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Cunningham definitely running for Congress -- unless Akin changes his mind

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 11, 2011 - State Sen. Jane Cunningham says there's no doubt what she's doing after the General Assembly ends this session on Friday.

She's planning to launch her 2012 campaign for Congress.

"I'm in,'' said Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, on Tuesday, referring to the increasingly crowded field for the 2nd Congressional District.

So far, St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin has switched his candidacy from the U.S. Senate to the 2nd District, and former Ambassador Ann Wagner has announced an exploratory committee.

But Cunningham -- who has made no secret of her own interest for weeks -- emphasized she won't formally announce until the district's incumbent congressman -- fellow Republican Todd Akin of Town and Country -- officially declares he's running in 2012 for the U.S. Senate.

"I'm very sensitive to being honorable to him,'' Cunningham said. "It's totally up to him."

Akin is expected to declare his intentions next week. Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, a fellow Republican, already has announced her bid to oust U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

If Akin changes his mind and runs for re-election instead of the U.S. Senate, Cunningham said she'll change her mind about her own plans as well.

Cunningham is completing her first term in the state Senate, after serving eight years in the Missouri House. A staunch conservative, she has become a major player in education and health care issues. (Click herefor her legislative background outlined on her website.)

Cunningham is arguably best known for her major role in last year's successful statewide campaign Aug. 3 to pass Proposition C, which seeks to exempt Missouri and its residents from the mandates contained in the federal health care law passed last year.

Her leadership swiftly made Cunningham a favorite among the tea party crowd.

She also attracted national attention earlier this year for her proposal to revamp the state's child-labor laws.

Monday night, Cunningham was among the state senators who derailed a measure -- already approved by the state House -- that would set up a health insurance exchange as mandated by the federal law as of 2013.

Cunningham said she had no objection to setting up an insurance version of "Travelocity','' where the public could look for the most competitive rates. But she strongly objects to passing any bill that runs counter to Proposition C, which she said seemed to be the intent of some of the bill's language.

"If you looked at the bill, line after line, it gives tremendous authority to the federal government,'' she said, citing the fact that people who declined to buy insurance would have to seek a federal waiver to do so. They also would be placed on a list.

Gov. Jay Nixon's staff submitted revised language to senators on Tuesday, which Cunningham says she will take a look at. But it's questionable, at the moment, if the Senate will act in time for the General Assembly to give final approval this session.

"We don't have to do it this year,'' Cunningham said, noting that the General Assembly has the 2012 session to deal with the issue without running afoul of the 2013 deadline.

By then, there will be no doubt as to Akin's 2012 political plans -- or Cunningham's.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.