JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Keith English of Florissant is announcing today that he is no longer a member of the Democratic Party in Missouri, choosing instead to caucus and file as an Independent.
“After much thought and prayer, English feels he can better serve the people of his district, and of this state, as an Independent,” a statement from his office said.
English was first elected in 2012 but has repeatedly butted heads with members of his own caucus. The pro-gun and pro-life member has frequently joined Republicans on abortion and gun related votes. Last year, English was the only Democrat to break ranks and vote for a tax cut bill vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. English’s defection provided the single vote Republicans needed to override.
Since that incident, English has had some tense interactions with fellow party members. After surviving a bloody general election in 2014 with little help from fellow Democrats, English was given an office on the third floor of the capitol — a space typically designated to the majority party.
English was also rumored to be at the center of an ugly caucus meeting in which he and some black members of the Democratic Party locked horns over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer.
“This is no longer the Democrat Party of Bill Clinton or John F. Kennedy,” English said in a statement. “I’m leaving the party because I love my state, It shouldn’t matter whether I’m conservative or liberal. What is most important is that we raise the level of debate in this country through informed discussions that lead to policies that benefit all Missourians.”
“Some people have said we’re ‘losing’ a member of the caucus. Nonsense. You can’t ‘lose’ someone that’s never been on your team in the first place,” Kansas City Democrat Rep. Jeremy LaFaver said. “I’ve tried to be a friend to Keith and even occasional defend him, but his actions and statements this week in public and private make that impossible. Good riddance.”
House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, issued a scathing statement.
“Diversity has always been a major strength of the House Democratic Caucus. But when you have a group of people of such diverse economic, ideological, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, trust is essential. For some time now, many House Democrats have expressed a lack of trust in Representative Keith English.
“This distrust isn’t the result of Representative English’s habit of sometimes voting with the other political party. As a caucus, we recognize and respect our differences of opinion and encourage members to vote their consciences and their districts. Rather, the distrust in Representative English stems from the fact that he hasn’t always been honest about his intentions to side with Republicans on issues of importance to House Democrats.
“We have made every reasonable effort to encourage Representative English to return to the fold, and it is unfortunate he has decided to leave the Democratic Party. But ultimately that was his choice to make, and House Democrats wish him nothing but the best during his final term as state representative.”
Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, issued a more open statement.
“Keith English is a friend and colleague who has proven time and time again that he will put partisan politics aside to vote his conscience and his district. It was disappointing to see him punished by his caucus for supporting a tax cut that is in the best interests of the people he was elected to serve. By cutting him out of the process, his own caucus not only stifled his voice, but all the voices of the families and businesses in his district.
As Speaker of the House I am committed to working with all 163 members of the House regardless of party affiliation. I am ready and willing to work with Rep. English to ensure he is an active and effective participant in the legislative process so that the people of his district will continue to have capable representation here in the State Capitol.”
English will be appearing on This Week In Missouri Politics with host Scott Faughn, who also publishes The Missouri Times. This Week In Missouri Politics airs every Sunday at 11am on ABC in the St. Louis market.
Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @CMReischman