LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. – As more records are becoming public, the evidence of the large-scale, well-coordinated Democratic effort to place a widely known but perennially unsuccessful Republican politician Jacob Turk on the ballot in the 8th Senate District is coming to light.
In a move of political brilliance, and well-organized skill on the part of Jackson County Democrats, seen by many as another sign of life by long-struggling Missouri Democrats, records now show that Executive Director of the Jackson County Democrats submitted six pages of signatures, totaling more than 40 signatures, to qualify Turk for the ballot after he was rejected by the Jackson County Republican committee tasked with selecting the Republican nominee.
In total, the Jackson County Democrats Executive Director and up-and-coming democratic political strategist Geoff Gerling personally collected nearly 10 percent of the signatures Turk needed to get on the ballot. While the 8th district is largely Republican, having Turk – who has failed in attempts to run for office in every election for more than a decade – could provide the Democrats their opening.
Gerling played down his efforts in a statement to The Missouri Times, saying he hopes media outlets “spend as much time discussing policy as they are signatures.”
However, the aggressive and ultimately successful effort is drawing praise from Missouri Democrats from all corners.
The Missouri Times spoke with Turk, asking asked about the most recent evidence of Democrats coordinating efforts to assist him in getting on the ballot.
“I never thought that Democrats were helping me,” Turk commented. “I contacted my list of Congressional supporters to get me on the ballot as an independent. Now I did ask people to go talk to your family and your friends and neighbors to get signatures.”
After submitting the signatures, Turk posted on Facebook, saying “Donna Turk and I want to thank the over 60 petitioners who volunteered their time and effort to put my name on the ballot for the November 7th election. You have busy lives and your willingness to use part of the limited time you have in life to help is humbling and encouraging. Whether I ultimately make it on the ballot or not, I am grateful to you all.”
When asked about that post and if he was grateful to the Executive Director of the Jackson County Democrats for his help, he replied, saying he didn’t know who that was or who signed the petitions.
“Whatever his motivation is, mine is to win,” Turk said.
The recent evidence of Jackson County Democrats directly collecting signatures for Turk comes after a well-known Democrat and former Democratic candidate in Brianna Lennon provided her successful services pro bono as Turk’s lawyer in the legal fight. Another revelation added to the list is the fact that the husband of Hillary Shields, the Democratic candidate in the SD 8 race, was one of the signatures the Turk filed with the Jackson County election authority.
Ultimately, Lennon successfully argued Turk’s case in Cole County Circuit Court, qualifying the exact number of signatures needed to be placed on the ballot. Turk contends that even without the signatures provided by the Jackson County Democrats, he would have had enough.
“In politics, people are often too clever by half,” he said. “We have looked through the list and have enough signatures that were enough to offset the others that the election board incorrectly rejected.”
In light of the most recent evidence of Democrats working to divide the Republican vote in the special election, Republican nominee Rep. Mike Cierpiot commented to the Times, “This troubling discovery proves that there has been a clear and coordinated collaboration between Jacob Turk and the Democrat Party. Jacob Turk is nothing more than a plant by liberal interests to elect a liberal to the state senate. Voters are sick and tired of these dirty political games.”
Jackson County Republicans have been attempting to combat the splitting of the conservative vote with several tactics, including by attaching Turk and Shields with a series of social media posts with their logos attached to unsuccessful Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Whether they are dirty political tricks or just smart politics, if Turk garners a significant share of the vote, it could be pivotal. In 1993, a similar three-way race saw the Democratic candidate Margaret Renau, the wife of the Jackson County Sheriff, defeat the Republican and hold the seat for a year until the general election. It was the last time a Democrat represented the Lee’s Summit centered seat.
Shields is proving to be a strong candidate, drawing comparisons to Michela Skelton, who ran a strong campaign in a state representative special election in the 50th district. Shields, like Skelton and Renau, shares a last name with a well-known politician in former Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields. Although a controversial figure after being indicted by the federal government for mortgage fraud, the name identification could still stand to help in the state senate race.
The special election comes at a time when democratic leaders like Gerling and new Chairman of the State Democratic Party Stephen Webber are breathing new life into the party while Missouri Republicans just saw their Executive Director, who wasn’t a Missourian, leave.
Jacob Turk on the issues, the party, and the race
Jacob Turk is a candidate who came to politics in 2006, a downtime for Republicans, and did so because he felt a calling from God to serve.
“A man named Stan who has helped me in politics since 2006 said that the Lord revealed to him in three dreams that the Lord wanted him to help elect Jacob Turk to public office.”
Turk said he has been by his side in every election.
He went on to run against incumbent Democrat Congressman Emanuel Cleaver every election since, coming close to defeating him in the very good Republican years of 2010 and 2014.
Today Turk finds some irony in those two near wins, “You know it funny, if the Republicans in the 8th Senate district would have worked as hard to help me win in 2010 or 2014 I would have won and they wouldn’t have to worry about having to work so hard to defeat me in this election.”
Many have criticized the special election process because in many districts the primaries are the most competitive and effectively select the winner. When asked if the committee process was fair Turk commented, “By the time Will resigned and I began making calls I realized that Mike had already made many of those phone calls long before me, and many had committed to vote for Mike.”
Turk said he would support changing the process if elected. Shields has also been critical of “insiders working behind the scenes to pick candidates”, however she was selected by the same process by Jackson County Democrats.
On the campaign trail, Turk says that many people in the 8th have a great deal of concern about the economy. Turk said, “Economic anxiety is still out there. The economy isn’t what it should be. People working two to three jobs just to make ends meet. Many say the Department of Revenue is hard to work with, small business owners are really at their mercy a lot of times.”
Turk has traditionally received some support from most Republicans during his congressional races, but he has come criticism for them. While he compliments Governor Eric Greitens for sitting down and visiting with he and his wife during the primary he does have criticism for his dark money fundraising efforts. “I would like to see the Governor raise all of his resources transparently. You need transparency its the most important and I would like to see the Governor have transparency in his contributions. People deserve to know who supports us and they should know who supports him too.”
Turk is also proud that he claims to have never accepted a contribution from a special interest or PAC.
“That is the real corrupting influence in Jefferson City.”
Turk says it’s the large fundraising that he was referring to when he tweeted “Time to drain the swamp in Jeff City!” in reference to a Kansas City Star piece alleging corruption between Senate President Pro Ten Ron Richard and Joplin businessman David Humphries.
He also attacked Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft in a social media post for his handling of the signature process, saying the Secretary of State incorrectly set the filing date.
While critical of some Missouri politicians, Turk does have a favorable opinion of President Trump, “Trump is still popular but people, but a lot of people want him to be more tactful with his twitter feed.”
Turk’s background is as a mechanical engineer and he previously owned own software company. However, he admits that working in politics has been a strain on his personal finances.
“We have made a lot of personal financial sacrifices,” he said. “This is truly a calling of faith.”
While he doesn’t currently have a full-time job, Turk says he picks up part-time work where he can as a programmer analyst, in the educational field as a tutor and mentor, and does some part-time contract work producing engineering drawings.
When Senator Will Kraus resigned this summer it took many in the Republican Party by surprise. However, Turk was not among them. He says that the Lord told him months before that Kraus would be resigning and that he should run.
“Eight months before Will quit the Lord laid on my heart that Will would resign for that job and that I should run in the election. I was at my home and after a phone call with Donna when it was pressed on my heart that he would quit, and then it happened just like that eight months later.”
When asked that if he knew Kraus would be resigning eight months before it happened, why didn’t he make the same calls Cierpiot did, Turk replied, “Well even though we have been involved in the process now for 12 years I am still an ordinary citizen and I don’t think about things that way. I guess I should have.”
Turk was complimentary of the would-be predecessor, now-former Senator Kraus, saying “Will is a good man, a family man. He goes to a good church and I respect him.”
But he would not commit to supporting his confirmation to the State Tax Commission, “I can’t say right now. I will look at how he has done in the job, if he has taken it seriously, and if it’s in the best interests of the people to see him in that job.”
Looking forward, Turk seems comfortable with any outcome in the November 7th election, even if that outcome is the Democrat winning.
“I don’t want to see that eventuality and I’m running hard to win. I’m running to win, but peace with that if it happens. When asked if as a senator Shields votes for pro-choice or pro-gun control policies would he regret his decision then? “As long as I run the campaign well and walk with integrity then I have peace with the voters choice. With the Democrats being in a super minority her impact will not be as great as it would otherwise be or as great as Jeff Roe says it will be.”
Past this election Turk said, win or lose, he is undecided if he would run for re-election or challenge Cleaver again in 2018.
“I’m not sure, I’ll have to pray about it.”
Finishing the interview we asked if he could look a Jackson County Republican in the eye and tell them that they can vote for Jacob Turk and not be voting for someone that Democrats colluded to get on the ballot.
“Oh absolutely,” he replied.
When asked if, after the Executive Director of the Jackson County Democrats providing over 10 percent of the signatures he submitted to get on the ballot, a well-known Democrat provided her legal expertise pro bono to win his court battle, and his Democratic opponent’s husband signing the petition to get him on ballot, he saw any collusion to help him get on the ballot to split the Republican vote, Turk paused before responding, saying “people have to judge that for themselves if the Democrats helped me. Each person would have to decide that for themselves.”
When asked what a Jackson County Republican should know about him before casting their ballot, he concluded, “I’m a Marine veteran and a business owner. I want to be the people’s voice and carry their concerns, focusing on active duty military and small business owners, and making sure state government allows them to create the jobs we all need.”
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton, Mo; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff, Mo.; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.