JEFFERSON CITY — Pure chance determined that Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, will be the next person to preside over the state Senate as president pro tem in the spring.
The Senate Republican caucus met behind closed doors to select their new leadership Thursday morning. Several Republican legislators said that after several tie votes for pro tem, what amounted to a drawing was held to make the selection.
According to GOP sources, the ballots were repeatedly split between Republican floor leader — Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington — and Mayer for the Senate’s top presiding officer.
With no majority for either senator, the caucus members drew lots to determine who the highest-ranking leader of the state Senate would be.
Mayer had the luck of the draw — what one Republican suggested, jokingly, might be Divine intervention.
Often in the past, the majority party’s floor leader ascends to the position of president pro tem.
Engler suggested the influx of staunchly conservative Republicans from the Nov. 2 election meant less support in the caucus for Engler and his history of compromise with Democrats.,
“I was accused of being a consensus builder and I’m proud of that. And if I have to lose being one, I lose,” said Engler, who had not run and lost for a position since the eighth grade.
Engler said the new members in the caucus want a more conservative, activist Senate.
“We got a lot of people in and there’s a new shift to the right, if you would, that we have to get through a lot of right things,” he said. “Promises were made to get through a lot of right things, and I couldn’t make those promises, so they went a different direction.”
Mayer sponsored Missouri’s latest abortion restriction law that cleared the legislature earlier this year. In 2007, he sponsored legislation requiring the state’s welfare agency to work with faith-based organizations.
But at a news conference after the caucus, Mayer said that socially conservative issues initially will take a back seat under his watch to bills promoting jobs and economic growth.
“I think job creation is our top priority,” Mayer said. “I think the citizens of Missouri have spoken and that’s what is on their minds.”
Echoing the same priorities proclaimed by the House GOP selection for speaker, Mayer said the election was a clear sign from voters that the legislature ought to take steps to use conservative methods to invite new business to the state and right the economy.
“I think Missourians are saying you’re gonna have to get by with the funds and money that we send you and look to create an atmosphere or job climate that will not only be good for the service industry but for industries that produce and manufacture, and I think that includes our agriculture economy also,” Mayer said.
Mayer is the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman — a position he said he will pass on to another senator in the next few weeks. He has not yet named his successor.
Although Engler attributed Mayer’s selection to a conservative influx in the GOP caucus, Mayer has a more complicated legislative history.
In 2005, he and Engler were the only two Republican senators to vote against the call by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt to cut Medicaid health benefits to lower income Missourians.
Two years ago, he was one of three Republicans who stood up to efforts by Republican colleagues to make it easier to shut off Democratic filibusters. Instead, the group worked out a compromise with Democrats that led to a more collaborative partnership with the Democrats on issues that triggered filibusters in the past.
Another member of that compromise group was the person Thursday’s GOP caucus selected to be their new floor leader — Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County. Before moving to the Senate, Dempsey had been the House Republican leader where he gained a reputation for collaboration with Democrats.
The caucus choice of Dempsey, who will be responsible for managing the day-to-day schedule of the Senate, is final. The pro tem is elected by the full Senate that will not meet until January. But since the majority party traditionally votes as a block for its nominee, Mayer’s election is all but guaranteed.
The pro tem has a major influence over the fate of legislation. He appoints the chairs of committees and assigns bills to committees.