Steve Tilley picked up a “Bamm Bamm” sized wooden gavel and tapped it several times to call the Missouri House of Representatives to order.
Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, is coming to the end of his term as Missouri Speaker of the House as well as his term as one of the Parkland’s state representatives. By state statute, he is termed out at the end of this year.
Tilley’s day begins with a workout at the hotel where he stays while in session. Often, he has a breakfast engagement before heading to his office in the State Capitol. Once there, he begins a whirlwind day that includes leading the session, meeting with other legislators and greeting guests at his office.
Despite his grueling schedule, Tilley is rarely seen without his customary grin. Ever since he announced he would take a break from political life after this term ends, Tilley also has been visibly more relaxed.
“He’s a little less stressed this year,” said Leann Hager, Tilley’s executive assistant. “We still have to keep him on schedule, but this year, he laughs about it.
“What I’ve always admired about him is, he’s a very good Speaker and he’s knowledgeable at what he’s doing.”
Tilley’s staff — Hager, Legislative director Joe Lakin, Chief of Staff Dave Willis, Legislative Intern Jerry Kendall, Legal Assistant Lisa Bondurant and Legal Counsel Alex Curchin — are the people who keep him informed and where he needs to be at any given moment.
Tilley said he loves his job.
“I’m a people person,” he said. “If you like people, this is a great job.”
Tilley, an optometrist in Perryville, was elected as the state representative for the 106th District on Nov. 2, 2004. His district includes Farmington.
Tilley beat Democrat candidate Dr. David Cramp, 7,847 to 6,562, in the race for Kevin Engler’s seat. Engler successfully ran for the Senate in the same election.
Tilley soon built a reputation in the legislature and quickly moved up in the ranks. He was named “Freshmen Legislator of the Year” for his work on child protection and safety. Tilley was one of the lead sponsors in Missouri’s child sexual assault protection bill, known as Jessica’s Law.
In Jan. 2005, Tilley was elected Floor Whip of the Missouri House of Representatives for the 93rd General Assembly. The following year, he served as chairman of the General Laws Committee for the House of Representatives
In his third year in the legislature, Tilley was named Majority Floor Leader, the fourth most powerful legislative position in the state. Only Speaker of the House has more control in the House of Representatives than the majority floor leader.
Tilley was sworn in as Speaker of the House Jan. 5, 2011. The Speaker always comes from the majority party in the House.
Last year, Tilley began a run for the lieutenant governor’s race in response to requests from friends and associates. However, he and his wife, Kellie, filed for divorce in September and Kellie Tilley moved to St. Louis. Steve Tilley pulled out of the race in November, saying he would take a break from politics while his daughters finish high school in Perryville.
“I’ve been traveling the state a lot,” Tilley said of his campaign. “I need to get off the treadmill for a year.”
In February, the Conservation Federation of Missouri presented the Conservation Legislator of the Year Award to Tilley and Sen. Kevin Engler, R- Farmington. It had been decades since the Federation found a legislator worthy of the award, a spokesman said when the awards were announced.
Tilley co-chaired the Greater Missouri March of Dimes’ 2011 Farmington March for Babies along with Ursula Kthiri, marketing and foundation coordinator at Parkland Health Center.
Despite his plans to temporarily leave political life, Tilley vowed to be a strong Speaker and legislator this term.
Speaker of the House
As the head of the representatives, the Speaker keeps each session orderly, addresses points of order and makes parliamentary rulings. From a magnificent raised wooden dais that rises from one end of the House of Representatives, Tilley determines who may speak and when. He also decides when and if bills are assigned to committee, calls each session to order, grants permission for representatives to speak and calls for votes.
In pairs on the carpeted hall in front of the dais are rows of desks for the state’s 163 representatives. Democrats sit on one side of the room and Republicans are on the other. On the walls on each side of the dais, large monitors display representatives’ names and votes. Tall white columns line each side of the House floor, helping to separate it from the slightly raised public areas on each side.
The public is banned from stepping onto the House floor — access is allowed only to representatives and their staff, with one exception. Tilley can give permission for people to be on the floor during session or to sit with him in the leather chairs on the dais.
On a February morning, the Keith and Wendy Cooper family, Roxanne Cummings from Mineral Area College and several dental hygienists joined Tilley on the dais for part of the session. Tilley tries to invite visitors into session whenever possible.
“There are some people who have never been to the Capitol before,” Tilley said. “Being up here is something they will never have a chance to do again.
“Creating moments like this in people’s lives is really an enjoyable part of the job.”
Tilley began with the announcement of special guests and members of the media who were in the House. A map of the seats lay on the counter on the dais, but Tilley never looked at it. He knows each representative by sight and has memorized where each one sits.
A pitcher of water with several glasses sat on one side of the lectern and a desk phone sat on the other. The phone allows Tilley to communicate directly with the majority and minority leaders while in session. Tilley’s staff put folders near the phone so Tilley will know what bills are to be addressed during the morning session.
Legislators stepped up to microphones and waited for permission to speak.
“Do you yield?” Tilley asked one representative when another waved a white paper to indicate that he wanted to speak. When it was time to vote, a bell rang to call representatives to their seats.
Sometimes, Tilley helps representatives find a compromise. That is not always easy.
“There are 163 egos in the House,” he said. “Hopefully when I leave here I’ve made a difference in the demeanor on the floor and the way things are done around here.”
Constituents and lobbyists
On any given day, citizens and lobbyists travel the halls of the Capitol, asking legislators to support certain legislation or maintain or provide state funding for specific programs. They bring letters and educational materials — and sometimes even cookies — to spur legislators to learn more about a cause and protect it legislatively.
One group that visited Tilley consisted of dental hygienists. He welcomed them into his office, a large room that contains his desk and office furniture, a television screen, and a large conference table. The group sat at the table with Tilley and told him that they would miss him being in office.
“I’ve been blessed because the people of Farmington have been very supportive of me,” Tilley told the hygienists. “It’s a great community.”
Currently, there are more hygienists than dentists, so it is difficult to find a dentist for whom they can work, the women told Tilley. Meanwhile, oral health numbers are poor in Missouri, especially in the city of St. Louis, the women reported.
Diann Bomkamp, co-chair of the Missouri Dental Hygienists’ Association’s legislative council, told Tilley the group would like to expand the services they are allowed to provide.
“We do preventable services,” she explained. “We are the ones educating the patients on how important it is for your body to take care of your teeth.”
Another visitor was Devon Phillips of Immanuel Lutheran School in Perry County. Devon brought Tilley his painting, “Simple Figure,” a winner in the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri’s Children’s Arts Festival. Tilley agreed to hang the painting in his office as a reminder of the importance of state funding for the arts.
Devon shook hands with Tilley, but was too shy to say much.“The judges that selected his painting said they loved the expression in the eye and the texture of the collage of tissue and acrylic on cardboard,” said Lori Ann Kinder, chairwoman of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri.
“The kids are so happy to present to these legislators who have an impact on their lives.”
Other groups who visited Tilley during the day included the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, who spoke in favor of a bill that would change the laws regarding school accreditation by authorizing the State Board of Education to establish an alternative governing structure for a failing school district; Mike Gibbons, former president pro tempore of the state senate, who wanted to discuss charter school expansion; the Missouri Foundation of Health representatives who came to talk about their grants; and the Missouri Coalition of Community Health Centers, who requested no further budget cuts to their services.
Taking a break
The decision to leave politics for a while stems from his desire to spend more time with his daughters, Tilley said.
“The down side to this is the personal toll that public service can take on you,” he said. “It is tough at times.”
Tilley said he entered public life because he wanted to serve the citizens of Missouri.
“I like being a doctor,” he said. “There was definitely a financial ding to being a state representative four days a week — I make $70,000 to $100,000 less a year.
“But if I were worried about financial gain, I wouldn’t have run for office.”
As he looks back over his eight years in the House, Tilley said he is proud of getting several bills passed.
“Jessica’s law, eliminating some taxes for people on social security and veterans — I’m pretty excited about those,” he said. “I’ve encouraged people not to take lobbyists gifts and I’ve tried to lead by example that you don’t raise campaign money during session.”
One of the biggest accomplishments Tilley believes he has made as Speaker is to show both parties that you can share the power without negative consequences.
He is the first Speaker who assigned committee leaders that included members of the opposing party. One of those leaders is Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre, who overseas the corrections committee.
Tilley made the decision to appoint four Democrats in hopes it would encourage the two parties to work together for the good of Missourians.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “I hope future Speakers will do the same. Part of my legacy is showing that you don’t have to be ‘in the face’ of the other side.”
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at email@example.com.
Staff help Tilley keep things running smoothly
By PAULA BARR
Daily Journal Staff Writer
As House Speaker, Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, has a large support staff who work behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly. Constituents have contact with some staff, while others work directly with Tilley and other legislators.
Executive Assistant Leann Hager has worked with Tilley since the summer of his first year in the House of Representatives. She handles his schedule, e-mail and expense account. Hager sets up Tilley’s weekly radio interviews, organizes and proofs his end of session report and district directory, orders office supplies and coordinates with the House photographer for any photos Tilley needs.
David Willis is Tilley’s chief of staff. His duties include research and policy development, media relations, caucus management, scheduling staff for the Speaker at events and administrative duties in the standard operation of the House.
Joe Lakin is Tilley’s legislative director. He works with House committees and committee chairmen on legislative issues, works with Tilley on committee referrals, develops goals and priorities for policies, develops strategies and works with legislators to advance priorities.
Tilley’s legislative assistant is Lisa Bondurant. She handles mail, prepares resolutions, schedules school group tours, deals with constituent issues and prepares letters of recommendation at Tilley’s request.
Jerry Kendall is a legislative intern from Missouri State University. He handles requests from Tilley, answers phones when needed, runs errands, proofs some documents, helps staff with copies and faxes, helps with school group tours, clips stories from newspapers and attends committee hearings at Tilley’s request.
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.