Missouri: Second District|
Rep. James M. Talent (R)
Last Updated June 4, 1999
Just as the U.S. population's geographic center has slowly crept westward into Missouri (the 1990 Census placed the point just outside tiny Steelville), the greater St. Louis area continues to move farther west from the Gateway Arch on the Mississippi River. The fulcrum now rests in St. Louis County, established in 1876 when the city, tired of paying for dusty back roads, separated itself from the sticks. There were then about 350,000 people in the city and 31,000 in the county. In 1990, the city, which once had 856,000 people, was down to 396,000, while the county was about 1 million. By the 1960s, the center of office employment had moved from downtown across the county line to Clayton; now even many Clayton office buildings seem half-empty, and the focus is fast moving out the Daniel Boone Expressway (U.S. 40) to Chesterfield, west of the I-270 ring road.
The 2d Congressional District is made up of central and western St. Louis County, plus some St. Charles County suburbs northwest across the Missouri River. It includes the blue-collar areas around the Ford plant, the airport and Boeing's McDonnell Douglas in North County and the Chrysler plant in South County; these are mostly Democratic areas. It has fast-growing suburbs in and beyond St. Charles and historic suburbs like Webster Groves and Kirkwood; these are pretty solidly Republican. And in the center of St. Louis County, along the Daniel Boone Expressway, are elite Ladue and high-income Creve Coeur, Town and Country, Manchester and Chesterfield: all Republican, even more so in the newer family-oriented subdivisions than in the leafy precincts of the old rich.
The congressman from the 2d District is Jim Talent, a Republican who first won the seat in 1992. Talent grew up in Des Peres and lives in Chesterfield; he was a law clerk to Judge Richard Posner, one of the great free market legal minds, and was a management lawyer in St. Louis. In 1984, at age 28, he was elected to the state House, where he opposed taxes and backed reform of House rules. He was House minority leader from 1989 to 1992. In 1992, Talent ran for the U.S. House, and in the primary beat George Bush's cousin, George Herbert Walker, by the unambiguous margin of 58%-32%. In the general, Talent faced incumbent Democrat Joan Kelly Horn, who in 1990 defeated Republican Jack Buechner by a grand total of 54 votes. But redistricting had made the district more Republican, and even in a Democratic year in Missouri, Talent won 50%-48%.
Talent has compiled a solidly conservative voting record and has emerged as a leader on conservative causes. In his first term he got a seat on Armed Services and formed an ad hoc hollow forces committee in the 103d Congress; he focused on military readiness and decried Clinton Administration defense budget cuts. ''We have shrunk and starved our services to the breaking point.'' In 1997, when Procurement Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter moved against the F-18 C/D Hornet, Talent fought and managed to save it; in 1998 he helped get eight F-18s, originally scheduled for Thailand, to be built for the Marines instead following the Asian economic crisis. In his first term Talent introduced his own welfare reform bill; in 1996 he teamed with freshman J.C. Watts to sponsor the American Community Renewal Act, to encourage enterprise zones, capital gains tax cuts, reduction of red tape, and public-private partnerships in central cities; some of its tax provisions were included in the Republicans' September 1998 tax cut.
In 1997 Talent became chairman of the Small Business Committee, which Republicans spared from abolition in 1994 because it was the only committee headed by a woman (Jan Meyers); she retired in 1996, but it survives. He managed to insert tax relief for businesses in poor communities in the 1998 tax cut bill, and worked, often in tandem with Christopher Bond, who chairs the Senate Small Business Committee, to make it harder for the IRS to penalize misclassification of employees as independent contractors, to provide full deductibility of health insurance for the self-employed, and to give employers who hire third-party consultants to inspect their businesses a partial break when facing OSHA inspections. He proposed family development accounts, to allow businesses to deduct donations made to match the savings of low-income families. In February 1999 the House passed his bill to increase the venture capital program from $300 million to $1.2 billion.
Other Talent bills include one to make private contracting an option in Medicare and another to restore the policy of not funding abortions abroad. He sharply criticized the Clinton Administration for cutting in half funding for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1998, pointing to Missouri communities at risk in floods. Talent has supported the Page Avenue extension, a new freeway over the Missouri River to St. Charles County. He opposed the $2.6 billion W1-W plan to expand Lambert Field, questioning the capacity and safety of the proposed new runway in bad weather.
Talent has been re-elected three times by better than 2-1, in 1998 against a Democrat who reported spending nothing. He also contributed to Republican legislative candidates around the state, though the party did not make gains. Talent said throughout 1998 that he was thinking of running for governor in 2000. When Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his resignation, Talent started running for speaker, despite his low seniority; after Whip Tom DeLay endorsed Bob Livingston, Talent withdrew from the race. He was later named as an assistant majority leader by Dick Armey, not an official leadership position.
In February 1999 Talent surprised few when he announced for governor. ''We made this a family decision of where I could serve best,'' he said. He promised to concentrate on education, tax cuts and the highway program. A November 1998 federal appeals court decision wiping out the state's $1,075 limit on contributions probably helps him; Democratic candidate and state Treasurer Bob Holden said he would abide by the limit but Talent declined to do so.
Very quickly an army of likely candidates to succeed Talent rose from the soil of the 2d District--seven Republicans and two Democrats. They included Republicans, state Senate Minority Leader Steve Ehlmann of St. Charles (''Philosophically, I'm very close to Jim Talent''); state Senator David Klarich of Chesterfield (whose mother founded the West County Republican Organization); state Senator Franc Flotron of Chesterfield (''I'm an effective conservative who tries to figure out how to solve problems''); Talent district office director Barbara Cooper of Ballwin (''Nobody knows the people in this district or the policies in this district better than I do''); state Representative Todd Akin of Town and Country (who challenged in court the 1993 state tax increase and the 1998 gambling referendum legalizing ''boats in moats''); state Representative Brent Evans of Manchester (a job-training firm head and longtime Talent ally); and former 15-year St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary (who lost races for governor in 1972 and 1984 and for senator in 1980 and was George Bush's INS commissioner). The two Democrats were state Senator Ted House of St. Charles (''I am as ideologically compatible with this district as any one person can be'') and Webster University Business School Dean and TV commentator David Harpool of Rock Hill (''I'm someone who's willing to take the wrath from both sides--from left-wing liberals in my own party and right-wing Republican conservatives'').
Probably Safe. Talent's decision to run for governor in 2000 has set off a scramble for this open seat. A solid Democratic candidate could make this race competitive, but it will be hard for any Democrat to wrest this wealthy and reliably Republican seat from Republican control.
- Pop. 1990: 568,449
- 3.2% rural;
10.7% age 65+;
- 94.3% White,
0.2% Amer. Indian,
1.1% Hispanic origin;
63.8% married couple families;
31.7% married couple fams. w. children;
61.4% college educ.;
median household income: $43,957;
per capita income: $20,654;
median gross rent: $434;
median house value: $95,300.
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