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Some Conservatives Declare Opposition To Diehl, Likely Next Speaker Of Missouri House

Missouri state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country.
(St. Louis Public Radio)
Missouri state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country.

Roughly a dozen conservative activists are calling on Missouri legislators to select someone other than state Rep. John Diehl as the next House speaker, contending that he hasn’t been conservative enough.

Diehl, R-Town and Country, currently the House majority leader, was chosen by the House Republican caucus more than a year ago to be the next speaker. (That, of course, assumes he wins re-election in November, and Republicans remain in power.)

A small group of critics gathered Tuesday in Queeny Park to accuse Diehl of supporting red-light cameras, watering down efforts to kill educational standards known as Common Core, and of killing gun-rights bills  that would have barred enforcement of federal gun laws.

The group included several tea party activists who waved “Don’t Tread On Me’’ signs, as well as some active in the state’s Constitution Party, which generally is more conservative than the GOP.

Ron Calzone, a gun-rights activist, said the coalition’s basic complaint was that Diehl represented what they viewed as a flawed system in the Missouri Capitol. Calzone called for the House to adopt a setup in which the speaker has less power.

Calzone and his allies have set up a special website to advance their cause.

“We want the speaker to be a facilitator, not a decision maker,’’ Calzone said. He cited various instances where Diehl as majority leader has been accused of killing or weakening legislation that some conservatives had sought.

Diehl, a lawyer, handily survived an effort a year ago by some conservatives to replace him with state Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, the cousin of outgoing Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

Stacy Shore of Camdenton, an activist with the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, called on Diehl to act to strip funding from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The gun-rights bill that Calzone supported was vetoed in 2013 by Gov. Jay Nixon, and the General Assembly narrowly failed to override the governor’s action.  The House had overridden the bill, but it was killed in the Senate by GOP leaders because of concerns voiced by law enforcement.

A similar gun-rights bill died in the General Assembly this last session, and Calzone blames Diehl for its demise. A different gun-rights bill that allows open carry of firearms, encourages schools to arm personnel and lowers the minimum age for concealed-carry permits did become law over Nixon's veto. Diehl backed that bill.

After Tuesday’s news conference, Diehl replied in a brief interview, “We live in a vibrant democracy, and everybody is entitled to their own opinion and should be respected for their opinion. My door is always open.”

State Republican Party chairman Ed Martin, a tea-party activist himself, also issued a statement in support of Diehl.  "I have stood shoulder to shoulder with John Diehl fighting against ACORN and for conservative causes like pro-life and Second Amendment protections,” Martin said. “Missouri Republicans stand united behind him as our next speaker and we look forward to working to advance his conservative agenda in the coming years."

The group gathered in Queeny Park also criticized Diehl’s activities when he chaired the St. Louis County Election Board because he oversaw the county’s conversion to electronic voting machines. Some of the dissidents advocate a return to paper ballots, saying electronic machines can be manipulated and are open to fraud.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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