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Civil War in Missouri Republican Party

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Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011 12:15 am

Two weeks ago, this column discussed the nature of political rumors in the context of a rumor that was current at the time – namely, that a significant Missouri Republican feared some unfavorable personal business of his (unfavorable in the eyes of many Republican voters, at least) was about to come to light. The EYE was no more specific than that about the identity of the candidate or the character of the rumors, since the rumors were unsubstantiated and the candidate in question assured a mutual friend that all was well.

“Maybe it is all just a rumor,” the EYE noted on Nov. 3. “Or, if we hear a Missouri Republican step out of a race soon, maybe it’s more than a rumor.”

On Nov. 10, Speaker of the House Steve Tilley dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. Tilley said nothing specific about his personal life, and none of the rumors that caught the EYE’s attention a week before has surfaced.

The EYE went on to note on Nov. 3, “Though perhaps the facts of someone’s personal life should be kept personal, if these rumors are true and become public it could become a tipping factor when the political season heats up and operatives suddenly have something better to do than stir the rumor pot. Like, run campaigns.”

The tipping factor in question would favor Democrats, since it likely would demoralize the Republican base to see one of their own – in fact, one of their stars, until very recently – mired in a personal scandal.

For the record, the EYE thinks Tilley is a decent guy, as Missouri Republicans go, and he has worked hard to build relationships in St. Louis, makings friends and allies both in the business community and at the African-American grass roots with state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed. For Tilley’s sake, the EYE hopes his personal business remains personal.

The tipping factor already has started to tip. According to reliable, disgruntled Republican sources, a powerful Republican operative who favors state Sen. Brad Lager was the one who turned Tilley’s toxic source(s) against him to scare him out of the lieutenant governor’s race. The EYE was told this before Lager declared he had entered the LG race, which gives the report some credence. The same source said this same operative was suspected within the party of turning up trouble for current Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder in his still undeclared bid for governor. This suggests the Missouri Republican Party has started to come apart at its center, with a free-for-all fight for power starting to get underway.

That could be a good thing for Missouri Democrats, if they don’t mess it up.

Can’t buy ‘em, join ‘em

Also entering the LG race this week as a Republican was developer Chris McKee, son of the the developer Paul McKee Jr. The McKees have gone all but broke in recent years paying for politicians who fail to get their business accomplished (or keep the deal together once it is done), so this seems to be a case of “if you can’t buy ‘em, join ‘em.”

The Republican Party, traditionally the party of business, would be wise to send some actual businessman to Jefferson City (or Washington). In the last election cycle, the party and its consultants hitched their wagon to small government idealogues and the shallow, reactionary voters who believe what they say (basically, that taxes and government are bad and should be cut and dismantled). No surprise to the Democrats who watched all this happen with horror, but these idealogues don’t seem willing to engage the real world of global business and pragmatic politics. They make impractical demands, refuse to make deals and have a nihilistic way of bringing down every piece of legislation they touch, including things like (typical Republican bread and butter) economic development bills designed to create incentives for businesses – that is, help them make more money and, in the process, support and create jobs.

The Republican Party, nationally and in Missouri, now finds it has created a monster. It has created a Republican caucus that says all government is bad, which means all of the sudden tax credits and other government-provided business incentives are drying up or getting killed. And party paymasters are beginning to lash out.

To be clear, this is not what happened to Tilley. Tilley and some key colleagues in the House are throw-back Republicans who make deals with business leaders and abide by those deals, for the most part. Tilley’s problems are nothing for pro-business Republicans to celebrate. In fact, you could argue that just the opposite has happened, with Chris McKee entering the race to block Lager.

The McKee/Lager imbroglio will make for a fascinating money primary to watch. If the tough talk the EYE hears from Republican business leaders and their operatives is true, big money should rally behind McKee, and Lager should be one political casualty of the GOP’s turning away from its own right-wing ideology in 2012, back towards a deal-making center.

Four-party Missouri

Going into 2012, Missouri is shaping up to have four major political parties, two major parties that are both split in two: white and black Democrats (the EYE has known all about that for a long time), and pro-business and anti-government Republicans.

The racial split in the Democratic Party in Missouri is a bad thing, and it is not getting any better, with the handling of the LG nomination making almost no black politicians happy, and the Obama campaign’s early efforts in Missouri towards 2012 showing a racial tone deafness that will infuriate the president when he learns about it in detail.

But the newly divided, bitterly Republican Party – again – is a good thing for us. 

Why? As one battle-scarred Democratic operative said, “The more white people are fighting, the better off black people are going to be. We want to encourage that. The more aggravated they are with each other, the less focused they are going to be about kicking up in our backsides.”

No relief for Ann Wagner

A little more evidence of Republican disunity: One faction of the party saw the snuffing of Tilley as an opporunity to draw Ed Martin out of the 2nd Congressional District race with Anne Wagner and spare a primary fight for a party stalwart. Then in rushed Lager – pushed by the operative who snuffed Tilley, the EYE is told – followed by McKee. So where the GOP faithful hoped Tilley’s loss would be Wagner’s gain, in fact they went from one uncontested primary and a cakewalk to two looming civil wars. Again, for us, a good thing.

Occupy the city jail

No surprise, but on Friday city officials began to disrupt the Occupy St. Louis encampment in Kiener Plaza. Also no surprise, but – for all Jeff Rainford’s bombast – this was not another Oakland. The cops did their assigned jobs decently, and the peaceful protestors went in peace. They went, in this case, to the city jail, which begged a one-liner when protesters decided to “Occupy” the city jail next. Indeed, with Charles Bryson running the jails for Mayor Francis G. Slay, the only way to keep anyone in a city jail is for them to want to stay.

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