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JEFFERSON CITY • Rep. Keith English was in the spotlight last week, when he knocked out his opponent in a mixed martial arts competition here that drew a noisy crowd of legislators and raised money for charity.

But that was nothing compared to the glare cast on him Tuesday, when he abandoned his Democratic colleagues and sided with Republicans to enact a tax cut over Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto.

English, a union electrician and freshman legislator from Florissant, said his vote shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

“I’m a moderate Democrat,” he said in an interview. “I believe in common-sense legislation.”

A former Florissant city councilman, English, 46, beat incumbent Bert Atkins in the Democratic primary in 2012 to win the House seat from North County.

Since taking office, he has served on relatively low-profile committees overseeing areas such as utilities, financial institutions and local government.

He rocketed to statewide public attention because Republicans needed one Democrat to reach the supermajority required for an override. Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, said English approached Republicans.

Diehl said English made “a bold, courageous decision.”

While Nixon has said the bill is geared to the wealthy, English said he concluded that a tax cut would benefit “factory workers, truck drivers, teachers and other hardworking Missourians.”

If state revenue doesn’t grow enough to fund education, “we, after six years, have the ability to pull the plug” and discontinue the tax cut, he maintained.

Helping the majority party can sometimes result in a plum office assignment or other side benefits. But English said that wasn’t the case:

“I’m not getting anything for it. I’ve not been promised anything.”

English stayed out of the House chamber during the debate, huddling with Republicans in the locked office of Rep. Mike Leara, R-south St. Louis County.

But he said he listened to pleas from state Treasurer Clint Zweifel’s office and members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which English has belonged to for 25 years. Zweifel, a Democrat, is a former state representative from Florissant.

Democrats voiced disappointment with English’s decision.

Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, contends education funding will suffer as a result of the tax cut.

“People in North County, in Florissant, like public schools. They vote for local tax increases because they want good schools, and he has undermined that,” she said.

With only seven days left in the legislative session, Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, said it was too late for Democrats to consider pulling English’s committee assignments, but “we’ll take that into consideration when we pick committees next year.”

Virginia Young is the Jefferson City bureau chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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