Missouri Democrats chose new leaders to guide the state party through the next two years Saturday: St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler and Neosho organizer Genevieve Williams.

Missouri Democrats chose new leaders to guide the state party through the next two years Saturday: St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler and Neosho organizer Genevieve Williams.

Butler, a former state representative, won the top job as state committee chairman after two rounds of voting.

He'll be tasked with being the face of the party across the state and raising money to support its operations and candidates.

Williams, who ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, in 2016, came in second. She was later elected vice chair.

Renee Hoagenson of Columbia, who launched a similar bid against U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, in 2018, came in third.

In a speech to committee members, Butler cast himself as someone uniquely positioned to help remedy the party’s numerous woes in branding, rural outreach and fundraising.

“I’ve been blessed to be an effective elected official for more than a decade and have never lost an election,” he said. “Not only do I understand what it takes to run a political campaign and organization, I know what it takes to win.”

He’ll face an uphill battle in the coming two years.

The party lost nearly every competitive election this fall. It holds just one

of the eight statewide-elected offices and is deep in the minority in both chambers of the legislature.

Butler will also have to unite a membership often divided along racial and geographic lines.

Those lines were clear Saturday as the chair candidates fielded questions from committee members.

One committee member wanted to know how they would handle calls to divert money from police budgets to other programs, while another asked how they would support candidates running across the state, where calls to “defund” police are generally unwelcome.

Butler said the party can’t run from concerns about police brutality against Black people, especially in areas where they are the majority of voters, and advocated pressing the issue in local elections in the spring.

But he said the party also needs to make it easier to run in rural Missouri, where he said too often candidates sign up to run and “they’re the only Democrat around.”

“My goal is to make sure that there are volunteers in every county in our state,” he said. “And in the future, 2, 3, 4 years from now, I believe that we’ll have folks all across our state so that when a candidate shows up to knock on doors, they’ll have help.”

Williams, Butler’s new vice chair, said she would fully support his work.

She also made pointed comments about the need to work across differences and the rural-urban divide.

Voters, she said, do not have time for Democrats' infighting.

“We have to work together and take back this state," she said.