On Tuesday, Missouri voters will go to the polls in primary elections to select their respective party's candidates for November's general election. Two contests, one statewide and the other federal, promise to generate greater excitement than the norm, as neither race is contested by an incumbent.
The state House is on the line this time because Gov. Blunt opted against a second term, opening it to virtually unopposed Democrat Jay Nixon, a four-term attorney general and twice unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate, who will compete in November against the winner of the Republican primary, expected to be Kenny Hulshof or Sarah Steelman. Hulshof's political credits include six terms in the U.S. Congress, while Steelman won election and re-election to the Missouri Senate in 1998 and 2002 and was elected state treasurer in 2004.
The more wide open, and arguably more interesting race, is for the 9th U.S. Congressional District seat vacated by Hulshof. The subsequent vacancy has attracted four Democratic candidates, three of whom have served in the state legislature, and five Republicans, three likewise present or former state legislators. The lone Democrat without similar legislative experience is Lyndon Bode, presiding commissioner in Marion County, while the two Republicans, Dan Bishir and Brock Olivo, are political newcomers. Olivo doesn't lack in name recognition, having been a star running back for MU.
Three of the Democratic hopefuls are well-known locally; Steve Gaw having represented the 2nd District from 1992 to 2001, the last five years as House Speaker; Ken Jacob, a member of the Missouri House from 1982 to 1996 and a senator representing the 19th District from 1996 to 2004; and Judy Baker, representing Missouri's 25th District since 2004.
On the Republican side, Blaine Leutkemeyer, currently director of tourism, was a two-term legislator from the 115th District; Fulton's Danie Moore has represented Missouri's 12th House District since 2000; and Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis in St. Charles County, representing the 13th District in the General Assembly.
I will not presume to endorse any particular candidate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the reality that I don't take myself seriously enough to believe that anyone would be swayed by my selection. Each candidate brings to the race his or her own personality, experience and agenda. There is one area in which they share a commonality: Every candidate for public office stands foursquare in favor of motherhood, apple pie and the flag and unalterably opposed to sin.
Beyond those parameters, the voters can expect the candidates to espouse their party line as Republicans and Democrats are wont to do. There are exceptions, of course, with Bode walking a more conservative line than the others, and Gaw and Bode both supporting off-shore drilling. The Republicans are more in step with one another on the issues, especially on taxes and supporting the administration's position on troop withdrawals from Iraq. The Democrats, with the exception of Bode, take the opposite tack.
The best advice I can offer is that each voter take the candidates' promises with the proverbial grain of salt and do their own research on the candidates' backgrounds, personalities and positions. Many of the candidates are promising improbables such as ending energy dependence, fixing a broken Washington, eliminating earmarks and ending the Iraq war. These are well-intentioned but lofty goals and probably beyond the scope of a first-term legislator's influence.
The one instance of first-term congressmen making an appreciable difference was in 1976 when the Democratic Party retained the 94th Congress, but with a far more progressive-minded and combative makeup. This group successfully challenged the seniority system in selection of committee chairmen in a number of instances and were a force to be reckoned with.
Nevertheless, one must not blithely ignore campaign promises nor predictions lest they actually come true. As an example, we were warned in 1964 that, should we vote for Barry Goldwater, we would be at war in Vietnam. I did so and spent two years in Vietnam. And, in 2006, we were admonished that returning Republicans to Congress would result in $4 per gallon gasoline. You can guess the end of the story.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel from the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.