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Crowell joins crowded GOP field vying to replace Emerson in Congress

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 10, 2013 - Jason Crowell, who officially stepped down Wednesday as Missouri’s  27th District state senator, has swiftly pivoted to add his name to the growing list of Republicans seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.

Most of the crowd of candidates – numbering at least 17, according to an unofficial count – were gathering Thursday night in Salem, Mo., for the first of two major forums. A second forum is slated for Jan. 17 in Cape Girardeau.

Crowell joins a cadre of hopefuls who already include: Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, former U.S. Rep. Wendell Bailey, Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, state Rep. Todd Richardson and Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party and Emerson's former chief of staff.

The Republican nominee will be selected by GOP officials -- close to 90, in all -- from each of the 30 counties within the 8th District. The Democratic and Libertarian parties will do the same, although so far no major names from those camps have come forward.

The 8th District, which leans Republican, spans from Missouri’s bootheel to the southern half of Jefferson County.

Crowell cites 'anti-establishment' image

Crowell had told the Beacon in December that he was seriously mulling over a candidacy, even though he had brushed off a congressional run in the past. He said he had to talk the matter over with his wife, Casey, over the holidays.

In a letter to committeemen and committeewomen on his Facebook page, Crowell said that “Washington, D.C. is starved for leaders that will put principle above personal popularity.

“If you believe, like me, that we are failing in this regard and what is needed most are leaders who will stand up to the special interests, the establishment and President (Barack) Obama when necessary, then Casey and I ask for your consideration,” Crowell said.

Attached to the letter to committee members was a bio detailing Crowell’s legislative history, which includes shepherding major changes to the state’s pension system and requiring people receiving welfare to take drug tests. He also noted his clashes with fellow Republicans, including his opposition to incentives to foster an international trade hub at Lambert Airport.

It remains to be seen, though, whether Crowell’s propensity to go against the grain of his party will hinder efforts to be selected by the committee.

Crowell told the Beacon, “I’ve been called by several members of the 8th congressional committee, not only in the Senate district that I represent. I guess more people paid attention to what was going on in Jeff City – particularly the China hub debate – than I thought in southern Missouri."

Lloyd Smith and Kinder are seen as the contenders most tied to the GOP's "establishment.''

Some party activists say one issue facing the GOP selection committee is whether to go with a veteran like Smith, Steelman or Kinder, who would likely be in Congress perhaps a decade or so, or to choose someone much younger like Richardson, Crowell or Jason Smith -- who could be in Congress for decades.

Bailey, 72, has been lobbying party leaders with that thought in mind, telling Republicans that he wants to hold the seat only until 2014, so that younger contenders have a chance to assemble serious campaign bids.

Emerson plans to resign in early February so she can take the helm as the new chief of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a post with an annual salary of well over $1 million.

Emerson has offered to move up her departure date if Gov. Jay Nixon will set the special election for April 2, already an official election date, to save money for state and local election authorities. The governor’s staff says nothing will be set until she steps down.

Legislative leaders mull lieutenant governor succession

Meanwhile, leaders in both the Missouri House and Senate gave their take Wednesday about whether they plan to push legislation to fill statewide vacancies through special elections. That’s especially relevant now, since Kinder is actively pursuing the 8th District nomination.

Democrats point out that other governors have filled lieutenant governor vacancies through appointments, most recently in 2000. That’s when Gov. Roger Wilson – who had assumed the governorship after Gov. Mel Carnahan’s death – appointed Joe Maxwell to serve out the remainder of his term. Maxwell had won the 2000 election for lieutenant governor.

Gov. Jay Nixon and his staff have made the same point, repeatedly, for weeks. The governor's latest comment on the subject was today, when he told reporters in Jefferson City that precedent mattered. “The two times in recent history where that position has become open for (different) reasons, the governor has appointed a lt. governor and those folks served," Nixon said. "I think history would say that that authority lies there, yeah.”

But Republicans point to a specific statute that they say appears to bar a governor from appointing a lieutenant governor. There is widely expected to be a court fight if Nixon appoints a Democrat to replace Kinder.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, told reporters that the House would once again try to pass legislation filling all statewide vacancies – including the lieutenant governorship – through special elections. One of Kinder’s rivals in the 8th District nomination – Jason Smith, R-Salem – has introduced that bill for years.

“It has been a priority for the House before this year,” Jones said. “When the folks critical of Rep. Smith on their side of the aisle said, ‘Well, what could possibly be the need for this legislation?’ We’ve answered that question now. Maybe he’s clairvoyant. I don’t know. But Jason knew that problems like this could come up.”

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, took a dimmer view of the proposal, noting that Republicans are pushing the proposal because the governor is a Democrat.

“I question whether if there was a Republican governor whether it would be filed at all,” Hummel said. “Having said that, that’s been the system that’s been in place since Missouri has been a state and I see no reason to change that.”

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he supports filling the lieutenant governor vacancy with a special election but does not see it as a pressing priority.

“I do think that members want to address more clearly that statute,” Dempsey said. “My focus is on our economic climate, getting people working. I would say a special election would be my preference. But there’s a lot that has to happen there. We don’t even have a special election that’s been set for the congressional seat. So there’s many things yet to occur, which we’ll be all watching.”

At forum, all tout conservative credentials

Press accounts -- perhaps more telling, Twitter traffic  -- made clear that the 13 Republican contenders who participated in the Salem forum were each out to burnish his or her conservative bona fides.

(A special Twitter site was set up: #Mo8.)

Indeed, many of the quotes implied that most or all of the candidates were more conservative than Emerson -- who has been accused in the past of being too moderate on certain issues.

Emerson, for example, voted for the "fiscal cliff'' deal that passed during the final hours of Congress' lame-duck session. All of the GOP candidates at Thursday's Salem forum declared they would have voted against it.

All said they were against embryonic stem-cell research, which Emerson supports.

The solid conservative stances prompted one well-known Democratic activist to post on Twitter, "Last time there were this many religious fundamentalists in Salem a bunch of witches got burned."

Gun control also appeared to have been a hot topic. The most-tweeted comment (at least 10 "retweets") appeared to be Kinder's observation that "assault weapon… is a term used by suburban soccer moms who do not understand what is being discussed."

The runnerup for top Twitter quote was arguably the comment from one of the Republican committeepeople who will decide the GOP nominee. The official highlighted her pro-gun views by declaring to the crowd: "I killed a squirrel for breakfast this morning."

Candidate Richardson later tweeted, "Rest assured, if elected to the #mo8 my victory party will be catered with squirrel meat." 

The Southeast Missourian newspaper created videos of all of the candidate presentation. Click on the videos below to watch:

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