Missouri Term Limits Enliven State's Primary

 

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri is about to have one of its liveliest primary elections in recent memory, thanks in large part to the onset of legislative term limits.

Passed by voters eight years ago, term limits are finally having an impact; eight state House members are out in 2000, another 105, along with 15 state senators in 2002.

That means a lot of known, experienced politicians are looking for new jobs. Many of the five senators and 17 House members seeking higher offices this fall are in the same party and square off in contentious primary battles on Aug. 8.

One such race pits Republican state Reps. Emmy McClelland and Michael Gibbons in a contest to fill a state senate slot vacated by Franc Flotron (who is running for Congress).

Once allies in the House and in this election season, Gibbons recently called McClelland the dirtiest word one Republican can call another: a liberal. The mud-slinging is more surprising after McClelland's $500 gift this spring to Gibbons' congressional campaign, a crowded race he later abandoned. He returned the money after declaring for the state senate.

McClelland said term limits was an obvious factor in her decision to run for the state Senate now, but the open seat tempted her more.

McClelland, who has until 2002 in the House under the limits, could run for one more term. But with four year terms in the Senate, she couldn't run until 2004. Her other option would be to challenge an incumbent for Congress in 2002.

Another example of erstwhile allies turning enemies is in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, a contest pitting state Sen. Joe Maxwell against Rep. Gracia Backer. Maxwell is a high-profile defender of abortion rights while Backer is a former House Majority Leader. This fight has gotten ugly as well with Backer accusing Maxwell of skirting Missouri's on-again, off-again campaign finance limits.

The political musical chairs caused by the limits seems to have a pattern: senators tend to gravitate toward congressional races and representatives look to replace them, or to gain lower-profile, statewide offices like treasurer or secretary of state.

Four of the five state senators seeking higher office are running for Congress, two in the same district. Eleven of the representatives are seeking a state Senate seat, five are up for statewide office, and one wants to join Congress. Of the representatives, all but one face term limits in 2000 or 2002.

Eight of the state representatives hoping to move on are Republicans. Of those, six are vying for the state Senate. That underscores the GOP's hope of winning control of the upper chamber, which last year was 18-16 Democratic. Many observers expect the GOP to pick up at least one seat, increasing the role of the lieutenant governor, who like the Vice President can break ties on some votes.

Despite the political musical chairs, Kim Baldwin, spokeswoman for the state Democratic party, said candidate recruitment is "status quo for us. It's still up to the candidates to file and run where they want."

However, state GOP spokesman Darryl Duwe said the increased upward mobility among politicians leaves a vacuum at the state government's lower levels.

"That means we have to go out and recruit more candidates for the state House," Duwe said in a phone interview from the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. As great a shuffle as we're seeing this year, Duwe said, it is only a "trickle" compared to what will happen in 2002.

 
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