Boone County State House and Senate races for 2012 – first impressions

With the 2010 census come new district maps for Missouri General Assembly seats. The State failed to come up with maps twelve months in advance of the election, so a weird rule kicked in, allowing aspiring candidates the choice of filing for any district that includes any part of the county they currently live in. For Boone County, that means there are five State House districts to pick from.

That has been advantageous for at least a few people, who have filed in districts where they currently do not live. Longtime Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) is/was the incumbent in the old district 24, which is basically southern Boone County, puts his place in new district 50, which has turned more conservative, and includes a lot of Moniteau County, home of current Rep Caleb Jones (R-California). Jones is a freshman this term, but his father served in the Capitol, and, well-known himself, is considered to be a shoo-in for reelection in his new district – in fact he will be, as he is running unopposed.

This scared off Chris, who decided to file in the new 45th, which is basically central and north-central Columbia. Several other local Democrats waited to see where Chris decided to go before making their own choice, as nobody wanted to face him in a primary. In fact, the 45th is considered a liberal stronghold, so not even any Republicans filed against the political dynamo. Chris will still work the campaign and likely help out his Dem brethren.

Stephen Webber (D-Columbia) had a safe district in the 23rd (western Columbia), in what I’ve heard called “a Democrat ghetto.” He became the man in this pretty liberal part of town only after popular Rep. Jeff Harris vacated to run for Attorney General in 2008. The redrawn district is 46, shifted into more of southern Columbia, which is somewhat more conservative, but I understand is not unfavorable for him. What makes this race interesting is the filing of a Republican to face him, none other than Tea Party activist and Fair Tax promoter, Fred Berry. I am very excited about this race.

Rep. Webber is left-leaning Democrat who believes the role of government is to provide K-12 and higher education, care for the poor/sick/elderly, and tax the rich so they pay their fair share. He makes no bones about this, and is a true-believer that this paradigm is what is best for the people at large. Fred Berry, on the other hand, is quite the conservative, for constitutionally limited government, repealing Obamacare, and reducing the State budget overall.

I hope this race reveals the fundamental differences in the two candidates’ legislative philosophies, as it has the potential to be very representative of the different ideologies the nation as a whole faces today. Both are military veterans, but it is hard to find much else in common. If the race sticks with the issues, it will be worth everybody’s time to pay attention.

Northwestern Boone County was part of the 9th district, with Rep. Paul Quinn (D-Monroe City). (Web link here.) That’s right, Monroe City, which is most of the way to Hannibal. The new 47th now includes NW Boone with parts of Randolph and Howard instead. Darrell Hansen of Clark is the Republican, while Democrats have two interesting candidates to choose from in the Primary: Nancy Copenhaver and John Wright. Ms. Copenhaver was on the Moberly City Council during the Mamtek Sucralose factory debacle, in which millions were defrauded by a Beverly Hills and Chinese shell company, via Missouri’s Dept of Economic Development – how’s she going to talk that down? John Wright has a Yale pedigree, was a successful entrepreneur, likely worth millions – money he made on his own out East, not swindled from small Midwestern towns, I take. So he has the ability to self fund a campaign, they say.

Personally, I live in the new 44th, with is northeastern Boone County, plus a small notch of Randolph. This has yielded the most candidates filed, and has the most interesting array of characters, at that. First the sole Democrat, former State Senator Ken Jacob. Known as one of the most progressive members of the Senate for years, he has the reputation of hard living personally and hard whipping as a legislator. One pundit told me, “he didn’t twist arms, he broke arms” getting votes with the then dominant Democrat majorities. He is a shrewd political professional, and has the luxury of sorts of sitting back while four Republicans vie for the GOP primary in August. Those four are:

1.)    Mike Becker, a retired UPS truck driver, and former Democrat

2.)    Chris Dwyer, who works several professions I understand, including farmer and part time at McDonald’s. He is also a former Libertarian candidate, running for State Senate in 2008, and against Blain Luetkemeyer for Congress in 2010.

3.)    Caleb Rowden, who is running for public office for the first time, is currently the music minster at Christian Chapel in Columbia. He is widely known in many evangelical circles from when he was lead singer in the Christian Rock band, Wisdom’s Cry.

4.)    Dennis Smith, former State Senator from Springfield, then CEO of Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance. MEM has received some bad press for unknown counts of political contribution money-laundering, fat-cat executive benefits, board members illegalities, etc. Not to mention the very nature of that organization coming into question in recent months: it received a government loan to start up years ago, has crony board member appointments made by the Governor, and is favored with a sweet deal where it doesn’t have to pay federal taxes. I guess he won’t stress that part of his career. Rumor has it about some hard living in his legislative days, too.

Current Rep. Mary Still had her 25th district get all redrawn, but she is instead running against incumbent Kurt Schaefer for State Senate. Senate districts were redrawn with even greater drama than the House ones, but the dust finally settled on the 19th Senate seat being for Boone and Cooper county voters to decide.  Schaefer is a center-right guy who keeps his nose clean, gets money for the University of Missouri (MU,) and is pretty charismatic. Mary Still is also outgoing, and has been the state’s crusader for cracking down on Pay Day Loan outfits, and increasing the cigarette tax.

These are two drastically different individuals, but unlike my hopes for the 46th House race, I imagine the negative personal ads will fly in this one. The local Dem machine likes Mary and wants their Senate seat back that Schaefer irked out from longterm Dem control in 2008 after incumbent Chuck Graham got caught for drunk driving late in that campaign – it was still a close race even after that…

So politics will be interesting come November, regardless of the craziness in the Presidential race that is surely in store for us. Two House districts are a slam dunk: for Chris Kelly and Caleb Jones. The 47th might be taken by a self-funded campaign vs. a Mamtek facilitator. The 44th has the full range of backgrounds and personalities, which should be entertaining. However, it’s the 46th with Stephen Webber and Fred Berry that is the race to watch, with such clear ideological differences between these two candidates.

Steve Spellman

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