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Temple takes reins of Missouri Democrats and cracks verbal whip at Republicans

In Backroom

3:23 pm on Sat, 08.24.13

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --The last time that new Missouri Democratic Party chairman Roy Temple held a key role in state politics, his party controlled the state House and Senate and all but one statewide office.

Roy Temple, right, was unanimously elected on Saturday as the chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.
Jo Mannies I St. Louis Beacon
Roy Temple, right, was unanimously elected Saturday as the chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. He's speaking with St. Charles County Democratic Party chairman Morton Todd (left).

Twenty years later, Democrats have held on to most of those statewide offices. But Temple acknowledges that the two-thirds majorities that Republicans have secured since then in both legislative chambers pose a problem and challenge.

“Nobody’s declaring that we’re going to take over the General Assembly in 15 minutes,” said Temple on Saturday, shortly after he he was elected state Democrats’ new chairman by a voice vote of its state committee, gathered in the aptly named Truman Hotel in Jefferson City.

What hasn’t changed over 20 years is Temple’s sharp tongue, on display as he ripped into Missouri Republicans during his speech and afterward in interviews with reporters.

Among his jabs:

  • Missouri voters “deserve better than what they’re getting from the Missouri General Assembly” which he said is fixated on “bizarre’’ fringe issues like Sharia law;
  • The GOP-driven tax cut bill, HB 253, is flawed because it “cut taxes on the favored few by $1,200” a year, while average Missouri taxpayers will see only small savings equaling “the price of a Big Mac.”
  • Republicans point to Kansas’ income tax cuts as the reason Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of HB253 should be overridden, Temple said, but fail to mention that “100 counties (in Kansas) have raised their property taxes’’ to make up some lost revenue.
  • Democrats, he said, need to challenge Republicans “when they’re not telling the truth, which is most of the time when their lips are moving.”
  • As for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Temple predicted that his visit to Missouri next week to aid the tax-cut supporters will feature “three lies, and he’ll only remember two of them’’ – a reference to Perry’s famous goof during a GOP presidential debate last year.
  • On Twitter after his election, Temple offered up another anti-Perry gem: "My mom had no choice about being born in TX, but she's lived in MO her entire adult life on purpose."

The chief job for Missouri Democrats, said Temple, is to be pre-emptive.

“We can’t let them define us,’’ he told the party leaders. “Our party shares broadly the values that Missourians hold’’ and can win if Democrats adequately define themselves and counter the GOP’s misrepresentations.

Democrats seek to make legislative gains in 2014

Temple headlined a series of speakers who pledged to do what they can in the 2014 elections to chip away at the Republicans’ huge edge in the General Assembly.

State Treasurer Clint Zweifel also took aim at GOP legislative leaders, contending that they’ve focused on attacking Sharia law and the United Nations while “constantly kicking the middle class’’ by cutting state programs that they rely on and increasing state sales taxes.

Zweifel called on state Democrats to make “strategic investments’’ to help their legislative candidates in winnable races.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, the Democrats’ already announced 2016 candidate for governor, reaffirmed his pledge to raise $400,000 to aid 2014 legislative hopefuls. Koster told Democrats that he expects to have the first $100,000 in hand by Dec. 31.

But Temple and others emphasized that outgoing chairman Mike Sanders, also the Jackson County Executive, wasn’t to blame for the Democratic Party’s weak standing in the state Capitol.

Mike Sanders
Mike Sanders

In fact, state committee members gave Sanders a standing ovation as various Democrats noted that the Missouri Democratic Party’s finances are now in stronger shape than state Republicans.

Sanders, who ran the state party since 2011, is stepping down to run for re-election next year as Jackson County’s top official.  A former prosecutor, Sanders also acknowledges that he’s taking a hard look at running for Missouri attorney general in 2016.

As the new state party chairman, Temple' must also focus om recruiting a strong candidate for state auditor, also on the 2014 ballot. The Republican incumbent, Tom Schweich, has amassed a large war chest. Last week, for example, he received $50,000 from Clayton businessman Sam Fox, a top GOP donor.

Temple played down any concerns, saying he was confident that Democrats would line up a strong challenger.

Temple close to Carnahan family

Temple, 48, resides with his family in Lee’s Summit and is a partner in a political consulting firm, Groundswell Public Strategies, which he said is involved in contests in Iowa, Kansas, Florida and Pennsylvania, among others.

Temple hails from southeast Missouri and has been involved in state politics for decades. He acted as campaign manager and chief of staff for the late Gov. Mel Carnahan (1993-2000) during his tenure as a candidate and public official.

Temple was the childhood friend of Carnahan’s other top aide, communications chief Chris Sifford, who died in the October 2000 plane crash that also claimed Carnahan and his eldest son, Randy, who was the pilot. Temple had been assisting Carnahan's campaign for the U.S.Senate, which he won posthumously three weeks later.

Temple later ran the unsuccessful re-election campaigns of former Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., in 2002, and then-Gov. Bob Holden in 2004. Holden lost to fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill, then the state auditor.

Temple was among the founders of the now-defunct "FiredUp Missouri" website, a favorite of progressives, and spent several years working for political firms in Washington, D.C. before returning to Missouri with his family less than three years ago.

Any wounds remaining between McCaskill and Temple have long healed, with McCaskill believed to be one of the drivers of the effort to install Temple as Sanders’ successor. Koster also has backed Temple, although Koster said Saturday that the two had not met until a few months ago.

Some Democrats privately said that Sanders’ chief deficit as chairman had been similar to the challenge facing Nixon. As top public officials, both Democrats have sought not to be too harsh in their public jabs at Republicans, since they had to work with the GOP in their elective posts.

Former St. Louis city Democratic Party chairman Brian Wahby, a Missouri representative on the Democratic National Committee, says Temple won’t have that problem. Observed Wahby with a grin: “I think Roy is going to regularly call these guys out.’’

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