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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

Campaign trail: People to watch in the Missouri General Assembly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 12, 2012 - The 2012 campaign is over. And in a few short weeks, aspirants to elected office actually will have to govern.

That’s the rub: The Missouri General Assembly is a social and political beehive where relationships, political savvy and personalities can be as important as political party and policy.  

Sometimes, effective and consequential legislators come from outside the leadership bubble. That was especially the true for Sen. Jason Crowell, a Cape Girardeau Republican who managed to become a force in the Missouri Senate after shunning a leadership title.

Certainly House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and presumptive Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, will be the main people to watch when the legislature reconvenes. So, too, will be incoming House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, and future Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City. But there are others outside of leadership who could also make a big impact.

Here's a sample of legislators who could be worth watching when the legislature returns in January:

Young guns

House Reps. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and Caleb Jones, R-Moniteau County, probably didn’t need much of a crash course on the Missouri House when they were elected in 2010. Their fathers – Mark Richardson and Kenny Jones – made their mark when they served in the General Assembly’s lower chamber.

Richardson and Jones, both attorneys, carried important pieces of legislation during their first terms and could take an even bigger role in the largest Republican caucus in Missouri history. As term limits force members out, Richardson and Jones are widely seen as potential House leaders.

Some young Democrats who could become key opposition forces in the Missouri House include current Reps. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City, and Stephen Webber, D-Columbia. It’ll also be intriguing to watch how some younger incoming Democrats – John Wright of Columbia, Courtney Curtis of Berkeley and Michael Butler of St. Louis – operate.

Moving on up

Four new members of the Missouri Senate are back in the General Assembly after a two-year hiatus. But their time away may not detract from their becoming major players.

On the Democratic side, Sens.-elect Paul LeVota, D-Independence, and Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, are House veterans to watch. LeVota was minority leader in the House for four years and could be particularly adept at the rigors of senatorial debate and strategy. And Walsh’s pragmatic approach and existing working relationships could be a boost for the 10-person Democratic caucus.

Two other House veterans who won Senate seats after two years away are Sens.-elect Ed Emery, R-Lamar, and Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville. While Emery possesses some decidedly controversial views, he was a significant player in utility policy and could find a niche in the Senate. Walsh, for instance, said earlier this year that she worked well with Emery in the House.

At home in the House

One notable subplot of this year’s election cycle was how some former Democratic legislators attempted comebacks in a House radically reshaped by redistricting.

While some of those Democrats narrowly lost, at least four – former state Reps. Vicki Lorenz Englund, D-St. Louis County, Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, Michael Frame, D-Eureka, and Charlie Norr, D-Springfield – had better luck. No one should be surprised to see these veterans seemlessly get back into the House groove.

One Republican returning after a long hiatus is Nate Walker, a Kirksville Republican who served in the Missouri House in the 1980s. Walker’s institutional knowledge could be a big plus in the era of term limits.

Not afraid of a fight

Both state Reps. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, and Scott Sifton, D-Affton, took bruising paths to get to the Missouri Senate. 

Nasheed had to win a three-way primary – and win a lawsuit – to defeat state Sen. Robin Wright-Jones. And Sifton had to oust state Sen. Jim Lembke, a Lemay Republican nearly universally pegged as a tough campaigner. Having proved their mettle in  tough elections, both will be looking to make an impact – and may be viewed as contenders for higher office in the future.

People will be watching to see how Nasheed, one of two state senators representing St. Louis, adjusts to the Missouri Senate, especially since she attracted attention and criticism for voting at times with Republicans in the Missouri House.

Nasheed was recently picked as head of the legislative black caucus, which means that she'll be one of the most visible faces of the state's African-American delegation.

Down but not out

Even though Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, nabbed the second-in-command position as Senate majority leader, state Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, could have more influence outside the pressure-filled position.

Parson showcased immense political skill handling major changes to a controversial proposition weakening dog breeding regulations, a move which found legislative approval despite public opposition. With an easy-going manner and possibly six years left in the Senate, Parson’s time in the sun could emerge sooner than later.

Also noteworthy: Even though state Sens. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, and Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, didn’t win primaries for statewide office, the two Republicans still have two years left to handle big-ticket legislation.

Incredibly, the 39-year-old Rupp possesses more seniority than any other Missouri senator, something that would have been unthinkable back before term limits. 

Campaign Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

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

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