By CHRIS BLANK
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A leadership competition is brewing in the state House after a Republican lawmaker from central Missouri said Monday he is running for speaker - a post that also is being sought by the chamber's current majority leader.
The intra-Republican contest is significant because the victor is likely to become House speaker in January 2015. All who serve in the House vote to determine who holds the chamber's top spot, but Republicans have controlled the House for the past decade and currently hold a veto-proof majority.
The new entrant in the speaker contest is Rep. Caleb Jones, of California. He said he wants every voice in the caucus to be heard and called for more of a "bottom-up" leadership style in the House. Jones said he has been frustrated and that "members are hungry for a change in how the House operates."
He said Missouri House Republicans need real debate about the best direction to go.
"We need a competition not a coronation for leadership of the House," Jones said.
House Majority Leader John Diehl earlier this year announced his bid for speaker and said Monday he is not surprised someone else would be interested.
"It's certainly not a sign of the caucus in trouble," said Diehl, of St. Louis County. "Sometimes robust discussions are good."
Diehl said caucus members who have worked with him understand his approach and he thinks many are comfortable with it. He said he will work to maintain and grow the Republican majority and that his attention would be devoted to his duties as speaker because he does not plan to seek other office.
Diehl, 47, first was elected in 2008 and can seek one additional two-year term in the House. He became House majority leader in January and was chairman of the House committee responsible for congressional redistricting in 2011.
Jones, 33, first was elected in 2010 and can seek two more terms in the House. He currently is the chairman of the House General Laws Committee. Both legislators are lawyers.
The competition is to replace current House Speaker Tim Jones, of Eureka, who is barred by term-limits from running for re-election to the House in 2014. Republicans have controlled the state House since 2003. Both Jones and his immediate predecessor, Steven Tilley, served as majority leader before becoming speaker.
In recent years, House Republicans also had a leadership competition in 2007 to determine who would take over the speaker's office in January 2009. Ron Richard, of Joplin, beat Allen Icet, of Wildwood. Republicans said the contest was close but did not reveal the final vote publicly or to GOP caucus members.