The Democratic Caucus in the Missouri Legislature elected its new leadership on Thursday, November 10, two days after the party lost the White House and every statewide office on the ballot – U.S. senator, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer. And it’s the blackest leadership the party has ever had.
“For the first time in history, a majority of Democratic House leadership positions are held by African Americans,” said state Rep. Michael Butler, who was elected Democratic Caucus chair. “Four out of seven leadership positions are African-American state reps.”
The others are state Rep. Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City), the new minority floor leader for the Democrats; state Rep. Randy Dunn (D-Kansas City), Democratic Caucus vice chair; and state Rep. DaRon McGee (D-Kansas City), caucus secretary.
As Democratic Caucus chair, Butler is tasked with leading caucus meetings each week in Jefferson City, organizing the caucus agenda and handling many external functions of the caucus.
“I hope to change the culture of the caucus,” said Butler, who was first elected to the legislature in 2012. “We have a culture where a lot of members worked against each other in the past and were not focused on helping each other work together for the good of our communities and to help pick up seats.”
As a black man who represents the heart of the City of St. Louis, with its plurality-black population, Butler also plans to keep the concerns of his community at the forefront.
“I hope to be a voice for the black community in Democratic politics,” Butler said. “I want to see that our cities get money in the state budget to reduce crime and spur economic development.”
Butler serves on both the Select Committee on Budget and the Conference Committee on Budget. With Republicans holding every statewide office except state auditor, as well as super-majorities in both houses of the legislature, Butler sees budget appropriations as the most likely way to get anything done for the urban communities where Democrats are based.
“The best thing that can be done is getting funding in the budget for programs that Democrats and Republicans agree work in localities like St. Louis city and county,” Butler said, “things like community policing, anti-recidivism programs, workforce development – smaller demands that everybody agrees on that we can place as smaller solutions in omnibus bills.”
Butler also believes that the massacre of Democrats in the November 8 general election gives the party’s new, blacker leadership leverage to push for changes in how the party does business. “I want to improve the Democratic Party’s investment in our community at election time,” he said, “and improve its commitment to our ideals, as African Americans are the most loyal base within the party.”
Butler said he hopes that Missouri and national Democrats learned a painful lesson from mistakes made in this election cycle.
“For the past decade, we have been running a Republican strategy in the Democratic Party, a strategy more focused on money power and trying to raise money to match the Republicans on money, and not utilizing people power,” Butler said. “We are the people power party. We have thousands of competent, skilled people on the ground all across the state who are not engaged by the party, and in some cases are being engaged by Republicans.”
Butler – even speaking after Donald Trump, of all people, defeated the Democratic candidate for U.S. president by 20 points, and Democrats in Missouri lost six statewide seats – insists that Democrats are Missouri’s true majority party.
“We have won statewide elections before,” Butler said, then did some math. “There are over 6 million people in the state, but only 2.7 million people voted on November 8. That’s a difference of about 300,000 votes compared to 2008 and 2012, when we had about 3 million votes cast. The fact is, the more people vote, the more Democrats win. If people get energized to vote, we win. We just need to do a better job at engaging and accessing our majority.”
Butler thinks one key to engaging more voters is fielding better candidates. After the November 8 massacre, there would be no better time than now to get in the game if you are a Democrat in Missouri.
“In Missouri, the starting lineup is cleared,” Butler said. “There are a lot of younger elected officials, that many have faith in, who will very soon be the folks at the top of ticket in our state. And there are strong community leaders who are not in political office who many want to see run. If you’re mad, let’s get you on a ballot next time.”