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Dave Helling: Turmoil, tragedy define 2015 politics in Missouri, Kansas

The resignation of Missouri Republican House Speaker John Diehl was one of the region’s top political stories of 2015, a year of scandal and tragedy.
The resignation of Missouri Republican House Speaker John Diehl was one of the region’s top political stories of 2015, a year of scandal and tragedy. The Associated Press

It was an exceptional year for politics and government in Kansas and Missouri — a mixture of heroes and cads, missed opportunities, accusations and progress. Lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri struggled, for different reasons, while Kansas City’s mayor walked to re-election.

The year 2015 also came with tragedy.

Here’s our list of the top 10 political stories in and around Kansas City in 2015:

1. John Diehl resigns. The Missouri House speaker quit just a day after The Star revealed his inappropriate texts with an intern. The story shook the Republican establishment — and reinforced the image of the Missouri General Assembly as a largely ethics-less institution.

2. The Kansas Legislature adjourns only after nightmarish session. The state’s massive budget crisis and the interminable debate over how to fix it riveted Kansans for weeks. When the dust cleared, lawmakers had spent more time in Topeka than any other legislature in modern history, Gov. Sam Brownback was weeping, and the largest tax increase in state history was in the books. And still the problem wasn’t solved.

3. Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich commits suicide. We may never know the reasons for the auditor’s tragic decision to kill himself just as the race for governor was getting underway. The death shocked Missouri politicians — for about 10 minutes. Then, business as usual.

4. Sly James re-elected. The Kansas City mayor faced only token opposition and swept to an easy victory. Interestingly, his second term may be rockier than his first, a reversal of the normal trend in Kansas City.

5. Jason Kander challenges Sen. Roy Blunt. In February, few people gave Kander, a Democrat, much chance of beating the Republican incumbent. That opinion has shifted slightly: Kander has a chance, although Blunt is still the favorite. A GOP ticket led by Donald Trump could change the picture.

6. Mike Sanders resigns. The Jackson County executive’s decision caused head scratching across the region. Most believe it’s Frank White’s job, if he wants it.

7. Right-to-work. Missouri Republicans have made right-to-work legislation a top priority, but enough of their number bolted this spring to uphold Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill that organized labor loathes so deeply. Those Republicans may face a backlash from special interest groups in 2016.

8. Petition efforts in Kansas City. The low turnout in the mayor’s race means a relative handful of signatures are needed to push policy decisions onto the ballot. Kansas City is entering an era of direct democracy.

9. St. Louis Rams stadium. St. Louis interests are leaning on the state, the city, the NFL and the Rams to pay for a brand new, $1.1 billion stadium. Virtually no one likes the plan, but it may happen anyway.

10. Kansas Supreme Court throws out judicial selection law. The push and shove among the three branches of Kansas government continued in 2015 and won’t go away next year. The case was about who appoints chief judges in the state — but it was really about schools, taxes, spending and politics.

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