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Rural legislator announces run for Missouri House speaker, challenging urban dominance

In Backroom

12:13 pm on Mon, 06.17.13

In what could be seen as a Republican rural-urban dust-up, state Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, has announced this morning that he will be run for state House speaker when the election is held in a few months to choose a new Republican leader for 2015.

Jones is the cousin of current Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

Caleb Jones
Caleb Jones
John Diehl
John Diehl

But more significant, Caleb Jones’ announcement is a challenge to House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, who also has signaled his plans to seek the top job. 

Caleb Jones’ announcement could be seen as an effort by rural Republicans to wrest control from St. Louis area Republicans, who currently hold the top posts in the state House and Senate. The Senate leader is President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

Caleb Jones, whose district is just west of Jefferson City, alluded to the rural-urban issue when he said in a statement, ““I want every voice in our caucus to be heard. I believe policy making is best done from the bottom up. I don’t care whose idea it is as long as it is a good idea.”

Diehl replied in a text to the Beacon that he wasn't surprised to have a rival for the state House's top post. "No one should expect a free pass,'' the text read. "I will work tirelessly, as I have done for the past five years, to maintain and hopefully grow our historic majorities. I have committed to my caucus that if elected I will focus 100 percent of my time on being speaker and not using the office as a stepping stone to seek higher office."

It was unclear if Diehl was referring to the current Speaker Tim Jones, who has said in interviews that he does plan for statewide office -- likely attorney general, he said recently -- in 2016. Jones would be out of the state House by then, because of term limits.

Both Jones and Diehl are lawyers.

Although the change-over in speaker wouldn’t take place for almost two years, Republicans – in control of the state House since 2003 -- have for almost as long held the vote to choose the next speaker well over a year ahead of time.

During the age of term limits, the aim is to allow the “speaker-elect’’ to work closely with the outgoing incumbent for a smooth transition. But the early vote, held during the fall veto session, also prevents a high-profile internal political fight right at the beginning of session.

During the decades when Democrats controlled the Missouri House, there were occasionally nasty internal fights right before the session. The conflcts could  cause operational problems and political disputes to spill over into the official proceedings. House Republican leaders have generally sought to avoid such a display.

Caleb Jones currently serves as chairman of the House’s general laws committee. He  as first elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2012, the latter, he notes, “without opposition.”

Because the Republican caucus is so large – currently 109 members, with one vacancy – Jones would need 55 votes to win the election. He said in his announcement that he believes such support “is within reach.”

“The Republican party thrives on competition,” said Jones. “We should have a robust debate about where we are going as a caucus and who is the best leader to take us there. I’m excited to get to work.”

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