JEFFERSON CITY • Gleeful Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives said Wednesday that they will use their historic majority to make state government smaller and Missouri more business-friendly.
Speaker-elect Steve Tilley said their agenda will include 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 has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawmakers, Tilley among them.
Republicans picked up a record-breaking 17 House seats in Tuesday's election. They knocked off 10 Democratic incumbents representing every corner of the state and seized seven open seats held by retiring Democrats.
The results gave the GOP a 106-57 lock on the chamber. Never before has the party held that many House seats.
Tilley said legislators have a mandate to pursue the GOP's top priority: creating jobs. He said the House will focus on revamping state taxes, business regulations and the legal system.
Tilley, an optometrist from Perryville, said voters weren't anti-incumbent — just anti-Democrat.
"The theme on the national level was change. But on the state level, it was change, but just change away from the Democrats," he said at a news conference in the Capitol.
Tilley was surrounded by his newly elected GOP colleagues, who voted in a closed caucus Wednesday to tap him as the next speaker. The full chamber must vote on his selection when the Legislature convenes in January. But with Republicans united, that's just a formality.
The St. Louis region will gain representation in the leadership circle: Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, will be the majority leader, the traffic cop who decides what gets debated on the House floor.
Also high on Tilley's priority list: revamping the state's nonpartisan court plan. He said the current system, which relies on screening panels to forward judicial nominees to the governor, gives too much power to "unelected individuals."
Democrats said Tuesday's election reflected voters' unease with national problems, not state issues.
"It was obviously a cataclysmic event at a much higher level than a state campaign," said Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City. He is expected to be elected minority leader by fellow Democrats today.
It's likely to be a subdued gathering. The Democrats' casualties included some legislators who hadn't even been high on their watch list, such as Reps. Jeff Roorda of Barnhart and Jason Grill of Parkville.
In the St. Louis region, other vanquished Democrats included Reps. Kenny Biermann in St. Charles County, Vicki Englund in south St. Louis County and Sam Komo and Michael Frame in Jefferson County.
But looking forward, both sides said getting the state budget under control will require bipartisan cooperation.
"We're going to have to make massive cuts," said the new budget chairman, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.
Tilley said his style was to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon.
"What the voters told us was, we want you to do what every family and every business does, which is, when times get tough, tighten your belt and live within your means," Tilley said.