JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A day after one of the most important elections in a generation, House Republicans will convene in Jefferson City to hold an important election of their own – establishing new leadership.
The Speaker Pro Tem race may be the most important in terms of the totem pole, but another race with four contenders is also generating buzz. The election for majority caucus chair, a job currently held by outgoing Rep. Shelley Keeney Taylor, R-Marble Hill, could determine the effectiveness of the party’s ground game in future elections.
Rep. Elaine Gannon, R-DeSoto; Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar; Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa; and Rep. Becky Ruth, R-Festus have all thrown their hat in the ring. In less than a month, one of them will help lead the party.
Rep. Elaine Gannon
Gannon has served in the House for two terms from a recently flipped Jefferson County district. She has a Democratic challenger in her district, but Gannon is widely believed to win that race in a landslide. She won re-election in 2014 by 32 points, after narrowly winning the seat in 2012 from a Democrat.
So, Gannon knows a few things about winning close races and maintaining advantages, and that quality is a skill she wants to pass onto fellow legislators.
“I refer back to being a teacher and a coach – you’ve gotta have a strategy mind,” she said. “I would work on ways that I could help strategize with the new people, winning their race the next time they run. And I could work well with the incoming legislators and the legislators that are already there.”
She also says that she wants to focus on helping new legislators out in the Capitol and that her door would always be open to help them with constituent issues
“It’s so important to show strong support for the incoming people and kind of help them in any way I can with being a new legislator,” she said.
Rep. Mike Kelley
Kelley approaches his candidacy for the job a little differently. He said he wants to help get more Republicans elected, but he also wants to focus on bridging the divide that many people feel exists between Jefferson City and the rest of the state.
“There’s a lot of people that are disconnected with government, and I feel the caucus chair’s role is to get the caucus more engaged in their communities… and make people understand that the role of government isn’t just being someone far, far away in a big building in Jefferson City.”
Kelley considers himself an expert in reaching out to his constituents, not just through face-to-face interactions, but via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It allows him to receive feedback from constituents while also updating them on the progress made in the House.
He wants to extend those skills to other members of the caucus.
“In my opinion, this isn’t a run for leadership, this is a run for conservatorship,” he said. “Unlike Speaker, majority leader, pro tem that are leading the caucus, I truly look at this as a position that humbles themselves and serves the caucus and helps them do their job more effectively.”
Kelley is the most senior member running for caucus chair. He will enter his fourth and final term in January.
Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer
For Kolkmeyer, the race seems to be about helping out the most vulnerable representatives in the House. He wants to identify those representatives most likely to lose in their re-election bids and give them a bit of a leg up. He says that sophomores often face the brunt of these problems, and it shows in challenges faced by freshman legislators like Rep. Dan Shaul.
“A lot of times, if there’s going to be a serious challenger, it is in the second term, so I want to work with each one of them,” he said.
He added that while he wanted to focus on those seats, he ideally would help everyone.
Kolkmeyer has also prepared himself for this position as well. He took the freshman tour twice, once his freshman year and again at the start of his sophomore term, to understand that experience and help him see through the eyes of a new legislator again. By seeing the process through their eyes, he believes it can help him better serve those legislators.
“I wanted to help those new freshman coming in, so I’ve been doing some of the job, helping Shelley Keeney and I worked with her and helped her with the new class,” he said. “I hope to continue to help this new class coming in.”
Rep. Becky Ruth
Last alphabetically but certainly not least, Rep. Becky Ruth. Ruth is the only person running without at least two terms under her belt; she came into office in Jan. 2015, but she believes she’s up to the task given the challenges she faced to get into the House.
She came into office after two tough races against Democrat T.J. McKenna from a district that had long elected Democrats to the General Assembly.
“I ran a very tough race,” she said. “I understand what that’s like to win in tough districts, and I do a lot of work in constituent management.”
With her background as a teacher, she believes it makes her a natural in helping people get situated in learning the ropes of a new system. Ruth believes that outreach to the state can show constituents about the changes that the party is making to the government to make people’s lives easier.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be chosen, I’ll be reaching out to all of our caucus members to utilize all of the tools that we have to communicate all of the positive things we have here in the state legislature.”