House Speaker Steven Tilley announces resignation

The Missouri State Capitol.

The Missouri State Capitol.

House Speaker Steven Tilley announced Monday that he is stepping down several months before his final term ends, though the Republican leader is not leaving politics.

Tilley, who plans to work on political campaigns and public policy issues, said he resigned elected office to avoid working simultaneously as a paid consultant and as House speaker. In addition, Tilley said he plans to continue his optometry practice in Perryville in eastern Missouri.

He added Monday that a “key factor” in his decision was spending more time with his daughters.

“Over the past eight years I sometimes put the interest of the caucus and the House ahead of my family,” Tilley said in a statement released by the Missouri House. “My decision to resign early is one I made with my daughters and that puts my family first.”

Last November, Tilley also pointed to a desire to spend more time with his daughters when he dropped out of the lieutenant governor’s race despite amassing more than $1.5 million in his campaign account. He said at that time another consideration was that he and his wife, Kellie, filed for divorce last September.

Tilley first was elected to the Missouri House in 2004. He spent three years as the House majority leader and was selected speaker in January 2011. Republicans claimed a sweeping majority in the House after the 2010 elections. Term limits barred Tilley from seeking another two-year House term this year and his time in the chamber was set to expire in January.

Although he did not appear on this year’s ballot, Tilley was the campaign chairman for Republican former Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who finished third in last week’s Republican U.S. Senate primary.

During his tenure in the House, lawmakers approved legislation to redraw Missouri’s congressional districts with one fewer seat, to require the Department of Social Services to develop a drug-screening program for applicants and recipients of welfare benefits, and to gradually repeal the state’s franchise tax.

Tilley also sparked controversy by selecting fellow southeastern Missourian Rush Limbaugh for the Hall of Famous Missourians. The selection was publicized in early March shortly after the conservative commentator called a female law school student a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she testified before Democrats in Congress about health insurance for contraception. Limbaugh later apologized and called his language wrong. In defending Limbaugh’s selection, Tilley said others in the Hall of Famous Missourians have said controversial things and that Limbaugh transformed talk radio while becoming one of the world’s best known radio personalities.

Tilley also inducted Dred Scott, a slave who sued unsuccessfully for his freedom in a famous court case.

In a resignation letter submitted Monday to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, Tilley said the House speaker’s duties will be handled by Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller until a replacement is chosen. Schoeller is running for secretary of state this year, and his campaign last week claimed victory in a tightly contested GOP primary.

Lawmakers are returning to the Missouri Capitol in September to consider whether to override any of Nixon’s vetoes. House Majority Leader Tim Jones said lawmakers also could choose a new House speaker to finish the remainder of Tilley’s tenure. Jones previously was picked by Republican House members to replace Tilley as speaker starting in January.

After the veto session, lawmakers are not scheduled to meet until early January.

During the veto session, the Legislature could consider several measures, including legislation to expand religious and moral exemptions from insurance policies covering birth control and a bill to allow communities to resume levying local taxes on vehicle purchases after a recent court ruling.

Jones, R-Eureka, said he doubts the loss of Tilley’s vote will be a significant factor.

“I have a feeling that we’re either going to retain the Democratic support we had on all those bills in regular session or we’re not. And it’s not going to be a matter that we’re going to win or lose an override by one vote. I think the overrides will either be clear or not attainable,” Jones said.

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