Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Insiders: Danner Looks To Be Favorite For Econ Director

Jefferson City insiders believe that Katie Steele Danner is well-positioned to become Gov. Jay Nixon's permanent choice to head the Department of Economic Development, despite a past arrest for driving while intoxicated.

Just hours after Linda Martinez's resignation and Danner's interim appointment, the always-reliably researched Turner Report noted that Danner refused to take breathalyzer tests on two occasions, both over a decade ago.

But state government insiders still view Danner, a former state House member, as the favorite to take over one of the most important positions in the Nixon administration.

"She's very smart, very poised, very connected and very respected as a savvy lady," said one insider with close connections to the Democratic establishment. "It's all Danner. The interim part is just interim. She will be the next director unless she just doesn't want it."

Another economic development official, agreeing to speak only on the condition of anonymity, signaled that while Danner's skills will be closely watched in the coming weeks, she has a strong advantage over other candidates because of her ties to Nixon and her political acumen.

"We'll see how she does beginning (Tuesday). I believe she'll be with Jay in Springfield for her debut," the official said.

Danner is married to Adjutant General Steve Danner, who was elected to the State Senate the same year as Nixon.

One insider said the implications of driving while intoxicated detailed by Turner aren't unique nor a disqualifier necessarily. "The 1997 thing was, well 1997," said the source. "Ten years between events isn't quite a pattern," he added, referring to the Taney County traffic stop, when Danner refused to take a breathalyzer after a stop for speeding and reportedly failed field sobriety tests.

"There's not much there, there," the insider argued.

This is not to say Nixon's team won't conduct a thorough search. Economic officials around the state have already been enlisted to help.

But Nixon is likely to keep a woman in the post for diversity's sake. Growing, yet not a political powerhouse, Missouri's Latino community has already voiced its disappointment with Martinez's dismissal. Still, Nixon has three years to reach out to that community.

The source also noted that whoever is chosen will need reach out much more than Martinez, who is described as a political neophyte who did not thrive in personal interactions or pay attention to gentle political egos.

While some economic officials were unimpressed by Martinez, others were rubbed the wrong way, the source said.

And Nixon allies seem more than willing to dump on Martinez if she tries to pin any more blame on the Governor. "There is plenty that can be drizzled out, I'm told. She ain't no Sotomayor," quipped a source.

Nixon will begin his political rebound with Danner Tuesday morning in Springfield as he holds a roundtable with business leaders to brainstorm ideas about economic development and ways to stifle the state's growing unemployment rate.

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