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.
“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.