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TWMP Column: The difference one member of the minority can make

It can make for some long days being in the house minority.

However, former Rep. Mark Richardson who was honored last week at Senator Bean’s Taste of the South event is an example of the vast impact you can make without ever serving a day in the majority.

He entered the house after the 1990 elections becoming a member of a 65-person republican minority stacked against 98 member democrat majority.

The 1991-1992 Blue Book where Jim Talent is pictured as Mel Carnahan.

It was the last session that Jim Talent would serve as Minority Leader before being elected to Congress. To give an insight into how seriously the republicans were taken, Talent’s picture in the blue book that year was mistakenly switched for then Lt. Governor Mel Carnahan.

He was part of founding HRCC, and beginning a more organized effort to pick up house seats for republicans, an effort that has grown to near mythic proportions today.

In a pre-term limits era, he was elected minority leader very early in his time in the chamber. By his third term, the caucuses were evening up at 87 to 76.

In those four years, he developed such a reputation as a skilled legislator, who could work with his democratic colleagues, and such a deep devotion to the welfare of the state that a coalition of moderate democrats had decided to vote with the republican caucus to elect Mark Richardson, a republican from the minority, as Speaker of the House.

In the most blatant act of corruption anyone can remember, the Secretary of State at the time Bekki Cook refused to close the vote on the temporary speaker blocking Mark’s election as speaker. He had the votes, it was the will of the body, but she refused to close the board.

Next time your listening to a Secreatry of State give a speech, just be glad that Secreatry of State is just talking not being openly crooked like Cook.

After a couple of days then Speaker Bob Griffin, who would soon resign over corruption charges, forced a few democrats to bend—followed by a republican Rep. Jim Murphy (no relation to the Rep. Murphy of today) taking an open bribe of a fee office to switch his vote. How Jim Murphy never went to prison is a wonder of the world.

The next time you think to call someone a RINO, think of that dirtbag Murphy. He was a real life OG RINO.

The republicans would continue in the minority his entire tenure, and from that perch in the minority, Mark would rewrite entire chapters of state law and mentor several of the future leaders of the Missouri Republican Party.

I can remember him introducing a group in Poplar Bluff to one of his colleagues who was running for Secretary of State. He had a Navy ring on as big as his hand, shared the last name of a true Missouri statesman, and the ringing endorsement of our favorite son Mark Richardson.

That was all Matt Blunt needed in Butler County that fall.

During his last term, he served with a few of the early arrivals. Those who got elected in 2000 were just ahead of the tsunami of new members that would come in 2002 when term limits officially kicked in.

You’ll recognize a few of them from that 2000 class that spent a couple of years learning the art of statesmanship under Mark:

future Speaker of the House Rod Jetton
a couple of future Senate President Pro Tems Rob Mayer and Tom Dempsey
a future budget chairman and head of United Missouri: Wayne Countian Carl Bearden
current Republican power broker Tom Burcham
a son of one of the leading families in all of southern Missouri Van Kelly
a man who would spend four years as the preeminent senator in the chamber Jason Crowell
and one of the most prominent lobbyists in Jefferson City, Shannon Cooper

There are even a few democrats from that 2000 class who have stories about how Mark had an impact early in their careers in future senators Frank Barnitz, Wes Shoemyer, and some Irishman from the ’98 class named McKenna.

They all got to sit under the learning tree being influenced by Mark Richardson or to be specific sit on one of the cotton bales in his office while he ruined laptops downloading songs from Napster.

All of them and a hundred more would go on to serve the state in a thousand ways, and all were influenced by one member of the minority party.

I cannot claim the prominence of any of those preceding men, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t be writing this without meeting Mark Richardson at TRCC one afternoon, and him taking time to pour his passion into me.

I didn’t wanna tell anyone this until he was safely out of town so that he didn’t catch a sucker punch from someone who wished he wouldn’t have stopped to visit with me that afternoon.

Senator Jason Bean’s Taste of the South event that drew hundreds in celebration of southeast Missouri.

When I met him he was entering his final term in the house, but he was still larger than life.

He even let me tag around the Capitol behind him sometimes.

I can see now what I couldn’t see then, he had transitioned from going onto the floor and making the moves himself to someone who would teach others how to make them.

When he wanted to tie someone up in knots, the Gentleman from Butler was still probably the best on the floor, but he saved his interjections for when it mattered.

It was a work of art. Back then the house was a lively place where anyone, even the minority could make amendments on the fly. When he rose to speak there was a look of fear in even the most experienced bill handler’s eyes.

Part of that fear was that Mark was going to embarrass him in a floor debate, and part of the that fear was that he was about to offer an amendment that would gut his bill.

Regardless, five minutes later half the democrats would be nodding their heads along with Mark, and all the republicans would be sitting up a little straighter in their chairs knowing that no one on the other side of the aisle could top that.

I had never met anyone like him, hell I still haven’t. It changed my opinion of politics from something silly or embarrassing to a way in which you can actually stick up for your neighbors from your part of the state and improve their lives.

A playing field where even someone from the poorest part of the state has a puncher’s chance fighting for his people against the interests of those from the richest part of the state.

More than anything he had a way of making politics or really anything he was doing the most fun you could have doing anything.

In 2002 when he came to give his final legislative report to the Poplar Bluff City Council, I was the Mayor of Poplar Bluff. We presented him with a proclamation that I’m sure meant a lot more to me than it did to him because it was one of the proudest days of my life.

On the day that Mark left office 90 republicans were sworn into the majority.

Many of them he had mentored, many of them HRCC which he had brought to prominence had helped get elected, but all of them took their oaths standing on the shoulders of Mark and the dozens of members before them that had crisscrossed the state working in the frenzied anonymity of the minority dreaming of that day when one of their own would be in the majority.

Of course, that isn’t the end of what Mark Richardson has given the state. You may have heard of his son, Todd Richardson.

Eight years after Mark left the house, Todd would be another one of those members of the republican majority standing on his father’s shoulders, but in his case in more ways than one.

Four years later Todd would be elected speaker. Bekki Cook nor for that matter, any corrupt or speechifying Secretary of State was around to stand in the way. On the dais that afternoon there was only his mother and father behind him to hug after his speech that brought healing to a reeling chamber.

During his time he would see almost every possible challenge thrown his way. In one of the most vulnerable hours in the history of the state, it was his strength and his integrity that held the institution together. An institution he literally grew up around.

He would leave the office as the most honorable man to ever hold the Speaker’s gavel.

Everyone that held that gavel before him looks up to his service as the defining moment of the office, and everyone that has held that gavel since serves in his shadow.

It was so fitting for Senator Bean to choose Mark Richardson to honor first.

During his remarks, Mark told the story of John Hardeman Walker the man to thank for Missouri’s trademark bootheel.

I took Millie to the event because I wanted my daughter to meet him, so she could put a face with the man I had described to her. Today his picture with a young me that I can barely recognize taken in the back of the house chamber sits on a shelf in my office beside a picture of my daughter standing on the Speaker’s dais beside Todd.

The shelf in my office where my picture with Mark Richardson sits alongside my daughter’s picture with Todd Richardson.

During his remarks he told one of his wonderful stories of Missouri history, as only Mark Richardson can, I shut my eyes and his raspy baritone took me back twenty years to a law office across from the courthouse in Poplar Bluff with a wall full of pictures, the smell of a cigarette in the air, and me hanging on every word developing a love for something that has never left me.

If there is by chance someone in the minority reading this getting tired of the miles, frustrated with the compromising, or weary from the sacrifice that comes with serving in the House minority, just know that you never really know all of the people you influence, and all of those they will go on to influence.

Just look at Mark Richardson, and the impact he has had on the great State of Missouri.

Sunday on This Week in Missouri Politics is our debut in the GREAT northwest on Fox 26 KNPN with our featured guests Senators Tony Luetkemeyer and Rusty Black.

Also, join us for our launch event Friday at 4:00 at the United Electric Coop in Savannah.