JEFFERSON CITY • Speaker Steve Tilley, who helped Republicans build a historic majority in the Missouri House, resigned Monday, five months before his term ends, but told colleagues he "will not be far away."
Tilley, 41, said he was leaving early to work as a political consultant for candidates and others with a stake in public policy.
"I choose to leave early because I did not want to be a paid consultant while serving as the speaker of the House," he wrote in a letter to colleagues.
An optometrist from Perryville, Tilley said he also would continue to practice optometry, which he has done part time while serving as speaker.
Once a rising star in the Missouri Republican Party, Tilley raised more than $1 million to run for lieutenant governor before suddenly dropping his bid last year. Tilley, who was going through a divorce at the time, cited a desire to spend more time with his two teenage daughters.
His letter to colleagues on Monday again cited his daughters as "key factors" in his decision to leave before his term ends in January.
"Over the past eight years, I sometimes put the interest of the (Republican) Caucus and the House ahead of my family; however, my decision to resign early is a decision that I made with my daughters and puts my family first."
The most immediate impact of Tilley's early departure will be the need for House Republicans to find an additional Democratic vote next month to override several of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes.
Republican leaders plan to try to override Nixon's veto of a bill that would have allowed Missouri employers and insurers to opt out of providing coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization if such procedures ran contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
They also hope to override his veto of a bill that would have allowed cities and counties to resume collecting local sales taxes on vehicles purchased out of state.
An override requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber — 109 votes in the House and 23 in the Senate. Republicans have more than enough members in the Senate.
The GOP controlled the House 106-57 before Tilley's exit. So now, if all the Republicans support the override, help from four Democrats would be needed.
The veto session begins Sept. 12 and usually lasts about two days. Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, will assume the speaker's duties during that session.
In January, Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, is expected to become the next speaker under a system developed by the House Republican Caucus. The caucus has picked Jones, but the decision must be ratified by the full House.
Tilley became speaker in January 2011, after Republicans gained a record-breaking 17 House seats in the November 2010 election. They knocked off 10 Democratic incumbents and seized seven open seats held by retiring Democrats.
Never before had Republicans held that many House seats. Their previous high was 103, in 1929-30.
Despite his majority, Tilley made no progress with key parts of his agenda, such as a measure eliminating the state income tax and replacing it with a higher sales tax. The so-called "fair tax" is a priority of retired St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield, who gave Tilley tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.
Among major accomplishments during his tenure, Tilley said in a news release, were bills eliminating the franchise tax on businesses, requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, earmarking casino money for veterans homes and proposing an amendment to the nonpartisan court plan.
He didn't mention his most visible legacy: a bronze bust of conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh that stands outside the House chamber in the Missouri Capitol. Tilley tapped Limbaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, to be part of the Hall of Famous Missourians, and stuck with the decision despite criticism from those who said Limbaugh didn't merit the honor.
First elected in 2004, Tilley served as majority floor leader before he was speaker. He had to give up his House seat in January because of term limits.
He recently served as chairman of the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Sarah Steelman.
Tilley's office said he was unavailable for an interview on Monday.