Gelner, who serves as president of Crown Distributing and owner and executive of Heart of America Beverage, said he would focus on pro-business and fiscal issues if elected to the legislature. He has not run for public office before, but he’s used to the legislative process as he’s traveled to Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., several times over the past decade to meet with representatives and testify before lawmakers about trade issues.
“There’s so much dysfunction in today’s government. I look at the train we’re on: If we fast-forward 20 years, what’s that going to look like for my kids?” Gelner said in an interview with The Missouri Times.
Gelner, a Republican, touted his pro-life bonafides and support for the Second Amendment in his campaign announcement Monday. He also said he would focus on giving parents more choices and influence over education — a need he said became more apparent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Born in Cape Girardeau, Gelner grew up in Springfield and attended Kickapoo High School (where Academy Award winner Brad Pitt went to school). He left Missouri to attend the University of Tulsa where he studied business with a focus in accounting.
His father had a rule, Gelner said: work for someone else before joining the family business. So Gelner joined the BKD CPA firm where he focused on health care and tax work. But eventually he moved back to Springfield, joined the family business, and worked his way up to president of Crown Distributing.
Gelner was named chairman of the National Beer Wholesalers Association in 2019, representing 3,000 distributors across the country during his one-year term. He also chaired the Dickerson Zoo Friends of the Zoo Committee and is a member of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the Ozarks Regional YMCA Board, and the Missouri Beer Wholesalers Association.
Gelner said he would spend his first year in office building relationships and trust with other lawmakers. But he hopes to build a pro-business reputation from there.
“We’re competing against every other state to bring businesses into Missouri, to keep employees, to train employees for employers,” Gelner said. “We don’t need to raise taxes; we need better budgets.”
SD 20 is now held by Sen. Eric Burlison, who is running for Missouri’s open 7th congressional district. Burlison will face fellow Conservative Caucus member Sen. Mike Moon, former Sen. Jay Wasson, and Dr. Sam Alexander for the Republican nomination.
The congressional seat is being vacated by Congressman Billy Long who is running for U.S. Senate.