Missouri Republicans padded their control of the state Legislature and claimed a historic advantage in the state House that gives the party more than the two-thirds majority it would need to override any veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
House Speaker Tim Jones said Wednesday he would focus on economic development, energy and education. He said the overwhelming majorities indicate that Missourians agree with the party's values of personal responsibility, fiscal conservatism and smaller government.
The GOP now appears to control 110 of the 163 seats in the state House, and Senate Republicans maintained their supermajority with 24 seats in the 34-member chamber. The electoral wins could help legislative leaders during policy debates with Nixon because they no longer will need help from wayward Democrats to override a veto.
Jones, who intends to meet soon with Nixon, said that he hopes a veto-proof majority will spur candid discussion earlier in the process between legislative leaders and Nixon's administration.
"The governor will need to understand the importance of true, actual negotiation during the legislative process as the checkmate that he possesses in the form of a veto is now equaled by the overwhelming numbers that we have in the House and Senate," said Jones, R-Eureka.
During the past two years, the state Legislature has overridden Nixon's vetoes of bills creating new congressional districts after the 2010 census and expanding religious and moral exemptions from health insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion. But other vetoes have stood up, including of bills covering local taxes on vehicle purchases and dealing with the workers' compensation system.
Dan Mehan, the president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Wednesday the Republican majorities should put added strength behind efforts to help employers.
"This is a new day, and we are looking forward to working with new members of the Missouri Legislature and the new leadership to help them live up to the offices they have secured and the majorities they hold," he said.
After the 2010 elections, the Republicans held 106 House seats and 26 state Senate districts. The Republicans have controlled the House since 2002 and have held the Senate since 2001.
The Republicans' House majority appears to be the largest number of GOP seats in Missouri history, though Republicans held a higher percentage of seats in the House when the chamber was smaller in the 1920s. In addition, records are spotty from the Civil War era.
In a reversal of roles, the last time a political party held veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers was after the 1980 election when the Democrats were dominating the state Legislature and Republican Kit Bond was governor.
The GOP's legislative wins this year came in the first campaign under new districts drawn to account for population changes reflected in the 2010 census. The shuffling led to some challenging races for incumbents. Republican Sen. Jim Lembke lost his re-election bid for a St. Louis-area seat to Democratic state Rep. Scott Sifton. And in northeastern Missouri, GOP Rep. Lindell Shumake, of Hannibal, defeated Democratic Rep. Tom Shively, of Shelbyville, after the two were pitted against each in their redrawn district.
In addition, three Republicans and one Democrat lost re-election bids for the state House.
Two state House races are close enough for a recount to be requested. Missouri law allows candidates who lose by less than 1 percent to request a recount. In Jefferson County, Democrat T.J. McKenna holds an 83-vote lead over Republican Becky Ruth out of more than 15,000 votes cast. And in southeastern Missouri, Republican Rep. Kent Hampton leads Democrat Tom Todd by 116 votes. That race is a rematch from two years ago.
Newly elected House Republicans were meeting Wednesday at the Capitol to select leaders. Jason Smith, of Salem, was picked to be the Republican candidate for speaker pro tem. John Diehl, of Town and Country, was chosen majority leader. The other GOP leaders will be Mike Cierpiot, of Lee's Summit; Sandy Crawford, of Buffalo; Shelley Keeney, of Marble Hill; and Mike Bernskoetter, of Jefferson City.