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Politically Speaking: Dempsey explains his decision to leave the Missouri Senate

Former state Sen. Tom Dempsey
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome former Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey.

The St. Charles Republican provided some of his most in-depth comments about his departure from the Missouri Senate. He surprised many by resigning last month and taking a job at The Gateway Group, a lobbying organization that’s based in St. Louis. Retired financier Rex Sinquefield is one of the Gateway Group's clients.

Dempsey says the closure of the banquet hall operated by his family and term limits played a role in his decision. Members of the Dempsey family have been restaurateurs in St. Charles for decades.

He said he had lengthy conversations with his wife about “the next phase” in their lives, especially when term limits would have forced him to leave the Senate anyway after the 2016 session.

Here’s what Dempsey had to say during the show:

  • After winding down his family’s banquet hall business, Dempsey spent some time in 2014 “quietly seeing if there was a way for me to work and for my wife to work so that I could finish my term.” He said he “just couldn’t really make it happen.”
  • Earlier this year, Dempsey talked with officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation and let them know he was interested in becoming the agency’s executive director. And while there were other potential opportunities, he said he respected the Gateway Group’s work. “I think they’re a good firm and they’re going to continue to grow and I could be a part of that growth.”
  • Dempsey says he has no plans to lobby his former colleagues in the General Assembly, adding that his work will likely be focused elsewhere, including Washington, D.C., and Florida.
  • While he knew his decision would elicit criticism, he says it was the right move. “There are a lot of good people who work in Jefferson City,” Dempsey said. “I think I was one of them that shouldn’t be barred from being gainfully employed beyond their public service.”
  • Before he stepped aside, Dempsey voted against “right to work” when it came through the Missouri Senate. His St. Charles-based district is home to a large number of people associated with organized labor. “These are people that I have known my entire life that I knew before I ever thought about entering the legislature and that I’ll know long after I leave the legislature,” Dempsey said. “You see those kids every day. You see those people when you’re picking your kids up from school.”
  • Dempsey says it is “quite likely” his Senate seat will remain vacant until an election next year. If Gov. Jay Nixon were to call a special election, it would be up to political party committees to choose the nominees for that contest.
  • At 48 years old, Dempsey said that “there’s still a lot left for me out there” when it comes to running for another office. But while he wouldn’t rule out running for something again, he added “it’s not an immediate objective of mine.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Tom Dempsey on Twitter: @ThomasDDempsey

Music: “Bad Blood (From 1989)” by Ryan Adams  

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