JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, announced his candidacy for the 22nd Senate district one year ago at the Hannibal Democrat Days. Since then, the four-term representative has earned a wide lead in fundraising and appears to be on track to hold a key Democratic seat.
Roorda’s resume within the district has helped plenty. A former police officer, firefighter, 911 dispatcher, fireboard member, ambulance board member, city administrator and chief of police, Roorda has worn many hats in Jefferson County, where he has lived since he was 12.
“I’ve lived my life here, I’ve raised kids here, and I understand the values here,” Roorda said. “I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that I’m not in touch with this district and the people in it.”
Roorda’s candidacy is shaped largely by his issue profile. A self-identified conservative Democrat, Roorda’s positions closely resemble many of the Democrat senators from Jefferson County in the past.
“Jeff is one of the smartest guys in the House,” fellow Jefferson County Democrat, Rep. Michael Frame, said. “He serves a very important role there and I look forward to working with him in the senate.”
A pro-life, pro-Second Amendment Democrat, Roorda is likely to appeal to the same voters that repeatedly elected his predecessors. Much like his predecessor, Ryan McKenna, the current Director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Roorda’s profile is shaped by social conservatism, pro-labor positions and support for the public education establishment. The issue profile also resembles another former Jefferson County senator and Democrat: Governor Jay Nixon.
“I’ve had the support of Ryan [McKenna] and I’ve enjoyed support from Governor Nixon every time I’ve run,” Roorda said. “That support has been very important to my success, and I anticipate I’ll continue to enjoy their support moving forward.”
Roorda is, at the moment, winning the fundraising game. At the end of fourth quarter filing in January, Roorda had more than $170,000 cash on hand. His opponent, Rep. Paul Wieland, R-High Ridge, had about $20,000. Roorda says it’s a reflection of the district that financial support has flowed to him.
“With me, you have someone who is going to work harder in the field than anyone else,” Roorda said. “Because I’ll knock on doors until my knuckles bleed. And with me, you have someone who is going to support working families first, not walk in lockstep with a radical agenda.”
Roorda says that only a moderate can win Jefferson County, a fairly close district. He says that Wieland drives “on the right shoulder of the road,” and not “down the middle.”
“[Wieland] believes in a trickle-down economy,” Roorda said. “Like many of his fellow Republicans, he supports a pretty radical trickle-down policy. But I believe we have a bubble-up economy. I believe you support working families first, and doing so will lift our entire economy.”
A vocal House member known for a sharp tongue and a quick wit, Roorda’s three children all attended public school in the district, he likes to note. He owns businesses in the area. His wife operates a beauty shop that he owns, and he also runs a healthcare consulting company.
“You might not always agree with his positions, but Jeff really represents his district, and I promise his position represents the position of a majority of his constituents,” Frame said. “He’s in constant contact with his district and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that as a senator.”
Roorda may be something of an open book, but one of his biggest interests is not well known throughout the capital. In his down time, Roorda likes to write fiction. A short-story enjoyer, he’s currently focusing on sci-fi works. He doesn’t publish or share them with the world. He calls the writing “personal and therapeutic.”
With a field team assembled, commitments from labor allies to place boots on the ground and six figures in the bank, Roorda has a commanding grip on the race, but he said he won’t get too confident.
“Nothing is certain,” Roorda said. “In a low turnout year like this will be the advantage is usually going to go to the candidate working the hardest in the field, and that is going to be me, without question.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.