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Race for 24th state Senate District seat may be the most competitive in state

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 6, 2010 - In Missouri's affluent 24th Senate District, one issue is topping voters' and candidates' minds.

"It's the economy -- that's it," said Anne Borman, who runs a small business in Clayton.

Though this district in St. Louis County is one of the best-educated and wealthiest in the state, frustration over the economy is mounting here. Unemployment in the county is at 9.5 percent, and Borman said she continually hears about bankruptcies, lawsuits and layoffs from local business owners.

"It's awful. They're in a bloodbath," said Borman, who serves on the steering committee for Small Business Week St. Louis.

Both major-party nominees --- St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, and Republican John Lamping of Ladue --- are echoing the voters. Fraser and a consultant for Lamping's campaign told the Beacon that the economy, jobs and education would top the candidates' platforms.

For Fraser, a four-year county councilwoman who seeks to return to the Missouri Legislature after eight years in the state House, it's all about using her legislative experience and energy to fight for those causes.

"Having had the experience working in public service almost all my life and being committed to public service all my life as a teacher and in various public offices, I really believe that this experience gives me an opportunity to stand up for our region and to have a strong backbone," said Fraser, who cited her successful effort in 2009 to get a smoking ban passed in St. Louis County as one example of her legislative experience.

David Barklage, a Lamping campaign consultant, said Lamping represents the type of outsider -- with no higher political ambitions -- for whom the public is clamoring. Lamping, who has never held public office, is running on a moderate platform.

"Both parties are demanding something new. John hits that profile,'' Barklage said. (Lamping's campaign said he wasn't available for an interview.)

The candidates appear to be playing down social issues such as abortion, which has usually played a big role in the 24th District.

An independent, Borman supported a flexible approach to job creation. Though she hasn't familiarized herself with the Senate candidates yet, she said that kind of flexibility will help decide her vote this time, too.

So will the candidates' records. "If they've been in government their whole entire career, I'm not going to be looking too fondly at them," Borman said.

A shifting district

The 24th District, once solidly Republican, has turned Democratic in recent elections, giving state Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, solid victories in 2002 and 2006. But with Democrats facing political headwinds nationwide and Bray term-limited, Republicans hope to poach the district as they seek to bolster their state legislative majorities.

This race "could be the closest race in the state for the state Senate," said Dave Robertson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"Most bets are, it remains a Democratic district now," Robertson added, "but in this year, when Democrats are less likely to turn out and Republicans are more likely to turn out, I think most people would expect a close election, especially since there seems to be a credible opponent to the Democrat."

Lamping could also benefit from his $280,000 cash-on-hand advantage over Fraser. While Lamping had no primary opponent, Fraser burned through hundreds of thousands of dollars in a drawn-out primary race against former state Rep. Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur.

The fundraising difference and political climate don't appear to concern Fraser. Though she said she takes all campaigns seriously, she still expects to win in November. "We can win it, and we will win it, because we've got the best candidate," Fraser said.

Economy and education

Fraser's economic platform emphasizes investments in technology and incentives for businesses. Those incentives include low-interest loans for small businesses and tax incentives for hiring workers. She also sees a future for green technologies and the area's burgeoning biotechnology sector.

Barklage, meanwhile, cited Lamping's background as a financial adviser and his degree in economics from Princeton. Lamping is keenly familiar with the need for job-creation and business tax reduction and incentives, Barklage said. "All those kinds of things go into an overall jobs plan."


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Lamping will unveil such a plan shortly, the consultant added. It will include a "green-job plan" to offer low-interest loans for firms that upgrade their physical plants to be more energy-efficient. "It costs taxpayers nothing and will help keep jobs here," Barklage said.

Both candidates are also put a high priority on education as the key to developing a strong workforce. They're especially concerned about ensuring that the area's public schools get their fair share of state dollars.

Lamping and Fraser both say their backgrounds in education will help them. Both have served on school boards or in leadership posts. Fraser also taught high school for 22 years.

But if they want to boost the economy and improve the schools, they'll have to do it with a budget that has taken huge hits over recent years because of the economy. They say they've come up with ways to do just that.

Both candidates say that the tax code needs reform because loopholes have allowed tax dollars to escape the state. They also agree that the state can expand the tax base by creating jobs. But beyond that, they have differing proposals for tackling the budget.

Fraser suggests enacting Bray's proposed internet sales tax, claiming it would raise hundreds of millions in tax revenue a year while encouraging people to buy locally.

"Not only is that [streamlined sales tax] a potential source of revenue, but when you buy from the internet you're paying all the shipping costs but often you're not paying any taxes," Fraser said. "When you're buying from the internet, additionally, it's to some degree unfair competition to our local businesses."

Lamping, on the other hand, emphasizes cutting back on ineffective programs and reducing fraud, while pumping more funding into programs with a good track record.

In a time when voters nationwide have become skeptical of government, Lamping and Fraser also promise accountability.

Lamping has pledged not to take any contributions while the Legislature is in session. Lamping wants to avoid any perceptions of conflict of interest and believes that eschewing donations during the session "focuses the Legislature more on the core issues," Barklage said.

Said Fraser: "I will hold fast to the core values of accountable and responsible government. We must have a government that is accountable, and additionally we have to have understanding and ability to oversee our constituency groups."

Puneet Kollipara, a student at Washington University, was an intern at the Beacon. Jo Mannies, the Beacon's political reporter, contributed information to this report.

Puneet Kollipara special to the Beacon

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