JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley, who rose quickly through the legislative ranks and built a $1.5 million war chest to run for lieutenant governor next year, suddenly dropped his statewide bid today.
Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, released a statement saying he wanted to spend more time with his two daughters, Kourtney, 17, and Korrin, 15. Tilley and his wife, Kellie, are going through a divorce.
He still has a year remaining in his House term and will continue to be speaker during that time.
His departure from the race would make it easier for Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder to seek re-electiion instead of challenging Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon next year. Kinder has been mulling a race for governor but has not declared his candidacy.
Kinder could not immediately be reached for comment.
Tilley, 40, is an optometrist. He was first elected to the House in 2004.
Members of the House Republican Caucus were assembling in the Capitol this morning for a meeting later today, where they expected Tilley to stress his family reasons for dropping out of the race.
"If it is, I think he's doing the right thing," said Rep. Charlie Denison, R-Springfield.
Rep. Darrell Pollock, R-Lebanon, said Tilley is "a guy that puts things in perspective as to what's most important. It's not politics. He's a guy that would listen to his family."
But just last month, Tilley was aggressively raising money for the statewide race. Whether he will return those donations was unclear. His staff said Tilley was traveling and not immediately available for comment.
In his statement, he said he was "thankful and honored to have received the support of people across the state for my run for lieutenant governor. I believe those same people will support my decision to spend more time with my family and focus on providing strong leadership in my final term as speaker of the Missouri House."
As speaker, Tilley has prided himself on working closely with Democrats in the House. But he has clashed bitterly with fellow Republicans in the Senate, who blamed him for the collapse last month of the special session on economic development.