Unconventional as it may seem, the race to replace the outgoing Rep. Bill Otto in the 70th House District may revolve around a landfill.
The West Lake Landfill has been a hot topic in the towns of Bridgeton, Maryland Heights and Spanish Village and other townships for years. Since 2010, a smoldering fire has threatened to come in contact with radioactive waste left over from the Manhattan Project. Some residents have reported health problems related to radiation poisoning, and the district’s state senator, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, has become known for her emotional appeals on the Senate floor demanding a change to oversight of the problem.
Now, Democrat Byron DeLear, the CEO of Energy Equity Funding, LLC, and Republican Mark Matthiesen, a 20-year veteran of the hospitality industry, both believe they can best represent their district to face that looming threat.
Both candidates would like to see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hand over their jurisdiction to the Army Corps of Engineers for more clean up, and both have been involved in the activism surrounding West Lake. Both of them recently answered questions and a forum regarding the topic.
For his part, DeLear has exhaustively researched and advocated for new oversight with his own articles, editorials and press appearances. When DeLear began considering his run for office, he also heard personally from Otto that the West Lake Landfill would be the most pressing issue in the next election for state representative.
DeLear says people are tired of the status quo.
“The overwhelming consensus is that people are concerned by what seems to be a callous form of government that is not addressing this problem and is not acting to clean up this radioactive waste,” DeLear said.
Matthiesen said before he started his run for office, he had begun listening to and attending the rallies of Just Moms, the primary advocacy organization seeking a change of command over West Lake.
“There is nothing the EPA could do to regain the trust of this town,” he said. “The federal government is the original creator of this problem, and they owe it to this area to fix the problem.”
DeLear agrees that the EPA has not done enough for the area.
“In some sense, this site is being mismanaged in the same way many other EPA sites are being mismanaged around the country and the lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan comes to mind,” he said. “The entire US benefitted from the national security agenda associated with the Manhattan project and St. Louis paid a pivotal role and has paid a heavy price.”
Matthiesen also believes that state government has not done enough for the area. He wants the Missouri Department of Natural Resources should offer a buyout to the 92 households that live in Spanish Village, the municipality nearest the landfill (DNR has jurisdiction over the smoldering fire). He also argues current state government officials, like Gov. Jay Nixon, have not done enough to address the “potential catastrophe,” and that Attorney General Chris Koster’s lawsuit against Republic Services is political.
“It was too coincidental that [Koster] filed this lawsuit, and then announced his run for governor right after the other,” Matthiesen said.
The support may come down to predecessors. Otto has endorsed DeLear.
“Bill is very much liked in the district and his representation has been appreciated by the 70th District,” DeLear said. “His support of our campaign is very important.
“Bill leaves big shoes to fill, but I have big feet.”
However, Matthiesen counters that if people want their representative to matter in jefferson City, they will vote for him.
“Without a Republican representing this district, Bridgeton is going to keep being ignored.”
Candidates clash beyond West Lake
Beyond West Lake, each of the two candidates have other issues they want to emphasize. With a four-year-old son and living right on the border of the Parkway and Pattonville School Districts, Matthiesen has focused on education. He wants to ensure teachers can teach without needing to buy their own school supplies for classrooms. He also decries “mandates” from the federal government as intrusive.
“Now… we have restroom mandates that are going to affect our middle schools and high schools, and every time the federal government sticks a mandate in, it’s always ‘do as we say or we will withhold your funding’ every single time,” he said. “They’re holding our schools hostage with their federal mandates which removes teachers’ abilities to simply teach.”
On education, DeLear says he would fight to fully fund the foundation formula.
However, DeLear wants to focus primarily on the economy. He believes his role as the CEO of a company that designs and administers clean-energy programs and provides consulting for residential and commercial property owners gives him a unique perspective on being a job creator. His work employs pipefitters, insulators and other people in the construction industry with an ecological flavor.
“This is kind of my passion, to find these innovative policies and issues to really help improve people’s lives and gives people the dignity of a job,” he says.
Right-to-Work and unions
On other issues, the two mostly fall on party lines. DeLear wants to expand Medicaid in Missouri, and he opposes union-opposed legislation like Right-to-Work and paycheck protection. Matthiesen supports Right-to-Work.
“It’s going to protect the employees, it’s not going to drive down wages and all of the lies the unions tell their union members are just wrong,” he says.
Matthiesen is one of many potential legislators that has received money from anti-union megadonor David Humphreys. Of the $57,000 that Matthiesen has raised in his race, $50,000 comes from Humphries, who made the donation in late August. Humphries has most of that cash still on hand.
DeLear has taken $10,000 from CHIPP, a PAC run by the Carpenters’ District Council of St. Louis. He currently has over $66,000 on hand and has raised a total of over $112,000.
All of those figures come from the Missouri Election Commission’s 30 Day After Primary financial reports.
DeLear also did not have a primary, while Matthiesen did. The latter handily beat Andrew Purcell by 30 points.