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Jake Zimmerman gave up his safe Democratic seat (65 DPI) in the House when he got elected St. Louis County Assessor last spring. Now a little war has broken out among Democrats about which of two candidates should claim the seat. The problem is that perhaps neither of them will if the battle persists.

The Democratic committeemen in that district voted to give the nomination to Jeff O’Connell. He’s got plenty of Democratic street cred–he’s been on the City Council, been a committeeman, and served as a business agent for Laborers Local 42. There’s been some sniggering, though, over some ethics problems having to do with unpaid fines. Seems that at one time, when O’Connell ran for another office, the Missouri Ethics Committee disagreed with an item on one of his reports and fined him. O’Connell disagreed with their decision and refused to pay the fine.  The MEC doesn’t have any power to make people pay fines unless the person decides to run for something else.  When O’Connell was selected by the Dems in his district to be the candidate for the Dem Party for the seat in HD 83, he had to pay off the fine which was ten times more because he hadn’t paid it when he was supposed to.  The original fine was $300. What O’Connell paid then, out of his own pocket, was $3,000. End of story.

But Tracy McCreery, who narrowly missed getting the nod for the Democratic spot on the ticket, plans to run against O’Connell as an Independent. McCreery is well respected by local progressives for her stint in Gov. Holden’s administration and as an administrative aide to Sen. Joan Bray. Quite a few of them vow they will work for her.

The question of whether her candidacy flirts with handing the election to the Republican arose vividly at the Saturday MOPAG meeting.

The speaker for the day was the head of the House Progressive caucus, Stacy Newman, and she defended McCreery’s  candidacy. First, she said that the same Republican ran against Zimmerman in 2010, spent little money and didn’t bother knocking on doors. He got 35 percent. How, in a year when few voters will even know that there is an election for the seat in that district, will the Republican turn out 35 percent of the voters? That was Newman’s question. It’s unlikely, she asserted, that the party would invest any money in informing Republican voters about him in a district that always goes to the Democrat.

Furthermore, said Newman, McCreery, as a lawyer, is articulate and would be invaluable in the House.  With only 57 Democrats in a 163 member chamber, the Ds have virtually no real power. But they can stand at the mics on the floor and argue their case–and sometimes win converts. Some of the Democrats never do that. They’re not really fighting the fight. McCreery would. She’d be persistent and persuasive. As a lawyer, she is used to arguing her point of view and not likely to be intimidated by any legal arguments from the other side of the aisle.

After Newman had her say on the contest, Jon Boesch, who runs campaigns for Democrats–most recently for Charlie Dooley in his successful reelection bid for St. Louis County Executive–rose to warn the audience that the situation is dangerous. Boesch isn’t working for O’Connell, but that doesn’t keep him from having a strong opinion: to wit, that McCreery’s candidacy stands too good a chance of handing the election to the Republican. True, it would only be for a year. Next year, the Democrat would win it back. But in the meantime, this Republican isn’t just a Republican. He’s Tea Party. And our veto proof margin is razor thin. Suppose the Republican party sees the opportunity. Just consider the math. If O’Connell and McCreery divide the Dem votes evenly, they each get 32 1/2 percent. But if the Rs dump some money for mailing to turn out Republican voters, their guy might get 35 percent and take the prize. That could make the difference in upholding an important veto next session.

Jeff O’Connell spoke next. He challenged the audience to find anyone more progressive than he is, and he described the danger of McCreery’s candidacy:

So here’s the question: is it worth the risk of losing our veto proof majority to have someone in that seat who would be an effective spokesperson for our causes on the House floor? That’s what it boils down to.