JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In one of the most important races of the year, members of the Missouri House of Representatives have selected their next House speaker designee: Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield.
In a vote held Tuesday afternoon, the 116 Republicans comprising the House’s supermajority cast their votes to decide who should take over when Speaker Todd Richardson leaves the office at the end of 2018.
Haahr, a 35-year-old attorney, was the frontrunner from the beginning, serving as the Speaker Pro Tem in the House. That experience, as well as working on several contentious bills during his tenure in office, are reasons colleagues listed for electing him to lead the 100th General Assembly.
Haahr’s win will make him the first Speaker to have ever been elected from Greene County.
“It’ll take a little time to get used to, I’m sure,” Haahr said following the vote. “Obviously, I’m very excited and very thankful to the caucus members. Getting to be the first speaker from Springfield, I think it’s a reflection that the influence from Springfield around the state has grown.
“I think it’s high time it happened,” he said with a smile.
As Speaker Pro Tem, Haahr was essentially the understudy for Speaker Richardson, taking part in negotiations with the Senate, meeting with Gov. Eric Greitens, and serving as a leader for the majority caucus. As a legislator and chairman, Haahr championed several issues, particularly that of sex trafficking in Missouri, while his service on the House Emerging Issues Committee has seen him preside over several major issues, most notably the contentious bill known as SJR 39.
But as the next Speaker, Haahr will have large shoes to fill after Richardson, whom some are now calling the most successful speaker in the state’s history, having moved several significant pieces of conservative legislation across the finish line in the 2017 legislative session, including several tort and reform measures, the most notable of which being right-to-work.
“If I can be as successful as Todd Richardson, I’m going to be very, very excited,” Haahr said. “The Speaker and I obviously have different personalities and will approach things from different angles, so there’s going to be some small changes. But if I can be as successful as him, I’m going to be very lucky.”
As leader of the House, the speaker is typically called the most influential elected official in Missouri state government, often deciding which bills become law and which ones never reach the floor. If a Speaker has an objection to a policy, they have the option to refuse to refer the bill or put it on the calendar.
Speaker Richardson at the beginning of the 2017 legislative session vowed that an ethics bill would be the first piece of legislation to pass in the House, and delivered on that promise, though it stalled in the Senate.
And as the next speaker, it will fall on Haahr to continue pushing for ethics, which he agrees will have to be a priority of his.
But the Speaker will also need to lead the chamber – and his party’s supermajority – through a number of tough issues, from labor reform, ethics, transportation and utility issues. In an interview with the Missouri Times in May, Haahr outlined some of the topics he believes may set the tone for the next few sessions.
“We have a variety of issues that we didn’t get to in 2017 that will take center stage next year. We need to find solutions to fix our transportation infrastructure crisis, craft modern answers to generate more affordable energy, and expand our successful reforms of tort and labor laws to include the bureaucracy and our outdated tax code.”
When asked about what his priorities might look like following Tuesday afternoon’s vote, Haahr said it was too soon to say.
“We’ll have to see what we accomplish this coming session,” he said. “The things I might want to focus on might be accomplished in 2018, and by nature of our economy, things could change.”
Whatever doesn’t get accomplished in the upcoming session, it seems, will be left to Haahr to help the body navigate in his first term as speaker, starting January 2019.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.