By John Celock
The new speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives vowed a conservative course but no “Ferguson agenda” as he took office Wednesday.
Speaker John Diehl Jr. (R-Town and Country) focused his address to lawmakers on limited government and promoting economic development, while briefing touching on the protests in Fergusion following the decision last year by a grand jury not to indict a police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown. In his speech, Diehl focused on praising first responders.
“These men and women endured violence and danger that night by working to put out the fires that were set,” Diehl said of firefighters from Ferguson and surrounding fire departments. “In the face of danger these men and women worked together as one.”
Diehl said that he wants the Legislature to explore the cause of the protests in Ferguson, which included buildings set on fire and looting, and to look into preventing similar incidents in the future. Diehl’s speech came as demonstrations occurred in the state Capitol in Jefferson City focusing on police use of force issues. Tweets from those in the Capitol noted that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) cleared the state Senate gallery at one point during the Senate session.
During a press conference following the House session, Diehl said that there was no “Ferguson agenda” in the GOP-controlled House or Senate, PoliticMO.com reported.
“We’re not going to have a Ferguson agenda here in the House. The Senate has indicated the same thing. I view the situation of Ferguson as really a reflection of decades of bad government policy,” PoliticMO reported Diehl as saying during the press conference. “To the extent that there’s an interest in fixing some of the fundamental building blocks that have led to the deterioration of society, we’ll be open.”
During floor debate on the speakership, House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis) withdrew his name from nomination, calling for unity in the state following Ferguson. Hummel noted that lawmakers need to work together to address these issues.
During his speech to lawmakers, Diehl focused on the increasing Republican majority in the state Legislature, saying that Show Me State voters sent a message on the direction they wanted state government to take going forward.
“I will add my voice and vote to the decisive majority the voters have delivered us. I support individual freedom over the power of the state,” he said. “I am skeptical of the ever expanding public sector. I have put my faith in the private sector and private enterprise.”
Diehl talked about the need for lawmakers to stop “government overreach” saying that it will lead to expanding the state economy. He also noted that he wants to promote conservative fiscal practices.
Diehl comes to the speakership after a term as House majority leader and as he enters his fourth term, the last he is allowed under the state’s term limits law. An attorney, he is a former alderman in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country. He is a former chairman of the Town and Country Police Commission and has also chaired the conservation commission and architectural review board in Town and Country. In 2005 he was appointed by then Gov. Matt Blunt (R) as chairman of the St. Louis County Board of Elections.
Following several years of partisan battle in Jefferson City in the Legislature and between GOP lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon (D), Diehl called for legislators to work together this year. In previous years, GOP lawmakers have been known for overriding Nixon’s vetoes on a regular basis.
“I hope the two parties extend respect and courtesy to each other. To the surprise of many of us, many of us are friends in this chamber,” Diejl said. “There is never a disagreement that cannot be handled in a fair of friendly way. If six years around the Capitol taught me anything it’s that a little respect goes a long way.”