Competitive House races abound around the St. Louis region
Many districts in St. Louis and St. Louis County are drawn to be heavily Democratic or Republican. Thus, when a seat opens up, the August primary can be most competitive election for eight years.
The victors in these “primary-are-the-election” races will face different realities in Jefferson City, depending on their political parties. Republicans could get a chance to handle big-ticket legislation and move up in leadership. Since they’re a super-minority, Democratic winners will have fewer opportunities to influence the legislative process. But often times, they can provide a counterpoint to the GOP supermajority.
We checked in with a number of state representative candidates in St. Louis and St. Louis County. While these races don’t constitute all of the competitive primaries, they offer some compelling story lines.
House District 80
One of the most closely contested Democratic primaries is in the 80th District between Ben Murray and Peter Merideth. The seat is open since state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, is unable to run again due to term limits.
The district includes such neighborhoods as The Hill, Dutchtown and Tower Grove. Many of the local elected officials who live in this district have a more progressive streak – even compared to other St. Louis area Democrats.
Murray and Merideth offer more differences in style than on issues. Murray said, for instance, he wants to be a strong voice in the Missouri House for progressive issues.
“It is a difficult environment for Democrats,” Murray said. “I think part of the responsibility is to use the bully pulpit to speak truth to power, to shine light on progressive issues, to be in there fighting every single day for the issues that Democrats care about.”
Merideth said he too is progressive on a host of issues. But he adds that House Democrats need to work with Republicans to get things done in a super-minority.
“I will stand strong in defense of women, of workers, of minorities, of LGBT community – the folks that are under attack on an everyday basis,” Merideth said. “I’m not budging on those issues. Instead, I’m going to redirect focus to the places where we can agree with Republicans: Places like Medicaid expansion. Places like criminal justice reform.”
Murray has spent more than a decade as both a staffer and a political consultant for Democratic candidates. In recent years, Murray has worked for St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman – a Democrat who is running for attorney general. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s in local government management from the University of Missouri-St Louis. He also has a graduate certificate in Local Government Management, also from UMSL.
Major goals: Murray says he wants to be a strong voice for a multitude of progressive issues. That includes raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and advocating for abortion rights. He’s also made curtailing lobbyist gifts and limiting campaign contributions a major theme of his candidacy.
Why he’s running: "I feel like I'm a person who's worked in and around government for a long time. And we've gotten a black eye because the system is just broken. And so, some folks asked me run for this seat. And I took a look at it. And decided to throw my name in the ring."
Merideth is an attorney who has lived in St. Louis’ Shaw neighborhood for most his life. He was a musical theater major at The Catholic University of America, where he “literally sang and danced his way through college.” He obtained a law degree from Washington University.
Major goals: Merideth said he wants to work with moderate Republicans to build momentum to expand Medicaid. He said he’s also a proponent of abortion rights and wants to tackle some of the criminal justice issues that were left outstanding after Michael Brown’s shooting death.
Why he’s running: “I believe that somebody out there that's willing to build relationships, even with people we don't agree with, may have the ability to do things even in a super minority. And if we don't send people there that believe they can do something and that believe that the system can be different, it never will be and we never will.”
House District 81
As House Minority Leader Jake Hummel departs from the Missouri House, three candidates are making strong efforts to replace him.
Fred Wessels, Adam Kustra and Steve Butz filed as Democrats for the seat, which takes in St. Louis neighbors like Carondelet, Holly Hills and Dutchtown. The race actually features substantial issue differences between the candidates.
Kustra worked on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and touts himself as a progressive Democrat. Wessels says he is a pro-labor centrist who can hit the ground running in Jefferson City. Butz works for an insurance company and received the endorsement of Missouri Right to Life.
Despite issue differences, all three candidates say the primary race has been civil and positive. Wessels and Butz have poured tens of thousands of dollars of their own money in the race, which has sparked a sign war of sorts in south St. Louis City.
Wessels spent nearly three decades in the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. He stepped down in late 2013 to become director of the Community Development Administration, which helps administer federal block grants. In addition to his health care career, Wessels also worked in the health care industry.
Major goals: Wessels has been endorsed by a number of labor organizations and says he would strongly oppose “right to work” and “paycheck protection.” He also said he wants to protect the Historic Preservation Tax credit. And he contends that his tenure on the Board of Aldermen will reduce the legislative learning curve, making him more effective at getting resources for St. Louis.
Why he’s running: “The city of St. Louis is the largest economic engine of any municipality in the state. But we really don’t get the resources back from the state that we send to them in tax revenue. I’m looking forward to work with our delegation to get our fair share and to get a little bit larger piece of the pie than we do now.”
Kustra was Sanders’ political director in Missouri. He spent about 15 years in the restaurant business, and owned his own eatery for about three years. Kustra is a realtor who handles leases and property management.
Major goals: Like other Democratic candidates, Kustra said he would oppose bills that weaken unions and would support efforts to expand Medicaid. He also wants to try to get more funding for transportation and education, as well as major changes to the state’s criminal justice system.
Why he’s running: “I had gotten involved in Bernie’s campaign, and it prompted myself to look at politics in a different way. And I’m looking at this as an opportunity to me to get involved in a way I never thought I would before. I think it’s important we all get involved in our political system. And that’s one way you can get involved: By running for office.”
Butz has been a South City resident for more than five decades. He helps run the Crawford Butz Insurance Agency, one of the state’s largest family-owned insurance companies.
Major goals: Butz says he wants to have a robust constituent service operation that can get in touch with the district’s residents. He also wants to get more state money to help clamp down on the St. Louis region’s crime.
Why he’s running: “For South City, I believed the time had come for some new blood, a fresh face, a new perspective. There’s been a small group of local politicians who have been running and controlling every small office we’ve had for decades. And I just wanted to say there was going to be a viable candidate – at least an option.”
House District 96
Two political newcomers are vying to replace Republican Rep. Mike Leara, who's his with term limits. Both are attorneys with virtually no past experience in government.
The South County district includes Sunset Hills, the western side of Crestwood and a small part of Fenton.
Instead of pointing to differences of opinion, the two candidates in their interviews highlighted their difference in age. Gregory says he brings energy and fresh ideas; Reuter says he brings longtime community experience and connections to the people of the district.
Gregory was an accountant for the risk recovery department of global company Protiviti and an attorney for the Drivers Defense Council. He is treasurer of the Tesson Ferry Township Republican Club.
Major goals: Job growth through increasing manufacturing jobs and auditing of state government to cut wasteful spending especially in the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Why he's running: “I’ve always wanted to run for office, but I finally just got fed up enough. I’m pretty tired of sitting back and watching the same type of politician come through and make the same blanket promises and do absolutely nothing when they’re elected. ”
His law practice focuses on estate planning. Reuter is involved in such civic organizations as the Affton Chamber of Commerce, South County Chamber of Commerce and the Concord Township Republican Club.
Major goals: Reuter says he would like to see deregulation of small businesses to promote job growth and is would support a Medicaid overhaul.
Why he's running: “I have a handle on the difficulties and the concerns that a lot of families have. And I think now that I have an opportunity to get away from the office, so to speak, and we still have the structure to stay in touch with the community. Being the state representative, I’m going to be continuing to be in contact with the folks in the area and with the businesses in the area.”
House District 100
The district is currently represented by Republican Rep. Sue Allen, who is term limited. Running for the office are her husband, Mike Allen, and Chesterfield City Councilman Derek Grier.
House District 100 was substantially redistricted in 2012, and now includes the northern half of Ballwin.
Grier called into question whether having the spouse of a current representative run for office was in a sense a way around the term limits Missourians put in place in 1992. Allen says his exposure to the legislature through his wife better prepares him to take office and then contribute his own skill set.
Allen, a CPA, is a partner in Coopers & Lybrand as well as president of a local computer software development company and chief financial officer of several St. Louis real estate and re-development projects.
Major goals: Allens says he would take a close look at the Missouri budget to cut waste and abuse and put more focus on rebuilding infrastructure, supporting veterans and spending more on mental health issues.
Why he’s running: "I think I come in with a good understanding of numbers, good understanding of finance, a good understanding of how budgets work. And having been an auditor, I come in with a background of being able to ask tough questions and not take simple explanations as the gospel truth from whomever is trying to support their budget."
Grier owns his own real estate firm and is a former Senior Manager in the Corporate Services division of what is now Cushman Wakefield. He chairs the finance and administration committee of the Chesterfield City Council, which eliminated the city’s property tax.
Major goals: Grier says he would like to help build an economic environment that encourages business growth and job creation through less regulation.
Why he’s running: “Serving my community and my state and my country is extremely important to me. This is one way I have to give back. And there’s no area of our country right now that needs more attention than politics and in government.”
House District 101
This seat became open when Republican Rep. Dan Gosen resigned in February following rumors that he was having an extramarital affair. The district includes Clarkson Valley and parts of Chesterfield, Wildwood and Ellisville.
The four Republican candidates share conservative principles on many party-defining issues — all have been endorsed by Missouri Right to Life and are in favor of protecting Second Amendment rights and limiting government regulation of schools and businesses.
Krieger is a registered nurse with master’s in hospital administration and the executive director of the St. Louis Chapter Asthma & Allergy Foundation. She is also president of Richmond Heights Chamber of Commerce.
Major goals: Krieger says her primary focus is health-care policy reform and education; as a citizen activist representing the AAFASTL, Krieger helped pass two asthma reform bills, House Bill 1188 and Budget Bill 2011.528.
Why she's running: “From my understanding close to 45% of the Missouri budget is spent on health care. And with that much being spent, we need more legislators with a solid health-care background to help work on these issues. And that’s why I’m running.”
DeGroot is a councilman in Chesterfield and an attorney with the St. Louis Consumer Attorney Group.
Major goals: DeGroot says he supports deregulation of business and protecting businesses in court through tort reform.
Why he's running: “We really need to fix our business climate. Our small businesses in particular are over-regulated and they’re getting clobbered in court. And I know this because my wife runs a small business on Manchester Road.”
Gassel is an activist with Missouri Coalition Against Common Core and the editor of Missouri Education Watchdog. She is the Republican committeewoman for Wild Horse Township.
Major goals: Gassel says she will prioritize local control in education and limiting data collection of students.
Why she's running: “I’ve been very involved in Republican politics here in West County, trying to actively engage the grassroots in the political process, get them to understand what the caucus processes were, bring in speakers, have opportunities for them to meet their elected officials without having to drive all the way to Jeff City.”
McCann says she was a conservative lobbyist during Reagan administration and has extensive experience working and volunteering with Republican campaigns. She is the president of Missouri Eagle Forum.
Major goals: McCann says she would help improve infrastructure and advocacy for parental rights including reform of foster care system to help place more children with their own family members.
Why she's running: "My husband and I have six children and I want some of our children to be able to get jobs in Missouri. I want Missouri families to stay in Missouri. ... It has so many cultural amenities. But we are losing the battle. We don’t have a business climate that’s attracting jobs."