JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri Republicans hold a supermajority in each chamber of the Missouri Legislature, but it doesn’t mean that they’re taking anything for granted on any seat.
A special election, set for November 7, will decide whether one of the 34 Senate seats will stay red, or if Democrats can find some ground following a surging wave of conservative victories in 2016.
The 8th District seat is vacant right now, as Sen. Will Kraus announced his resignation in July to take an appointment by Gov. Eric Greitens to the Missouri Tax Commission.
Republicans last week selected Rep. Mike Cierpiot, the House Majority Floor Leader, as their candidate in the upcoming special election, while Democratic hopes lie with Hillary Shields, a former campaigner, paralegal, and co-founder of Indivisible KC.
Cierpiot has been projected as the favorite by some, but with the race being a special election, the game changes drastically due to smaller voter turnout. If the last special election, which involved the race for House District 50, is any indicator, then whoever can energize voters to actually get out on Election Day should walk away with a win.
Both of the candidates have a tough road ahead of them, as what had been a planned campaign for 2018, when Kraus termed out, has now turned into a shortened special election. And that time crunch can mean a lot in terms of changes to strategy. With roughly two-and-a-half months to campaign, both candidates are looking to hit the dirt and meet with voters, using the tried and tested techniques of knocking on doors and getting the word out.
“It’s busy, but I like it. The campaign is off and running, we’ve knocked on about 580 doors and raised roughly $24,000,” Shields said. “It’s a real challenge, but people have been excited and really responding well.”
“It’s quite different because it’s not based on name recognition as opposed to a get-out-the-vote. The turnout is going to be very small compared to a normal cycle, and that’s why it’s so important to run a full campaign,” Cierpiot said. “It will be a full two-and-a-half months of chaos. We just have to make sure we find our voters and get them to the polls.”
But in terms of the issues facing the state, both seek to make changes in the same fields, albeit in different ways. Both Shields and Cierpiot agree that education reform and healthcare are some of the top concerns, and both hope to work toward finding answers that can benefit all Missourians.
“Sometime, we’re going to have to deal with healthcare, if Washington ever gets their act in order, and I think it’s important that we have people in here that have conservative outlooks and try to get some market principles based in healthcare,” Cierpiot said. “I think that’s one of the biggest problems with healthcare; government is too involved, and the only way we can fix it is to get some of those things corrected.”
Shields, on the other hand, says she would like to see Medicaid expansion in the Show-Me State.
“I really think that anyone who works hard ought to be able to support their family, send their kids to great public schools, and not worry that getting sick will bankrupt,” she said. “I want to expand Medicaid, restore funding to our public universities, and repeal right-to-work to make it easier for people to organize and join the conversation on how workers should be treated. Our state government needs to work more for working families and less for big donors.”
Both candidates are looking to join the Senate, which at this time is feeling a push from many to expel one of their own, following the comments from Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal in which she said she hoped President Donald Trump would be assassinated.
“What she said was appalling, and I think the Lieutenant Governor is doing the right thing,” Cierpiot said. “I think senators should be free to talk, and for the most part, they have, but this was really over the line. It was terrible, and I think the Senate will get to a point where they will deal with it, which I think is the right thing to do.”
Shields agrees Chappelle-Nadal’s comments were inappropriate and hopes she resigns but doesn’t believe a special session is necessary.
“I think that it’s never appropriate to call for violence. When I was an organizer with Indivisible KC, we were very clear with everyone that we are here to be respectful to each other and have respectable dialogue, and that’s how you can bring change. So, I don’t think her comments were appropriate,” Shields said. “I hope that she will resign because I don’t think that the legislature should be spending time on this. We have a lot more important issues to address. It just seems like there are better ways to spend our time, energy, and resources.”
When it comes to appealing to the voters in the 8th, both candidates say it’s simply a matter of getting involved and making a difference.
“I never wanted to be a politician, but I just felt compelled to get involved,” Shields said. “There are so many issues facing our state today, and it’s important to get people in the chambers who know what it’s like to work for a living and know what it’s like to worry about paying bills. I’m doing it because I care. This is about seeing a problem and wanting to do everything I can to make a difference.”
“I think my philosophy matches this district very well,” Cierpiot said. “After eight years in the House, six of which were spent in leadership, I understand how the place works and being effective in the Senate would be a quicker study for me than most other people looking at it. On the issues, the button you press, whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ is very important. And I think that, without a doubt, I will vote in the way that the vast majority of this district wants the voting done, all of the time.”