Earlier this month, Kansas City Public Library Executive Director R. Crosby Kemper III was making introductory remarks before Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders delivered his state-of-the-county address.

Earlier this month, Kansas City Public Library Executive Director R. Crosby Kemper III was making introductory remarks before Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders delivered his state-of-the-county address.

“Personally,” Kemper said, “I just want to say I’m glad he decided not to run for statewide office.”

That got a loud round of applause of the large crowd of local officials in and out of county government, but it turns out Sanders will be serving his party in a wider role while keeping his day job.

Sanders, 44, of Independence, is the new chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. He was elected Nov. 19 and replaces former State Auditor Susan Montee, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2012.

Sanders, a former county prosecutor elected last year to a second term as county executive, was courted to run for statewide office in 2012, but he and his wife, Georgia, have two young sons. Running and serving would mean a lot of nights away from home.

“I want to tuck my kids in at night,” he said.

In his new role, most of the work can be done here; travel will be minimal. And as Sanders outlines it, the job is straightforward: Field good candidates and highlight the party’s chosen issues, particularly the wide and responsible spending of taxpayer money and the creation of jobs.

“This is in the Democrats’ wheelhouse,” he said.

Although, he says, local political races tend to be far less partisan in tone than national or statewide races, voter dismay with politicians – “It’s just anti,” Sanders says – greatly shapes the background.

“The reality is the political landscape may change a dozen times in the next 12 months,”  he said.

So the job is to get strong candidates to run and plug away at it.

“All we can control is what we can control,” he said.

In just a few years, his party has gone from its all-time high in the number of seats held in the 197-member Missouri General Assembly to an all-time low today. His job is to chip away, advocating for the middle class and focusing on issues that are affecting voters’ lives.

“That economic message – it sells everywhere,” he said.