JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri voters in November will decide how Republican the Legislature will be next year, a numbers game that could give lawmakers the power to buck Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes and push legislation through without bipartisan support.
Democrats have little hope of regaining a majority of the seats in either chamber, but they’re pumping money into local campaigns to try to prevent another Republican supermajority in the state Legislature.
A two-thirds supermajority in both chambers helped Missouri Republicans override 11 bills vetoed by Nixon last session and 47 line-item budget vetoes. They also picked up support from a few Democrats.
Through veto overrides, the Legislature cut income tax rates, enacted one of the country’s longest abortion waiting periods and created a special training program for teachers to carry guns in classrooms.
Another Republican supermajority would give them the “power to have the most extreme idea imaginable and go forward with it regardless of who objects to it,” Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple said.
“It’s a terrible way to produce policy,” he said.
House Republican Campaign Committee Executive Director Scott Dieckhaus said control in the Legislature is vital to check Nixon’s power as governor.
Of the 163 House seats, 82 races have both a Republican and Democratic candidate.
The GOP has enough seats and enough candidates running unopposed to already be assured of a majority in the Senate, but it takes 23 Senate seats and 109 House seats to have a supermajority.
“The chance of maintaining is probably pretty good,” Dieckhaus said. “The chance of growing the majority is pretty possible.”
David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, agrees. He said Republicans likely will have another good year, in part because Democrats are struggling to find solid candidates to run for office in rural Missouri.
There are 51 Republicans running unopposed for House positions this year compared with 24 unopposed Democrats. Republicans are up against only third-party candidates in five elections, and one Democrat is running against a Libertarian.
Despite the odds, high-profile Democrats are pumping big bucks into local campaigns.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, so far has doled out $540,000 to the Missouri Democratic State Committee. Nixon has contributed $75,000, and Attorney General Chris Koster has given the committee $100,000.
That money funnels down to candidates in tight races. Temple said the party is targeting seats now held by Democratic lawmakers leaving because of term limits or pursuing another office. Seats with vulnerable Republican incumbents and areas where Democrats have won by close margins also are on their radar.
Both parties are pouring money into a St. Louis County race for state Senate. The Missouri Democratic State Committee as of Friday contributed more than $182,000 to Jill Schupp, a current state representative from Creve Coeur. The Missouri Senate Campaign Committee has given more than $570,000 to her opponent, Jay Ashcroft.
A win for Ashcroft would take Republicans one step closer to clinching the supermajority. Democrats aren’t looking for big gains, said Richard Fulton, a retired political science professor from Northwest Missouri State University. They’re targeting a few seats to chip away at Republicans’ numbers.
“If we take this seat, we are turning one seat around in the Legislature,” said Schupp, who is campaigning in part against Republican efforts to place restrictions on abortions. “Each time we do that and get one step closer to restoring a balance, we move closer to making better decisions for the state as a whole.”
Ashcroft did not return calls from The Associated Press.
Regardless of whether they can keep their supermajority powers, Fulton said to expect Republicans to flex their political muscle next legislative session as they rally around a gubernatorial bid in 2016.
“One way or the other, it’s going to be contentious,” he said. “They want to build a record and tear down Nixon even more than they have been trying to.”