A Franklin County man is seeking a top spot in the state Democratic Party.
John Kiehne, who ran unsuccessfully for state senator and representative in the last two election cycles, now has his sights set on a two-year term as vice chair of the state party.
Kiehne, 53, of Labadie, said his primary goal is to bring more people into the Democratic Party.
“Everything we do needs to be with that in mind,” he said. “Organizations generally tend to get mired in minutiae. We need to find a focus, improve our messaging and show up.”
That means having a presence in all 114 counties and St. Louis city, Kiehne said. That includes places like Franklin County, where President Donald Trump received 71 percent of the vote in the November election.
“The vice chair doesn’t set the agenda, but they have the opportunity to be kind of a cheerleader,” Kiehne said. “I want to make sure I am part of the process of improving how our party works.”
Kiehne’s opponent for vice chair is the Rev. Darryl Gray of St. Louis.
There are four candidates seeking to become the chair of the state party, including two former U.S. Congressional candidates.
Renee Hoagenson, who was the Democratic Party’s 2018 nominee to represent Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District and Genevieve Williams, who served as the state party’s vice-chair four years ago and who in 2016 unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District, are both seeking the state chair position.
Other candidates are Michael Butler, the current St. Louis Recorder of Deeds and a former member of the Missouri House of Representatives, and Amanda Kelley, who is a former Democratic National Committeewoman for the state are also vying for the position.
Former state Rep. Clem Smith is the party’s acting chair. He moved up from vice-chair after former Chair Jean Peters Baker left the position earlier this year.
The elections for chair and vice chair will take place at the meeting, which starts at noon Saturday, Dec. 12. It can be watched on Zoom.
Kiehne said party rules require a woman be either chair or vice chair, so Kiehne won’t be able to serve as vice chair if a man is voted as chair.
That would leave Kiehne the option to run for party secretary, which he said he does not want.
Kiehne said Democrats have allowed Republicans to do their messaging for them, such as capitalizing on the “defund the police” slogan. He called that a “horrible label for a good idea” of bringing in social workers to deal with people with mental health or drug issues, instead of relying on police to handle every call.
Kiehne rejects the idea that party leadership should just be from areas where Democrats do well politically.
“It’s no secret that we can’t win elections in Missouri for president or statewide elections because the votes in St. Louis and Kansas City are not enough to win alone,” he said. “In order to get more leverage in the political climate of Missouri, we have to elect more people outside of the cities. We really need to work on the rural areas of Missouri if we are going to make any progress for anybody.”
Democrats need to connect with voters the way the late Gov. Mel Carnahan did, Kiehne said.
“I look at it and see Mel Carnahan was a strong Democrat in Missouri and did party building,” Kiehne said. “When he died, nobody really picked up that legacy.”
If elected vice chair, Kiehne promises to keep pressure on party leaders.
“If they decide to do something on Tuesday, I’ll say on Friday, ‘What are we doing?’” he said.
Kiehne, who works in the music industry as a professional musician, lives with his wife and two young children.