Top Missouri senator Tom Dempsey to resign, cites family and private-sector job

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FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2013 file photo, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, looks over papers on the first day on Missouri's 2013 legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo. Dempsey says Friday, July 31, 2015 he is resigning from office to return to the private sector and spend more time with his family. His resignation will take effect Aug. 7. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said Friday that he is resigning from office to launch a new private-sector career and spend more time with his family.

Dempsey told The Associated Press his resignation will take effect Aug. 7 and he hopes to say more about his new job in the coming weeks.

The Republican from St. Charles first was elected in 2000 to the House, where he rose through the ranks to become majority leader, and has served since 2007 in the Senate, again as majority leader before ascending to the chamber's top position of president pro tem.

He is the fifth lawmaker to resign in the past year. But Dempsey said his departure is unrelated to recent scandals involving colleagues. Last week, Democratic Sen. Paul LeVota said he would resign effective Aug. 23 while denying allegations that he sexually harassed interns. In May, Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned after acknowledging he exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with an intern.

Dempsey said he had considered stepping down late last year but decided to wait until after the 2015 legislative session in order to maintain continuity in the Senate after the chamber's longtime secretary and its staff administrator both retired.

"It's time to do this for my family," Dempsey said in an AP interview before releasing a written statement about his resignation. Serving in public office has "been rewarding, it's been challenging, but it also takes its toll."

Dempsey, 48, and his wife, Molly, have three children. One daughter recently graduated from college, another attends the University of Missouri and his son is entering his sophomore year in high school.

In his written statement, Dempsey cited all the time he has spent away from home, the closure of his family's banquet center business last December and the death of his mother two years ago, which he said led him to "reassess my priorities."

Dempsey currently works in commercial lending for a St. Louis bank but said he plans to step down from that as well to pursue his unspecified new job. His new role could still be connected to government but is unlikely to involve lobbying members of the Missouri General Assembly, Dempsey said.

The Missouri Constitution gives Gov. Jay Nixon the power to call special elections to fill vacant legislative seats. But it's unclear when, or if, that will occur. Because of laws setting deadlines for candidate filing and the printing of ballots, it would be too late for Nixon to add Dempsey's and LeVota's seats to the Nov. 3 special elections at which three House vacancies will be filled, the secretary of state's office said.

But senators could elect a new leader from among their colleagues when they convene Sept. 16 to considering overriding vetoes. By tradition, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, would be a likely candidate to replace Dempsey. But there is no automatic line of succession.

Richard confirmed Friday that he will seek to succeed Dempsey. That could trigger a chain reaction of changes, as Republicans then would have to pick a new majority leader and, potentially, find new people for other caucus positions.

After Diehl resigned on the last day of the session May 15, the House elected then-Majority Leader Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, to replace him. The House Republican caucus on Friday elected Assistant Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, to take over as majority leader.

This story corrects the spelling of Cierpiot in last sentence.

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