In the interest of full disclosure: I am chair of the 31st Senate District Democratic Committee. I have communicated with Chris Benjamin in that capacity and as an individual party member who is pleased that he has joined the Democratic Party.

Chris Benjamin, former Chief of Staff for Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton (r), has announced that he has joined the Democratic Party and will be running for the open senate seat in the 31st District. The seat is currently held by Chris Koster, a Democratic Party candidate for Attorney General. Previous to that, the seat had been held by Harold Caskey (D), one of the legendary legislative “lions” in the Missouri General Assembly. David Pearce (r) has already announced his candidacy for the senate seat.

The 31st Senate District includes Bates, Cass, Johnson, and Vernon counties. Chris Benjamin is a resident of Cass County and currently practices law in Harrisonville.

Benjamin resigned as the speaker’s Chief of Staff on December 21, 2007:

Cass County Democrat Missourian

“…Chris was an invaluable Chief of Staff because of his knowledge of the legislative process,” Jetton said. “But he was also someone who meant a great deal individually to the majority caucus and to me personally for his advice and friendship…”

With supportive past statements like that it will make it more difficult for the usual republican suspects to disparage Chris Benjamin’s abilities and motivation.

This hasn’t exactly been the best kept political secret in Missouri:

Another Republican jumping ship

By Virginia Young

01/03/2008 7:14 pm

Chris Benjamin, who until recently was a top Republican aide in the Missouri House, is expected to announce next week that he will run for the state Senate – as a Democrat.

Benjamin will make an announcement on Monday, according to state Sen. Chris Koster, who will accompany Benjamin on a campaign swing. Koster said Benjamin will seek the 31st District seat in western Missouri that Koster is vacating to run for attorney general.

Benjamin, a lawyer, was chief of staff to House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, until late last year….

No Room for Christophers in the Party of Huckabee

…Thu, 01/03/2008 – 10:36pm

Tonight’s victory in Iowa by Mike Huckabee shows why people named Chris (i.e Koster and Benjamin) and other semi-intelligent folks are leaving the GOP….

Benjamin expected to switch parties to run for state Senate

…January 4, 2008 – 9:12am

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Political Fix notes that Chris Benjamin, a top Republican aide in the Missouri House, is expected to announce that he will run for state Senate as a Democrat next week.

Rod Jetton’s chief of staff is returning home … as a Democrat

…January 4, 2008 – 10:36am

…Here’s the catch: He’s running as a Democrat. His former boss, mind you, is a Republican, and the most powerful one in the House to boot…

“…I felt in my first run for office that since we need to bring about change, the best way to do it was to run under the Democrat party,” Benjamin said. “I have a lot of friends back home who are members of the Democratic Party…”

The dead tree version of Saturday’s Kansas City Star [Kansas City Edition, Local, B2] had the headline as: “Republican defects for run: The ex-chief of staff for the Missouri House Speaker to run for state Senate as a Democrat”. The online version doesn’t emulate that tabloid tone:

Posted on Fri, Jan. 04, 2008 10:15 PM

Ex-GOP staffer in Missouri House to run for state Senate as Democrat

By JASON NOBLE

The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent

JEFFERSON CITY | A former Republican staffer in the Missouri House will run for the state Senate this year as a Democrat.

Chris Benjamin of Freeman, Mo., was Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton’s chief of staff until late last month, but he has switched parties to run for the 31st District seat. The district, which covers Cass, Johnson, Bates and Vernon counties, is currently represented by Chris Koster, who last August left the Republican Party to run for attorney general as a Democrat….

tiny URL

Senator Chris Koster, in his introduction of Chris Benjamin, stated, “One hundred fifty years ago the 31st District was known as ‘the burnt district’ in a front line of the Civil War. Today, one hundred fifty years later, it is again the front line in the war of ideas between the Democratic Party and the Republicans…”

Chris Benjamin’s announcement at the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg at 8:30 a.m. today:

I stand before you today to announce my decision to seek the Democratic nomination for the State Senate of the 31st District.  

I’m running for State Senate because I love this community and I want to help bring about change in Jefferson City.  I could no longer explain to my dad who is a retired member of the Steelworkers Union why the state just made it more difficult for injured workers to receive workers comp benefits after being injured on the job.  I could no longer explain to the people with disabilities who visited the Capitol why the state took away their access to wheelchair batteries and oxygen tanks.  I could no longer accept that I was working for a government that forgot its commitment to our public schools and Universities.  I am here to announce that we can do better.  I want to use my experience working in the legislature to fight for working people, public education and middle class families.  

I am a strong advocate for public education.  I grew up attending Harrisonville public schools where I later worked as a substitute teacher.  I will work to ensure that our communities have the tools to provide a world class education for our children.  We need to provide greater incentives to attract quality teachers such as loan forgiveness programs and greater incentives for those who have been in the workforce and who want to become teachers.  

I will work to provide greater access to higher education.  I received my undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and could not have done it without access to student loans or scholarships.  With advances in technology and a more global job market, it is becoming more important than ever for high school graduates to obtain a college education.  I will work with administrators and faculty at the University of Central Missouri and the University of Missouri extension offices to find local solutions to increase access to higher education degrees here in the district.

As your state Senator I will work to provide greater access to healthcare.  We must do everything possible to restore the healthcare coverage for disabled Missourians and children.  We must provide greater access for small businesses that provide healthcare coverage for their employees.  Our state government has turned away billions of federal dollars for healthcare by making cuts in Medicaid.  

We must work to attract good high paying jobs in Missouri.  We can do this through greater economic development incentives and through attracting new industries such as life sciences to greater enhance jobs in healthcare and agriculture in the state.  We can also do this by creating tax incentives for those who buy automobiles and other products made in Missouri.  

I’m proud to have grown up in a union household.  Missouri has a proud heritage of standing up for working families.  Workers who are injured on the job deserve to have the right to access workers comp benefits.  I will also support working families by working to preserve project labor agreements.  

And while I carry with me the principles that my family, my teachers, and my hometown taught me to fight for, I also know that politics isn’t just about fighting.  It’s about unity, hope, and bringing people of diverse views together to move Missouri forward. While I have served on staff for Republican legislators, this is my first run for public office.  I have always personally supported issues that I felt were right regardless of Republican or Democratic label.  I will be a Senator who stands up for working people, public education, and middle class families.  

Like Senator Harold Caskey, I am a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat.  I was born in Alaska where my parents adopted me and I grew up in Harrisonville.  My family goes back five generations in the 31st district.  I deer hunt in Bates County South of Ballard.  I am excited about the opportunity to serve the 31st district and to learn from the folks in our communities as I campaign to serve as your Senator.  

If elected, as Senator I want to work with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to find real solutions to tackle the problems facing our state.  This will take hard work not politics.  These are the values I learned growing up in the 31st district with friends from both parties.  Public service should be about helping others and I pledge to make this my duty in public office.  As President Harry Truman said, “We know that helping others is the best way-probably the only way to achieve a better future for ourselves.”  I want to earn your confidence as I campaign to represent you in the Missouri Senate.  Thank you and God bless.

Benjamin is the third individual active in politics in our area (Chris Koster and Anthony Arton are the other two) to switch to the Democratic Party and run for office.

In a release accompanying the announcement the following Democrats commented on Chris Benjamin’s candidacy:

“…Chris is an exceptional young man that I am proud to stand with today as he announces his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the 31st Senatorial District,” said Sen. Caskey…

“…Given his small town values and his commitment to public education and the working families of this state, Chris will make an outstanding Senator that Democrats, Independents and Republicans throughout the 31st can be proud,” said Sen. Koster…

“…The courage he has shown in making this decision to run as a Democrat speaks to his values and principles. We need more leaders like Chris in Jefferson City. On behalf of the Democratic caucus, we are excited about his candidacy,” said State Senator Maida Coleman, Senate Democratic Leader…

I am following the campaign announcement swing from Warrensburg, to Harrisonville, to Butler, to Nevada and will update as possible.