KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In his second session in the legislature, Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, ushered several court reforms to final passage, but some of that legislation, as well as a vote against right-to-work last year, could preclude a return to Jefferson City.
While his tort reforms will give his general election opponent plenty of ammunition, alongside a MATA-funded warchest, this fall, the right-to-work vote has led anti-labor millionaire David Humphreys to fund Corlew’s opponent, Kansas City businessman Sean Pouche, who received $25,000 from Humphreys and his sister earlier this month.
Corlew says he won’t bow down to special interests and says his constituents will vote for what they believe in. He’s also well-funded, reporting more than $49,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of the first quarter.
“I’m not interested in a special-interest donor out of southwest Missouri who doesn’t understand our community, who doesn’t understand our values, doesn’t understand our workers,” he said. “I’m confident that our citizens of our district will not be misled by that outside special interest money. I want them to know that their vote is not for sale, my vote is not for sale.”
While Pouche has cited economic development, public safety and school funding among the reasons he decided to run for office, he says Corlew’s stance on right-to-work helped push him into the race.
“He has decided to side with special interest groups, and specifically large labor unions,” Pouche said. “From the stance he was elected on, I believe he has changed his positions.”
The majority of district survey responses were in opposition to right-to-work with overwhelming numbers in opposition in session phone calls and while Corlew said he votes the district in opposing right-to-work, Pouche said that from the people he talks to, there are a lot of supporters of the legislation.
“The right-to-work legislation is a big deal. The people I talk to are overwhelmingly in favor of it in the district, so I’m not sure where he’s getting that from,” he said, without citing any issue survey or poll of the district.
Pouche said the money from the Humphreys has been helpful.
“Any amount of money, unfortunately, is necessary to run campaigns these days, he said. “Obviously that was very generous on their part, but I have donations from numerous people around the district.”
Pouche reported more than $2,000 at the April deadline.
Corlew and Pouche both plan to connect with voters through a grassroots-style campaign to make his pitch to return to the capitol.
“I’m going to keep working on measures that will keep our community safe, that will provide great education for our children and will provide jobs for our families,” Corlew tells voters.
However, right-to-work is not a primary driving issue for the district and Corlew focuses on the three things he did in the legislature that helped his district that he will continue to work on if he returns. He further cited his work reforming the criminal justice system to make the community safer.
Corlew also called attention to his work on passing a balanced budget and making sure it included money for Northland schools and roads, something he said was vital for the region.
“We were able to put additional funding for roads and bridges, which is tremendously important to my district and the growth and development we’ve seen here in the Northland and Kansas City,” he said.
Finally, he said he did a number of things to increase the region’s economic environment, including his tort reform bills, which he said would make the court system “fair for our small businesses and [reduce] the amount of frivolous lawsuits.”
“We’ve helped create an environment that will create jobs for working families and residents in my community,” Corlew said.
Pouche has also cited economic development among his reasons for running.
“I am honored to seek this office on behalf of our community to improve economic opportunity, keep taxes low, improve public safety, and school funding,” Pouche said in his statement declaring his candidacy. He later emphasized in an interview that his campaign is about more than labor issues.
Like Corlew, Pouche has talked to a lot of people and said he’s talked to people at more than 2,000 homes, walking in the stifling heat and humidity of early summer in Kansas City.
“It’s going very good, overwhelmingly positive response,” Pouche said about his campaigning, which has included stops at the Platte County Pachyderms and Clay County Lincoln Days. “People are happy that they have a choice, which is the reason I’m running really. I just want people to have a choice.”
Pouche approaches the race from an outsider’s perspective. While he’s the son of former state Rep. Fred Pouche, he has away at college by the time he was elected and has never run for office himself.
He cites his business experience, he runs his family’s small business, and military past, he graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy and served in Iraq as part of the Navy Reserve, as reasons he can get things done if elected.
“In my experiences in the corporate world and now owning a small business here in Platte County, and along with that the years in the military, I’ve learned to work with different people from different ways of life, different views. I’ve always been able to work something out and to find success and I stand by that,” he said.
With similar campaign styles and similar stances on a lot of issues, the election could become a referendum on whether Corlew has accurately represented his district by voting against right-to-work. Corlew believes he has and is prepared for a tight race, the type of race he lost against Rep. Jon Carpenter in 2012 and won to gain election in 2014.
“I’m used to hard campaigns. I know what it takes to win. I’ve been on both sides of the end result after a campaign,” he said. “I’m going to keep putting in the effort that it needs to be done to make sure that we’re victorious in August and again in November.”
Whoever wins the Aug. 2 primary will deal with a stiff challenge in the general election with former Mizzou football player Martin Rucker. He reported more than $7,000 in April and has been fundraising around the state for the last couple of months.