LIBERTY, Mo. – The Republican primary battle for Missouri’s 17th will be one of the state’s most-watched races heading towards August 2nd, pitting the incumbent Nick King against Mary Hill, a nurse who worked to help elect King two years ago.
While King looks to build his reputation as a legislator who put his district above politics, Hill says King turned his back on his constituents.
“I’m running because Nick King has failed us. That’s the big thing,” Hill said during a phone interview. “He said he was for right-to-work and he lied.”
Right-to-work could become a defining issue of the campaign. King voted against the legislation in 2015. King says the people of his district didn’t want right-to-work and that everything he’s done in office has been for his constituents.
“I had 1,078 requests from my constituents to vote against right-to-work and I had 52 requests to vote for it,” King said by phone. “ I voted for my district and there’s some people, for some reason, who can’t accept the fact that voting for your district is a good thing.”
He said he’s received more feedback — positive and negative — on the issue than any other during his two years in Jefferson City.
“I’ll walk into a fast food place and somebody that I’ve never met will get up from their table and walk over to me and thank me for voting against right-to-work,” he said.
Hill says she’s not opposed to labor, but thinks unions as they stand are corrupt.
“Nick King is part of the problem,” she said. “When you are inhaling union money like he is, it’s not good. Unions were not created for a politician to benefit their campaign coffers at all.”
Last week, anti-labor businessman David Humphreys and his sister Sarah Atkins gave Hill $50,000 for her campaign. When asked why this race was going to be competitive, King said, “I think we now know 50,000 reasons why.”
King rejected the idea that his constituents would accept a candidate funded by big money.
“I think that people are going to be very very concerned that big money … is trying to buy the election,” King said.
Hill has different take. For her, the campaign is about more than just right-to-work, it’s about how King failed his constituents.
She says the money is nice, but her campaign is focused on growing the economy in Clay County and drawing distinctions between her and King.
“He is disingenuous about bringing manufacturers to Missouri. That’s bogus,” she said. “He doesn’t want to do that. He had some manufacturing bill and I don’t know who it was going to benefit, but we need to make our state attractive to job providers.”
Hill declined to provide any specifics about how she would make the state more attractive, but said removing King from office was paramount for the people.
King says he does everything to benefit his constituents. He says he fights for things in the legislature to benefit the people of the northland, including helping to bring Missouri S&T to Clay County and passing legislation to allow voters in Liberty and North Kansas City to decide on a public safety sales tax.
That sales tax, he said, was a particularly difficult battle, one he’d been working on since he was a city councilman in Liberty. It finally passed the legislature on the second-to-last day of session this year.
“You could hear the sigh of relief coming from Liberty and North Kansas City all the way in Jefferson City,” he said.
He said he puts the people he serves over the politics.
“I’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback, by and large, from my constituents. There are always a few, but you can’t make everybody happy in this position,” he said. “I try to make a principled decision and vote based on principle rather than on politics.”
Hill says King is lying about his constituency. She tried to find someone else to run against him, but when no one volunteered, she stepped up.
“There are specific things that he has done that I am going to hold back, but he has done certain things that have been very upsetting that he wasn’t elected to do,” Hill said. “He went ahead and did those things repeatedly.”
When it comes to campaigning, Hill thinks she has an advantage because of the time she’s put into her community.
“I’ve lived here for 25 years and I’ve worked here too. I do know a lot of people that have raised their kids here. I know people,” she said. “We’re door knocking. Are we going to ribbon cuttings like Nick King and stuff, no. Do we do the kind of stuff he’s doing? No. But that’s why he’s got a challenger because what he does is not acceptable. There’s more to come, let’s just say.”
Despite Hill’s attacks on his service, King remains proud of what he accomplished for his constituents.
“I am very grateful for the support that I’ve gotten from my constituents. It’s an honor to serve down there in that beautiful building,” King said. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Mark Ellebracht in the general election. Ellebracht was the Democratic contender for the seat in 2014, when King was elected.