Craig O’Dear looks at the United States Senate and sees a broken system — a system where party leaders care more about staying in power than governing and partisanship has become a thing of the past.
And that is why he is running for a position he never thought he would: a U.S. Senator from the Show-Me State.
The Kansas City attorney has been certified for the November ballot as an independent candidate after having turned in roughly 15,000 signatures — 1.5 times the necessary amount. He will go up against Democratic-incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Republican Josh Hawley, Libertarian Japheth Campbell, and Green Party candidate Jo Crain in the general election.
While many see the race as a head-to-head showdown between McCaskill and Hawley, O’Dear is hoping his background, skill set, and unique perspective will resonate with voters earning a victory that will enable him to go to Washington, D.C. and shake up the status quo.
“I bring a skill set that is extraordinary in it’s applicability to the problems we have in the Senate,” said O’Dear.
He grew up in northeast Missouri. His father raised purebred Duroc hogs and Shorthorn cattle, his mother taught English at the local middle school.
Attending Missouri University of Science & Technology on a football scholarship, O’Dear earned a degree in engineering. What his scholarship didn’t cover, he paid for himself.
He worked during the summer for extra money umpiring softball games, working as many as 15 in one day during tournaments. Umpiring paid $5 a game back then. Before that, he cleaned out hog houses for his father at a rate of the $1 a house.
“I’m gonna tell you, umpiring softball was a lot better deal,” said O’Dear.
He earned a full ride scholarship to Vanderbilt University where he obtained his law degree. And as a lawyer, he helped people and companies resolve business disputes. These disputes typically involve multiple parties, complex issues, and large sums of money. On occasion, the only way to resolve the dispute is through trial, and O’Dear has a strong track record of success in court.
“I see our country in a difficult place historically,” said O’Dear. “We need leaders whose primary loyalty is to the country, to the people, trying to move us towards unity and common ground…and you can’t do that in ones of these parties.”
O’Dear wants the Senate to get back to “regular order,” as former-Sen. John McCain called it. Regular order means taking the issues one by one, focusing on them, coming together on a bipartisan basis to craft a solution that everyone can be mostly happy with.
“That’s my skill set,” said O’Dear. “As a lawyer, I worked to solve big, complicated problems with solutions that appeased everyone.”
While O’Dear was a member of the Young Republicans when he was younger — back when there were no Republicans in Kansas City, he notes — he has since become disillusioned by partisan politics.
“As time moved on, I started becoming more and more…agnostic when it came to political parties,” said O’Dear. “I was less and less comfortable with the extremism that I saw. So, I became less and less enamored with partisan politics.”
In fact, in an era of hyper-partisan politics, O’Dear seems to tout some unusual bipartisan credentials. In the 2016 election cycle, he contributed money to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, attending an event and meeting Tim Kaine, and he hosted a fundraiser for then-candidate Eric Greitens.
And he wants to take that bipartisanship to where he believes America sourly needs it: Washington D.C and the U.S. Senate.
“At a time when we are locked in a cultural warfare that is heavily ideological and very extreme, hyper-partisanship is not good,” said O’Dear. “George Washington actually wrote about this. George Washington taught us that the antidote for the hyper-partisan poison is independence. That is why he refused to join a political party.”
Successful independent campaigns are rare but not unheard of for U.S. Senate. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, both of whom caucus with the Democrats, made successful nonpartisan bids. O’Dear said that, if elected, he wouldn’t regularly caucus with either party.
“I respect both sides. I am willing to work with both sides,” said O’Dear. “I want to conduct the business of the American people. I don’t care where the idea comes from, I want to work with ideas from both sides of the aisle and see if we can t-up some of these problems.”
“That’s what we do in American when we have problems we fix them.”
Pro-Choice and Pro-Life
O’Dear stands firm that women have the right to make decisions about their body and reproductive issues. That the decision is ultimately up to the woman and her loved ones and advisors but not without any limitations. He believes in reasonable restrictions are appropriate on late-term abortions.
“I am for doing everything we can do to reduce the number of abortions,” said O’Dear. He noted that outlawing abortions does not reduce the number of terminated pregnancies.
“The primary cause of abortion is an unwanted pregnancy. So let us come together to reduce the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. We know how to do it. It is education, it is access to contraceptives, it is a more user-friendly and less expensive adoption system.”
Improved border security
Building a wall is not plausible or effective, according to O’Dear. He noted that a wall along the entire southern border would cost billions of dollars, be ineffective, and involved building on privately-owned land.
“Do we have to have secure borders? Of course. Of course,” said O’Dear. “The best way to secure the border is a combination of things. There are some places we need a barrier, there are probably places we need more of a barrier or a barrier where we don’t have one. But what we really need is all these technological tools for monitoring the border.”
Immigrants enrich our culture, bolster our economy, and diversify our population, said O’Dear. They start businesses, create jobs, fill our high-tech jobs, harvest our crops, care for our elderly, and perform many other needed functions. He noted, America is a country founded by immigrants and built on the backs of immigrants.
But he points out that the country cannot accept every immigrant who wants to come to America. The country needs to look at who is being let in and how many immigrants are being accepted.
The healthcare system is broken, according to O’Dear.
“In America, we spend twice as much per capita on health care, with outcomes no better, and in some cases, worse, that many countries,” he said. “We must work toward a more effective and efficient business model in healthcare, and toward a lower uninsured rate.”
He notes that fixing the health care problem in America isn’t a one and done solution. It’ll take a 1-year, a 3-year, a 5-year, and a 10-year fix. There is no easy answer.
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.