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Government, Politics & Issues

New Congress convenes with plenty of changes for Missouri, Illinois

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 3, 2013 - WASHINGTON – When the 113th Congress opens for business at noon on Thursday, the Capitol Hill delegations from Missouri and Illinois will have plenty of changes and challenges.

  • U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill will become the first Missouri Democrat to start a second Senate term in more than three decades. (The last such Democrat was the late U.S Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, who served three terms.)
  • For the first time in years, two new U.S. House members from the St. Louis region will be sworn in: U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, and Bill Enyart, D-Belleville. Wagner is a former ambassador, and Enyart is a retired general.
  • U.S Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who suffered a severe stroke last January, will return to the Senate after a year’s absence by walking up the U.S. Capitol steps – a challenging feat given the stroke’s damage to his left side.

As with any new Congress, there was new blood and a sense of renewed energy on Capitol Hill on Thursday, just two days after the 112th Congress ended its unpopular term by averting the fiscal cliff on New Year's Day.
“I’m a doer. I’ve got a lot of energy. I’m passionate about this district and I’m going to work real hard to represent it on a daily basis,” Wagner said in a recent interview.

She already had landed a position in the bottom rung of the House GOP leadership ladder as the representative of the class of incoming freshmen. Friends, family and supporters will join Wagner at a reception Thursday afternoon in her new House office in the Cannon building.

Only two Democrats in U.S. House delegation

After the new lawmakers take their places in the new Congress at noon, the delegation's new look – the result of redistricting, retirements and elections – will reflect alterations in political orientation, and possibly in relative clout.

The major changes include:

  • Fewer U.S. House votes, with Missouri now down to eight seats – half of the number of House members that represented the state from 1903-1933.
  • Less clout for the St. Louis region, caused by the elimination (by redistricting) of the district represented most recently by former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis. The Missouri side of the region now will be represented by the new “dean” of the House side, U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Wagner. 
  • More GOP dominance, as Missouri’s U.S. House delegation is down to two Democrats for the first time in 82 years (the 67th Congress, 1921-23). Both parties will hold one U.S. Senate seat as a result of McCaskill’s reelection to rejoin Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. The two remaining House Democrats, Clay and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, are both African Americans who represent big metropolitan areas. The other six House members represent mostly rural areas and – with the departure of moderate U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, in February – are generally conservative.
  • New delegation leadership. When Emerson, the current Missouri dean,  leaves for her new job, there will be new hosts to the monthly delegation meetings. Clay, the longest-serving House member, and the longest-serving Republican, U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, plan to take turns hosting those monthly meetings.

Clay, Graves will host delegation meetings

As the new House dean after Emerson, Clay said he is “looking forward to working with my colleagues from across the state” and coordinating with Graves “to lead our delegation in a bipartisan way.”

Missouri’s senators also have been attending delegation meetings, and Blunt – who, when his House and Senate years are added together, is the overall dean – said the state’s Republicans and Democrats “will find things we can work together on.”

With only two Democrats left in Missouri’s House delegation, Clay said, “I don’t know how exactly how it is going to affect us. I don’t think there would be that much of a difference.”

In an interview this week, Clay described Wagner – who will join him and Enyart in representing interests of the St. Louis region – as “a very congenial lady. And whoever wins the election to replace Jo Ann Emerson I’m sure we’ll get along with.”

“I’m ready to help both of them get into the swing of things,” said Clay. “It was nice to have Roy Blunt as my mentor when I came here. And Sam Graves and some of the others helped me through some of the early situations that you get yourself into.”

For her part, Wagner said in a recent interview that her 2nd District – centered on St. Louis County – “needs a strong voice, somebody who’s going to be involved in the community, in the business sector.” For the last dozen years, the district was represented by former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Wildwood.

Wagner – a close ally of Blunt who chaired his Senate campaign two years ago – said she planned to work with Clay and become a strong advocate of St. Louis regional issues.

“As someone who’s been involved in politics and public service for a number of years, I know Congressman Clay quite well and I look forward to a strong working relationship on behalf of our region,” she told the Beacon.

Blunt said that Emerson “will be missed” when she leaves next month, although he thinks it likely that her replacement also will be a Republican, given the heavily-GOP tendencies of the southeast Missouri district.

If that’s the case, Blunt said he was confident that the new-look Missouri delegation of seven Republicans and three Democrats (Clay, McCaskill and Cleaver) “can work just like the old delegation has.”

The advice from two of the St. Louis region’s representatives – Carnahan and former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, both of whom leave Congress Thursday – to their House colleagues was identical: Try to work together in a bipartisan way.

In his farewell speech this week, Carnahan appealed to members of the new Congress to “take on the spirit” of military veterans, and “put the country first and put our differences aside, so we can achieve great things.”

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