Missouri Senate Democrats are going through a leadership change.
Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh announced on Tuesday that she would step aside as her caucus’ leader. The Bellefontaine Neighbors Democrat had served in that leadership post since 2017. Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, will replace Walsh as minority leader.
In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Walsh said she decided to step aside so Rizzo could take the reins of the eight-person caucus while she is still in the Senate. She added that Rizzo would “still be able to rely on me if he had questions or needed help or assistance — which I doubt that he will.”
“And I don’t think that's an easy job,” Walsh said. “And I wouldn’t want to start it cold in November or next January never having worked in the leadership side of it.”
Walsh emphasized that she was not resigning from the Senate. She is barred from running for another term due to term limits. Walsh represents the 13th Senate District. That district takes in most of north St. Louis County, including cities like Florissant and Black Jack.
Rizzo was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2016 after serving for six years in the House. He represents a portion of Jackson County, including parts of Kansas City and Independence. He said in a statement that his caucus is “fighting for common sense values in the Senate, and we look forward to achieving more victories for Missouri families.”
Before entering the General Assembly in 2002, Walsh was a member of the Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers union. She served for eight years in the Missouri House and then won the 13th District Senate seat in 2012.
As minority leader, Walsh is responsible for appointing Democrats to Senate committees — and often plays a key behind-the-scenes role when her caucus is at odds with the GOP majority on particular pieces of legislation.
“I think that the relationships I had from the House moved over into the Senate with me,” Walsh said. “And I think that was part of my success. If you’re honest in this building, I think you’ll go far. I never told anybody I was going to do something and I didn’t follow through. I always stood by my word.”
Recently the Senate Democratic Caucus shrunk from 10 members to eight after Jason Holsman and Kiki Curls resigned to take gubernatorial appointments. Walsh noted that she often teased her GOP counterparts that she “only has to worry about eight of us, including me.” Senate Democrats have the power to either alter or kill legislation through the filibuster.
“[Republicans] have a lot more than I do,” Walsh said. “And with numbers comes bigger problems.”
Walsh said her post-legislative life will center around her new position as deputy director of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers’ Labor Management Cooperative Trust. In that role, Walsh helps promote the heating and frost insulation industry throughout the country.
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