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Missouri Democratic Party chair resigns, cites business demands after surviving difficult re-election fight

By: - February 17, 2023 10:11 am

Missouri Democratic Party Vice Chair Shirley Mata, left, speaks with Chairman MIchael Butler after they were elected Dec. 3. Butler is resigning as party chairman effective Feb. 28. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

A little over two months after surviving a challenge to his leadership, Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Michael Butler is resigning.

In an email to members of the Democratic State Committee on Thursday, Butler said he will step down effective Feb. 28 to devote more time to his business. Butler owns Open Concept, a bar in The Grove in the Forest Park neighborhood of St. Louis.

“My company, Open Concept LLC, has recently received a large financial investment, and requires more of my time,” Butler wrote in the email. “I very much appreciate the opportunity to have worked for and with such a great group of leaders, staff and volunteers.”

Butler, who is also the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds, is stepping down after a little more than two years as party chairman. His re-election in December marked the first time in almost a decade where the party retained its top leader for a second two-year term.

“I have greatly enjoyed working for the party for the past three years,” Butler wrote in his email. “I consider it an honor and one of the high points of my career to have been elected Chairman, not once but twice.”

In the run-up to the December vote, accusations flew on Twitter and other platforms that Butler was disrespectful to rural leaders, that he played favorites in primaries and didn’t do enough to help individual candidates get elected.

One of the candidates who challenged Butler, Shirley Mata of Clay County, an officer of UAW Local 249, was selected vice-chair of the party. Mata could not be reached for comment.

Party Secretary Jonathan Kessler will be interim chair until the state committee’s next regular meeting on March 18, when a new chair will be selected, spokesman Akeam Ashford said.

The resignation will not disrupt preparations for the 2024 elections, Ashford said.

We are really solid,” he said. “We have a good game plan going forward.”

The Democratic Party is at one of its weakest moments in its history in the state. It holds no statewide offices, fewer than one-third of legislative seats and only two of eight congressional seats. While the Republican Party is flush with candidates jockeying for position ahead of the 2024 elections, no well-known Democrats have said they intend to run for governor or any of the other constitutional offices on next year’s ballot.

“The transition from me to the next chairman will be effortless and I offer my support in any way in the transition process,” Butler wrote. “I wish all the best to the next chairman and the party for its continued success.”

This article has been updated to correct an error regarding the interim chair until a new party chair is selected.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.