Democrats hold a small minority in the Missouri House with 45 members, and in 66 of the chamber’s 163 districts no Democrats have filed to run. Republicans, with 117 members, have a supermajority and could maintain it with wins in at least 53 contested races. It needs to win only 16 to maintain a majority.
Being in a minority in a Missouri legislative chamber means it is more challenging to advance a legislative agenda. The challenges are only greater the smaller the minority is. Such has been the case, for example, for using federal tax dollars to expand Medicaid under Obamacare – a priority for Democrats in the past four legislative sessions that has gotten virtually no traction under Republican control.
Representative Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) could run for two more terms in the House, but he’s chosen not to seek another … at least for now. LaFaver says the main reason for that is he wants to spend more time with family, but he admits returning to Jefferson City would be more appealing if his party had more power.
“Anytime you make any decision you weigh pros and cons. One of the pros that doesn’t exist for me here is being a chairman of a committee and moving my legislative agenda forward a little further than I’ve been able to,” said LaFaver.
House Minority Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis) is leaving the chamber because of term limits. He said it is very difficult for a party to recruit candidates to run for a chamber in which the that party holds a super minority.
“How many people want to come down here, even the ones that really feel like they can make a difference, and realize that they’re going to work extraordinarily hard to get here and lose a lot of votes and a lot of time,” said Hummel.
Hummel said it’s not impossible, though, for a minority – even a super minority – to advance an agenda and remain relevant. He and other Democrats also noted what they consider key victories for their party in the past two sessions, including the defeat of “right-to-work” legislation and bills they call “paycheck deception,” that would require annual permission from a public employee before union dues could be taken from his or her pay. Most notable, said Democrats, was the defeat this year of a proposal to ask voters whether the state Constitution should protect those who deny services in same-sex marriages from legal or civil penalties.
“Those are pretty monumental accomplishments for a super minority,” said Hummel. “With the numbers the way they are, who would have ever thought that was going to happen?”
Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis), who is also term limited out of the chamber, said the defeat of measures like SJR 39 – the same-sex marriage objector ballot proposal – should encourage more Democrats to run, but says the downfall of legislation his party opposes isn’t the only way to gauge its success.
“Something that’s hard to measure is the impact and influence we have on our friends in the majority party to moderate the things that come out of here,” said Colona. “We are very good at working with our friends in the majority to try and make sure that we have good public policy come out of here.”
House Assistant Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) hopes to be the leader of the House Democrats next year. She said she wants that job despite the knowledge that her party could once again wield – at least on paper – very little power in the legislature.
“Because I’m committed to our priorities and our values. I don’t concede that Missouri is nearly as conservative as people think that it is,” said McCann-Beatty.
She’s also hopeful that her party can turn around its position in the Missouri legislature.
“I think we are working on a plan to change that and do some early recruiting as move forward and by 2020 [I hope we] have moved these numbers some,” said McCann-Beatty.