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State Democrats could be seeing early leadership shifts


ST. LOUIS — Every election cycle, leadership power structures change within the parties. For the Missouri Democrats, the change might have already begun looking toward the coming 2014 and even 2016 elections.

Attorney General Chris Koster announced earlier this year that he intends to run for governor during 2016. Last week, during the state party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner, he publicly discussed his plans to donate at least $100,000 per year for four years to help elect more Democrat legislators to combat the Republican veto-proof majority in both chambers.

Attorney General Chris Koster
Attorney General Chris Koster

While Koster’s news wasn’t exactly breaking to the House and Senate chairmen who are responsible for fundraising, the support and excitement it rallied during the event was all but tangible.

“The Democratic Party is benefiting from an early unity, but it’s important not to put any carts before any horse,” Koster told The Missouri Times. “Gov. [Jay] Nixon is the leader of the party and he has the most difficult job in state government. It’s important that we stay focused on his leadership and his responsibilities.”

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, who chairs the House Democratic Victory Committee, said he found last weekend’s dinner to be a turning point in the leadership of the party.

“From my standpoint, the vast majority of the statewide candidates have been phenomenal,” LaFaver said, listing Koster, Treasurer Clint Zweifel, Secretary of State Jason Kander and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

But one statewide candidate is missing from LaFaver’s list — the governor.

“I look forward to working with Gov. Nixon as much as he will allow during the next couple of years,” LaFaver said about the party’s current leader.

LaFaver said that Koster’s public pledge was something he and his Senate fundraising chair counterpart, Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Kansas City, have known about for a while.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City
Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City

“We’ve been moving forward with campaign plans and a budget that included the attorney general’s support,” he said. “Him making it public I think not only keeps him accountable for his pledge, though there was never a fear of that, but it somewhat alters our plan because other people are perking up an saying ‘wow, this is the real deal.’ No one wants to be the first in the water.”

The advice and assistance that LaFaver said he’s gotten from Koster during the past few months have been “incredible,” and he said the financial pledge shows the attorney general likes the direction they’re heading.

“We have to shed light on what I think myself and a lot of my colleagues have seen, which is in large part an extreme agenda by legislative GOP leaders,” LaFaver said, citing the McCaskill-Akin race as an example of voters seeing the extreme agenda and turning away from it. “People who work with the legislative branch long enough know that Akin isn’t an outlier.”

Teamwork and unity were the themes of Koster’s speech at the dinner last weekend, as well as the themes for a few other statewide elected officials’ speeches.

“We need to recognize that individual success is not going to get us where we need to go,” he told The Missouri Times. “The challenges we face are no different than the challenges the Republican Party faced when they rose up to the majority. It’s making realistic and intelligent choices on winnable districts and finding candidates that can do the job right.”