By John Celock
The speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives is clinging to power Thursday following revelations Wednesday that he exchanged a series of sexually oriented texts with a college intern in the Capitol.
House Speaker John Diehl (R-Town and Country) announced Wednesday night that he was taking responsibility for the texts and issued an apology. Diehl’s announcement came after the House Republican Caucus kept him in office, preventing him from becoming the third state legislative leader – and second this week – from being forced from office in a scandal this year. The texts were first reported by the Kansas City Star Wednesday morning.
“I take full responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry to those I let down,” Diehl said in a statement. “I apologize for the poor judgment I displayed that put me and those closest to me in this situation. I also regret that the woman has been dragged into this situation. The buck stops here. I ask for forgiveness. I will begin immediately working to restore the trust of those closest to me, and getting back to the important work that is required in the final days of session.”
When he was leaving the Capitol Wednesday night – after staying in his office most of the day – Diehl told reporters in Jefferson City that he did not have sex with the intern, whose name has not been identified. The intern denied a relationship to the Kansas City Star, but the newspaper reported that she told friends that she had a relationship with Diehl.
Diehl did not preside over a brief session of the state House Thursday morning.
State House Democrats are calling for Diehl’s ouster in the final two days of the legislative session. Tweets from reporters in Missouri indicate that while Republicans are upset with Diehl’s behavior they are sticking behind him for now.
If he were forced out, Diehl would follow former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) who were both forced out of office this year due to their arrests on federal corruption charges. Skelos was forced out by his caucus on Monday.
Both Silver and Skelos attempted to cling to power for several days after their arrests, initially receiving support from their respective caucuses, that quickly evaporated. Silver was replaced by Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie and Skelos was succeeded by Suffolk County Republican John Flanagan. Skelos and Silver both have held on to their legislative seats.
Skelos and Silver’s ousters came at similar timing to the Missouri situation in terms of legislative business. Silver was forced out in late January as lawmakers were beginning the annual legislative session and work on the state budget, which in New York is due to be adopted by April 1. Skelos was ousted with just over a month to go in the legislative session as lawmakers grapple with impasses over several issues including rent regulations and extending mayoral control of the New York City public schools.
In November of last year, Nevada Assembly Speaker-elect Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) was forced out after a series of racist and homophobic newspaper columns were revealed. Hansen remains an assemblyman.
In addition to those legislative leaders forced out in scandal, former Hawaii Senate President Donna Mercado Kim (D-Honolulu) was forced out in a legislative coup earlier this month. Mercado Kim remains in the Senate.