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Democrats in south St. Louis House race emphasize public safety and education

According to Washington University's Center for Social Development's latest study, predominantly black residents and low-income communities in the region face barriers in casting their ballots.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Steve Butz and Travis Estes face each other in an Aug. 7 Democratic primary for Missouri House District 81.

Two Democrats running for the south St. Louis House seat being vacated by Fred Wessels say the most important issues to address are improving public safety and educational opportunities.

Steve Butz and Travis Estes have similar platforms in the Aug. 7 race for the 81st District, which includes the Holly Hills, Mount Pleasant, Marine Villa, Dutchtown and Carondelet neighborhoods.

Butz, president of an area insurance agency, ran against Wessels in the 2016 primary capturing almost 36 percent of the vote to Wessels’ 48 percent. This time around, he’s put almost $60,000 of his own money into the campaign, according to quarterly campaign finance reports.

Estes, director of digital strategy for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, is running for the first time. Estes said the last election turned him from the “politico of my friend group” to a candidate.

“I knocked on doors for Bernie Sanders and when he lost the primary I had a lot of friends who talked about [how], the Democratic Party ‘needed to change’ and you know, I was like, ‘you can’t just stand outside of a building and yell at it to change. You have to get inside and, you know, be a member.’ So I got active, even more active.”

Democrats Steve Butz, at left, and Travis Estes, right, seek to replace Missouri House Rep. Fred Wessels in District 81.
Credit Michael DeFilippo, Corey Woodruff
Democrats Steve Butz, at left, and Travis Estes, right, seek to replace Missouri House Rep. Fred Wessels in District 81.

Both candidates are for gun reform, increasing funding for schools, and against the Prop A right-to-work ballot issue.

“I can tell you for sure the conversations at the doors, 90 percent of the time, only revolve around public safety and quality of schools,” Butz said. “There’s really no other issue.”

Both candidates say they agree the educational options in the district are not up to par, which causes a flight of families with school age children from the district to St. Louis County.

“Maybe people feel that there aren’t enough quality education choices, so when their kids get to be 5, 6, 7, 8 years old they move to, let’s say, the Lindbergh school district, stay there for 20 years and then come back in again,” Butz said.


He wants to increase funding for schools to help retain families.

Estes views schools as a way to keep families in the neighborhood as well as a tool to reduce crime in the district over the  long term.

“I don’t believe it’s just a policing issue at all.” Estes said. “I think it’s having faith in our schools and what do we do to retain people.”

The only striking difference between the candidates’ platforms is on abortion. Estes, is pro abortion-rights and advertises as such to voters.

“We need that kind of protection, especially with what’s going on nationally and with the Supreme Court that if we don’t have advocates for women in the House here in Missouri, we could be in real trouble,” Estes said.

Butz is against abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the health or life of the woman is endangered.

When asked if he thought the differing positions could create single-issue voters in the district, he responded, “I’ve had a handful of people, I would say five, say ‘Nope, we know you’re not pro-choice enough.’ And I’ve had five people say, ‘For sure, you’re the pro-life guy.’ That’s 10. I’ve had 1,800 say, ‘What are you going to do about crime and the schools?’”

No other candidates have filed to run so whoever wins the primary will likely take the seat in November.

Follow Abigail on Twitter: @AbigailCensky

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