. Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, had been seen as a possible successor to Dempsey. Parson didn’t return a message from the Beacon. And neither Richard nor other Republican senators provided many details of the caucus election.

In any case, the majority leader role will be something of a new experience for Richard. He rose to the speakership without serving as the House’s majority leader and told reporters he will talk with Dempsey about what to expect.

“It’s a new role for me,” Richard said. “I’m going to talk to Sen. Dempsey and make sure I understand my role and what he envisions for [Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City], the assistant majority leader. So we’ll be talking about that. He and I for sure will be talking about that.”

Dempsey will replace Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, a Dexter Republican who is leaving the Senate due to term limits. He won election Tuesday to a southeast Missouri judgeship.

Dempsey's unopposed election was in stark contrast to 2010, when Mayer and Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, literally had to draw lots to decide who would become the Senate's top Republican.

Dempsey said his caucus would be meeting next week to discuss priorities for the next session.

"We've moved that up a month because we want to hit the ground running in January," Dempsey said. "[We want to have] all our members have input in the items that we wish to address and then have a functional Senate where we can get to vote on these priorities that need to happen."

Additionally, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, was picked as the Senate Republican caucus chairman. And Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, was tabbed as majority caucus whip.

Justus, Hummel picked to lead Democrats

Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats also converged Thursday to select the leaders of their respective caucuses.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, was picked to lead Senate Democrats. Justus replaces Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Independence, who is leaving the legislature due to term limits.

Senate Democrats will have two more members than last cycle, but are still deeply outnumbered by Republicans. And House Republicans now have a veto-proof majority after Tuesday's elections.

Justus said her caucus is discussing how the change in the House would impact how Senate Democrats operate.

"The reality is we still have the governor's office and he can still veto things," Justus said. "The question will be whether or not there are issues that a majority of folks will want to override. We're a diverse state. And sometimes you can overrides on party lines and sometimes you can't."

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, was elected to serve as the House’s minority leader.

He will succeed House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, a Kansas City Democrat who decided against running for another term in the Missouri House.

“House Democrats look forward to pursuing a positive agenda focused on creating jobs, improving education and ensuring health care access in every Missouri community,” Hummel said in a statement. “And as the recent election cycle proved, we must take action to reduce the corrosive effects of big money on our political process. We will work hard with Gov. Jay Nixon and majority Republicans to find common ground on the things that matter to Missouri’s future.”

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

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