JEFFERSON CITY • Like star Brazilian soccer players, the most prolific campaign donor in Missouri politics is known by one name.
Say "Rex" in the Capitol and there is no doubt who you are talking about.
Ever since he burst on the state's political scene by putting his money behind the school choice movement, retired St. Louis investor Rex Sinquefield, who also has a home in Wesphalia, Mo., has become one of the state's biggest movers and shakers.
Chess, not soccer, is Sinquefield's game, but when he starts moving pieces around, the state's politicians listen.
Such has been the case over the past couple of weeks when Sinquefield pushed the "local control" issue to the front burner.
For years, St. Louis leaders have sought to return the control of its Police Department to the city from the governor, who has appointed the board that oversees local cops since the Civil War. The feeling then — and now, in some circles — was that the city's Police Department was too important to the state to be run by local politicians.
The arrangement has stuck for 150 years, and nearly every year a bill comes and goes in the Missouri Legislature seeking, and failing, to change it.
But never before has Sinquefield been involved.
Already, he's made a difference.
Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, now backs the measure, and that all but assures it will get through the House, where the bill has already passed committee and is ready to go to the floor.
On Wednesday, the bill received its first Senate hearing, and Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, is more confident than ever that the bill will pass.
Sinquefield gives more money in Missouri politics than any other individual giver, and in Jefferson City, money talks. He's Tilley's top individual benefactor, and he also holds that title for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat who testified in favor of local control in the Senate on Wednesday.
"Quite frankly, I'm glad he's on my side," Keaveny said. "There are outstate legislators who previously didn't care much about this issue, and now they're asking me to walk them through it. Rex's involvement has raised the profile of local control."
But for all of Sinquefield's money, he hasn't had much success in the legislative arena.
Part of that is because of the big ideas he's pushing. There are a lot of obstacles to passing school choice, or his latest issue — the Fair Tax.
The mere mention of Sinquefield's name causes some Democrats to protest his involvement. Keaveny gets that. "Some people resent the fact that Rex can speak so loudly," he said. Even some Republicans bristle at the notion of Sinquefield getting all the attention in the local control issue, lest voters believe that his money is influencing their decision-making.
When I wrote last week of Sinquefield's involvement in the local control issue, some St. Louis Democratic activists — including Adam Shriver — went to Twitter and the blogosphere to express their dismay.
Shriver's concern: "I think we'd want to be very suspicious of this new collaboration, and ask what exactly he's getting in return," he wrote of Rex.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, made it clear where she stood on "Rex's" involvement when she sarcastically referred to him as "his Rexiness."
In some ways, though, Sinquefield's involvement in the issue makes sense, despite his work bankrolling the initiative petition that could erase earnings taxes in St. Louis and Kansas City. While he has spent most of his political money on Republicans, he's had the backing of city Democrats very early on who see school choice as a cure for the troubled city school district.
As Sinquefield's lobbyist, Travis Brown, pointed out in the House hearing on local control: It makes sense for Sinquefield to support local control after pushing to have city residents have a say in their earnings tax.
One way or another, Sinquefield's involvement in the issue completely changes the look of the chess board. Within a week of making his support public, Sinquefield gave $300,000 to a political action committee that filed initiative petitions to bring local control of police to both St. Louis and Kansas City. And Kansas City officials haven't even asked for the change.
With Slay, the old soccer player, joining forces with Sinquefield, the chess master, the debate over local control has changed.
Whatever game is now being played, make no mistake, Rex intends to win.