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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis-Area Congressmen Make Farewell Addresses After Lengthy Tenures In Congress

Congressman Lacy Clay speaks with reporters at the Forward Together bus tour kickoff event outside the Missouri History Museum earlier in October.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
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U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, shown talking to reporters in 2016, is leaving the House in January after losing a Democratic primary to Cori Bush.

Two St. Louis-area lawmakers delivered farewell addresses on Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber, using their brief speeches to thank friends and supporters and reflect on their long careers.

Reps. Lacy Clay, D-University City, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, are leaving for different reasons: Shimkus is retiring, while Clay lost a primary to Cori Bush earlier this year.

Clay, who was first elected to Congress in 2000, spent most of his roughly five-minute speech thanking his staff and family. He made a point to thank his father and predecessor in Congress, Bill Clay, whom he called “his personal hero and best adviser.”

Bill Clay, a trailblazing civil rights and political leader, was the first African American ever elected to Congress from Missouri.

“Over my 10 terms, I have fearlessly advocated for the permanent interests of African Americans and other unheard voices,” Lacy Clay said.

Clay is one of the last elected officials from Missouri to have served during the 1980s. He was first elected to the Missouri House in 1983 and eventually won a St. Louis-based state Senate seat in 1991. Unlike many Missouri Democrats, his entire tenure in the General Assembly corresponded with his party being in the majority.

He first won election in 2000 to represent the 1st Congressional District, which takes in parts of St. Louis and St. Louis County. During his tenure, he served on the House Financial Services Committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee. And he mentioned during his speech key projects that happened over the course of his terms, including the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency facility that’s being built in north St. Louis.

“I have had many legislative achievements in this body, and I thank all of my colleagues who assisted me in what the Scriptures noted: 'Caring for the least of these,'” Clay said.

Illinois Republican Congressman John Shimkus talks about national emergency, border security, and immigration. Shimkus continues his support for President Trump's national emergency at the border. March 22, 2019
File Photo | Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat
Congressman John Shimkus is also leaving Congress at the end of the year. The Collinsville Republican was first elected to the U.S. House in 1996.

Shimkus reflects

Shimkus announced his retirement last year from Illinois’ 15th Congressional District, which takes in a large swath of southern Illinois. He was first elected to Congress in 1996 and was a key member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

During his speech, Shimkus thanked the volunteers and supporters who had helped him in his political career.

“It is amazing how diverse this group is,” Shimkus said. “They are young and old. They are rich and poor. They live in towns, villages and isolated country roads. While conservative in ideology, they identify as Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and even independents.”

Shimkus, who is of Lithuanian descent, often took a keen interest in elections throughout republics in the former Soviet Union. During a 2014 episode of Politically Speaking, he talked about potentially inviting Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia into NATO.

The 15th District is heavily Republican, so Shimkus did not face particularly arduous challenges for reelection over the past few cycles. He’ll be succeeded in Congress by Republican Mary Miller.

Congressman Jason Smith, R-Salem, is a member of House Republican leadership, which means he's spent some time with President Donald Trump.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Congressman Jason Smith, seen here during a 2019 speech in St. Louis County, will serve as the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. The 40-year-old Republican from Salem has been on an upward trajectory in Congress since getting elected in 2013.

Ranking Republican House members

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced several St. Louis-area lawmakers will be ranking members for a number of key congressional committees.

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, was tapped as the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. It marks the latest move in Smith’s upward trajectory through the House, which included election to House GOP leadership.

“As our debt grows, the people who will feel the pain are not the wealthy, but the working class,” Smith said in a statement. “The United States needs a budget that will get back to our foundational beliefs, focused on helping working families and putting them first.”

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, was picked as the ranking member of the House Small Business Committee. Luetkemeyer, whose district includes part of St. Charles County, is also a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee.

McCarthy also chose Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, to be the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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