Mis­souri Democrats to re­build af­ter loss by McCaskill

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY AL­LI­SON KITE, JA­SON HAN­COCK AND LIND­SAY WISE akite@kc­star.com jhan­cock@kc­star.com lwise@mc­clatchydc.com

Mis­souri Democrats’ pres­ence in state pol­i­tics has shriv­eled to its small­est in well over a decade as the once-pur­ple state turns deeper crim­son.

With Claire McCaskill’s de­feat Tues­day night, the party loses its stan­dard bearer and a sea­soned cam­paigner who rose through the ranks of the party over her 36-year ca­reer in elected of­fice.

“There will cer­tainly be a lead­er­ship void in Claire’s ab­sence,” said Roy Tem­ple, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mis­souri Demo­cratic Party.

Of the six statewide elected po­si­tions, Democrats hold one. Repub­li­cans con­trol both U.S. Se­nate seats and more than two-thirds of the seats in both the Mis­souri House and Se­nate. Of Mis­souri’s eight con­gres­sional dis­tricts, only two are held by Democrats: Emanuel Cleaver, the for­mer Kansas City mayor, and Lacy Clay, who rep­re­sents St. Louis.

As the party at­tempts to claw its way back into po­lit­i­cal rel­e­vance, it must face the fact that two decades of GOP elec­toral suc­cess has left Democrats with a de­pleted bench. Whether the party can mount a resur­gence in a state where Se­na­tor-elect Josh Hawley rode the Trump vote into of­fice will de­pend on grow­ing its next gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers.

Rep. Pe­ter Mered­ith, D-St. Louis, said the Mis­souri Demo­cratic Party has long fo­cused too heav­ily on the can­di­dates at the top of the ticket.

It’s a fa­mil­iar com­plaint, go­ing back to crit­ics of two-term Demo­cratic Gov. Jay Nixon who ar­gue he didn’t do nearly enough to help build the party while hand­ily de­feat­ing his GOP op­po­nents.

As proof, they point to the fact that Nixon had more than $400,000 left over in his cam-

paign fund af­ter the 2012 elec­tion. Those re­sources could have helped stave off Repub­li­cans’ gains that year in the Mis­souri House and Se­nate, some Democrats ar­gued at the time.

Mered­ith said Democrats’ fo­cus on the top of the ticket con­tin­ues to this day.

“We have to start build­ing from the bot­tom,” he said. “There’s been too much em­pha­sis on trickle down pol­i­tics, and it doesn’t work.”

Mis­souri Democrats have been wait­ing for “this great white knight to come and save the party,” said state Rep. DaRon McGee, D-Kansas City.

“Jay Nixon, Chris Koster, Claire McCaskill, they are gone,” he said. “There is no knight com­ing to save the party.”

The party must start pay­ing more at­ten­tion to can­di­dates at the lo­cal level if it ever wants to be rel­e­vant in Mis­souri again, McGee said.

The party’s cur­rent chair­man, Stephen Web­ber, worked hard to start re­build­ing the party ap­pa­ra­tus, re­cruit­ing can­di­dates and en­sur­ing Democrats were com­pet­ing all across the state, said state Sen. Lauren Arthur, DKansas City.

“But we know it’s go­ing to be a long road,” Arthur said.

Democrats have to start work­ing im­me­di­ately to re­cruit leg­isla­tive can­di­dates who know their dis­tricts and are will­ing to work hard and fight for the seats, she said.

“But there are good rea­sons to care about the top of the ticket, too,” Arthur said. “The top of the ticket is go­ing to have an im­pact on lo­cal races. But we all have to be will­ing to take own­er­ship of our lit­tle part of Mis­souri.”

Repub­li­can Roy Blunt, now Mis­souri’s se­nior U.S. se­na­tor, said he feels con­fi­dent in what he sees as the GOP’s deep well of po­lit­i­cal tal­ent across the state — from Lt. Gov. Mike Ke­hoe to Josh Hawley.

But he sounded a cau­tion­ary note for any Repub­li­cans who might be ea­ger to pro­nounce the Demo­cratic Party dead in Mis­souri.

“When I went to Jef­fer­son City as sec­re­tary of state 30 years ago, Democrats held the leg­is­la­ture two to one, and no­body ex­pected that to change. And it changed dra­mat­i­cally,” Blunt said. “So Repub­li­cans shouldn’t as­sume this will be easy in a state like ours. But I think Democrats have their work cut out for them.”

Au­di­tor Ni­cole Gal­loway, the only Demo­crat in statewide of­fice, said there are plenty of Democrats in Mis­souri serv­ing in state gov­ern­ment and lo­cal of­fice — and oth­ers think­ing of run­ning for of­fice.

“Just four years ago to­day I was the trea­surer of Boone County,” Gal­loway said.

For­mer Rep. Chris Kelly, who is run­ning for mayor in Columbia, pointed to the suc­cess this year of bal­lot ini­tia­tives on min­i­mum wage, med­i­cal mar­i­juana, ethics re­form and re­dis­trict­ing, say­ing that Democrats must find a way to be­come iden­ti­fied with is­sues vot­ers care about.

“They vote for lib­eral ideas as bal­lot mea­sures but then vote for leg­is­la­tors who op­pose those ideas,” Kelly said. “That’s a very in­ter­est­ing con­tra­dic­tion.”

Demo­cratic strate­gist and for­mer McCaskill staffer Jack Cardetti said this mo­ment in Demo­cratic pol­i­tics re­minds him of the af­ter­math of McCaskill’s 2004 gu­ber­na­to­rial loss to Repub­li­can Matt Blunt. That year, Repub­li­cans con­trolled both Se­nate seats, and Cardetti said Democrats were “writ­ten off for dead.”

But in 2006, McCaskill won her first term in the U.S. Se­nate and Democrats held onto the au­di­tor po­si­tion she left. Af­ter the 2008 elec­tion — the last time a Demo­crat came close to win­ning Mis­souri’s pres­i­den­tial vote — Democr­tas held ev­ery statewide of­fice ex­cept lieu­tenant gov­er­nor.

“The po­lit­i­cal pen­du­lum swings in Mis­souri, frankly, harder than in most states,” Cardetti said.

But even af­ter Democrats lost ground in 2004, they still held three statewide po­si­tions.

Now they have Gal­loway, 36, who won her first full term Tues­day night af­ter be­ing ap­pointed to the po­si­tion in 2015. She’s the party’s fresh blood many see as ca­pa­ble of higher of­fice.

While not ex­haus­tive, here’s a list of other Democrats who could shape the fu­ture of the state party.

Lauren Arthur

Arthur, a for­mer teacher, flipped a Repub­li­can state Se­nate seat in the North­land this sum­mer, a vic­tory she at­trib­uted pri­mar­ily to the la­bor union mem­bers who backed her cam­paign. Jean Peters Baker Baker joined the Jack­son County pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice as a young as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor hired by McCaskill. She was ap­pointed to lead the of­fice in 2011 and won her first elec­tion in 2012. She took over the case against for­mer Gov. Eric Gre­it­ens this sum­mer. Baker de­cided not to charge him be­cause she didn’t have enough ev­i­dence, though she said there was “prob­a­ble cause” for sex­ual as­sault.

Wes­ley Bell

A for­mer Fer­gu­son city coun­cil­man, Bell was elected St. Louis County pros­e­cu­tor this year af­ter pulling off an up­set over a 28-year-in­cum­bent in the Demo­cratic pri­mary. Raised in North St. Louis County, Bell is the son of a po­lice of­fi­cer. His cam­paign fo­cused on a call for crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, emerg­ing in part from the un­rest fol­low­ing the shoot­ing death of Michael Brown by a Fer­gu­son po­lice of­fi­cer in Au­gust 2014.

Bruce Franks

A for­mer Fer­gu­son pro­tester, Franks top­pled a po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty to win his St. Louis-based seat in the Mis­souri House in 2016. He helped lead protests last year af­ter a white St. Louis po­lice of­fi­cer was found not guilty in the shoot­ing death of a black sus­pect, and dur­ing his short time in state gov­ern­ment he’s earned a rep­u­ta­tion as some­one will­ing to work across the aisle. Franks is ex­pected to have the in­side track on one of St. Louis’ two seats in the Mis­souri Se­nate in 2020. Sly James

The Kansas City mayor grew up on the city’s east side, served as a mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cer in the Marines and worked as an at­tor­ney for years be­fore win­ning his first may­oral elec­tion in 2011. He has cham­pi­oned down­town Kansas City’s re­de­vel­op­ment, an ef­fort his pre­de­ces­sor Kay Barnes be­gan in the mid 2000s. Jolie Jus­tus

Be­fore she won her Kansas City Coun­cil seat, Jus­tus was the first openly gay mem­ber of the Mis­souri Se­nate. She cham­pi­oned the Mis­souri Nondis­crim­i­na­tion Act, which would ban bias based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der in em­ploy­ment, hous­ing and pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions. Jus­tus jumped back into the Kansas City mayor’s race last month af­ter Kan­der with­drew. Ja­son Kan­der

Kan­der, an Army in­tel­li­gence vet­eran and for­mer Mis­souri Sec­re­tary of State, gave Blunt a run for his money in 2016, even while Repub­li­cans swept other statewide seats and Trump car­ried the state by nearly 19 points. Kan­der, who went on to found Let Amer­ica Vote, with­drew from the Kansas City mayor’s race be­cause of post trau­matic stress dis­or­der, but he left the door open for fu­ture po­lit­i­cal of­fice.

Crys­tal Quade

First elected to her Spring­field-based House seat in 2016, Quade was cho­sen by her col­leagues Thurs­day to serve as House mi­nor­ity leader dur­ing the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion. She has a de­gree in so­cial work, and pre­vi­ously served as di­rec­tor of a non­profit ad­dress­ing health, hunger and hy­giene needs of eco­nomic dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren in sev­eral school dis­tricts. She also worked as a leg­isla­tive staff mem­ber for McCaskill.

Stephen Web­ber

An at­tor­ney, for­mer Demo­cratic state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Columbia and aide to McCaskill, Web­ber served two tours of duty in Iraq with the United States Ma­rine Corps. In 2017, fol­low­ing an un­suc­cess­ful run for state Se­nate, Web­ber be­came chair­man of the Mis­souri Demo­cratic Party, where he won praise for his work criss­cross­ing the state re­cruit­ing leg­isla­tive can­di­dates and stump­ing for the party’s ticket.

KEITH MY­ERS kmy­ers@kc­star.com

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill con­ceded her race to Josh Hawley on Tues­day night in St. Louis.

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