Missouri house speaker resigns after intern text messages
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri House Speaker John Diehl said Thursday that he is resigning from the Legislature after acknowledging that he exchanged sexually charged text messages with a college student serving as a Capitol intern.
Diehl said he is stepping down both from his House speaker's position and from his elected job as a Republican representative from suburban St. Louis. He said the resignation will take effect either Thursday or Friday, depending on when an orderly transition can be arranged.
Diehl acknowledged "making a serious error in judgment by sending the text messages" to the intern.
"I'm going to do what's best for the (House) body and the (Republican) caucus, and step aside out of my office," Diehl said in an interview with The Associated Press and reporters from three other media outlets.
"I made a mistake," Diehl said. "It's one that calls into question my ability to lead."
His resignation announcement came a day after The Kansas City Star released a story accompanied by screenshots of what the newspaper said were electronic messages between Diehl and the intern, who no longer works at the Capitol. Some of the messages were sexually suggestive.
Democratic lawmakers had launched an effort to try to remove him from the speakership, and Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had described Diehl's conduct toward the intern as "clearly inappropriate and troubling."
Diehl, 49, is an attorney who lives with his wife and three sons in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country. He first was elected in 2008 and had been chosen by colleagues as speaker in January to preside over one of the largest Republican legislative majorities in state history. He's known for his ability to work deals and to persuade rank-and-file members to stick together on the party's priorities.
Republicans had publicly continued to back Diehl's leadership, and Diehl indicated Wednesday evening that he intended to remain as speaker. On Thursday, Diehl said none of the other 116 Republicans in the House had asked him to resign and he decided to do so after further evaluating the situation.
"I think, too often, we see politicians and people in the public eye, when they do something wrong, say they're sorry but not necessarily be willing to suffer the consequences of that," Diehl said.
He later added: "You can talk the talk or walk the walk. I made a mistake, I don't think it disqualifies me, but I think it certainly violates the high standards that I've set for myself and this body and this office, and I'm embarrassed by it. I'm sorry.
"I'm not going to put my friends in this caucus or my friends and loved ones back home through drama that was created by my mistake," Diehl said.
Some of Diehl's colleagues who had remained publicly loyal said Thursday that they also supported his choice to step down.
"I think he made the right decision," said Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Shell Knob. "It's a disappointing situation but we're going to figure things out."
The college student with whom Diehl had exchanged text messages had been an intern for another House member. She no longer works at the Capitol, and Missouri Southern State University also removed its three other interns from Jefferson City.
The intern declined to comment Wednesday and referred the AP to attorney Phil Willoughby, a former Democratic state House member. She "is not interested in being at the center of any political debate concerning her internship or the workings of the state Capitol," Willoughby said.