25th District candidates share why they're best for the job

Friday, August 1, 2008 | 2:17 p.m. CDT; updated 2:27 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 1, 2008

Bob Pund

1521 E. Walnut St.

PERSONAL: 40. Single

PARTY: Democrat


OCCUPATION: Legislative advocate, Disabled Citizens Alliance for Independence

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in political science from MU

BACKGROUND: Volunteer speaker for Think First, volunteer English teacher at International Friends Church, treasurer of the Board at Mid- Missouri Legal Services, former board member for Services for Independent Living, Rusk Hospital Community Board, former member of Columbia Housing Authority Resident Advisory Board, former member of Boone County Community Partnership Transportation Committee


When Bob Pund decided to run for state representative in the 25th District, he knew it was going to be a tough race.

"I had to think pretty hard about it because I knew it was going to be a pretty big challenge," Pund said. "I probably know fewer people that are able to donate $325 than other people in the race. I knew money was going to be a challenge and getting to every door was going to be a challenge."

Pund was paralyzed from the shoulders down in a car accident in 1989. But despite knowing the obstacles going into the race, he felt this election was too important to just sit on the sidelines.

"I just really thought there are a lot of people not represented right now in Jefferson City," he said. "I've witnessed that personally. I want to represent those people that aren't represented."

Pund graduated from MU with a degree in political science and has lived in Columbia since 1990. He is involved in a number of volunteer activities and worked for years as an educator and counselor for the Rusk Rehabilitation Center and Missouri Model Spinal Cord Injury Systems.

He especially enjoyed his job as an independent living specialist at Services for Independent Living.

"It's hard to find a job a lot of times if you have a significant disability," he said. "Construction's out. The circus is out. It took me a while, but (Services for Independent Living) was a great opportunity."

But in 2005, after Missouri cut Medicaid spending, he lost his job when the agency was forced to eliminate positions to deal with the reduced state funding. Not only that, but Pund himself had to pay a greater portion of his health care costs.

"We had really started to make some real progress on health care issues," Pund said. "But all that was erased with the stroke of a pen. Health care is getting out of reach for too many people. The safety net is in tatters."

For the past three years, Pund has been a legislative advocate for Disabled Citizens Alliance for Independence. He testifies in front of committees dealing with health care issues and works with legislators to create good health care policy. But when he heard incumbent 25th District State Rep. Judy Baker was not seeking re-election, he decided he would rather directly affect policy than just influence it.

"Who else could be better at reforming the health care system than someone who has used the services and has filled out an application and knows where there might be waste and where things could be streamlined," Pund said.

He has enough college credits to become a certified teacher and grew up on a farm, so health care is not the only issue he is knowledgeable about, Pund said. He said he will bring a new perspective to the legislature along with a host of experience and expertise on policy.

"I really have some real-life experience that not only the other candidates running against me don't have, but no one in Jefferson City has," Pund said. "I know what it's like to live on a very limited income. I know what it's like to not have health care. I've seen the medical system as a patient, and I've seen it as a professional. Somebody needs to stand up for patients' rights."

Sean Spence

10 S. Ninth St., Suite A

PERSONAL: 37. Engaged to Leigh Leyshock

PARTY: Democrat


OCCUPATION: Works in a public relations and political consulting practice, Finish Line Strategies, part-time work in State Auditor Susan Montee's office

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in history from MU, 1993

BACKGROUND: Rotary Club member, Boone County Chapter of MU Alumni Association, Columbia Chamber of Commerce

Sean Spence has wanted to run for the 25th District House seat since he was 18. So he seized the opportunity to run for the seat this year, when Baker announced she would run for Congress instead. He's worked every day knocking on doors, meeting with residents and trying to run what he calls "the most grass-roots campaign that anyone's ever seen around here."

"The most important thing about any campaign is getting to know folks," Spence said. "Particularly at the state legislative level, what matters is personal contact. People want to know their representative, and that's what attracts me to the state legislative race. It's about relationships, not as much about money."

Spence moved to Columbia from the small town of Madisonville, Ky., and graduated from MU in 1993. After managing Ken Jacob's re-election campaign in this district, he went on to work as executive director of the Democratic State Senate Caucus. He has tried to stay involved in politics since.

Spence has a wide range of life experiences. He's lived in Connecticut, Ohio and Idaho working for businesses and political campaigns. He even ran for state representative in Idaho in 2004, and he holds the record for the narrowest loss in that state - only nine votes.

But he returned to Columbia because he wanted to live here, he said. When he returned, he managed Susan Montee's successful campaign for state auditor, and he has since started a consulting firm for other politicians and corporations.

In 2003, Spence was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"My mother describes it as the worst day of her life. But you know, it wasn't the worst day of my life," he said. "To me, it was a wake-up call that if there are things I want to accomplish, I better do it."

His illness has given him firsthand knowledge of the health care system, and his experience in other campaigns gives him a familiarity with many policy issues. Although his illness doesn't affect his ability to campaign as he still manages to walk door-to-door for four to six hours a day, eventually it might affect his everyday life.

"If I want to make a difference in this state, I want to do it now," Spence said. "That's part of the reason I'm running, because who knows what is going to happen tomorrow. All we have is today."

Spence believes health care, MU and economic development are the most important issues in the race. But he is tired of candidates just pointing out the issues without offering substantive solutions.

"We can't let candidates continue talking about problems without offering real solutions," he said. "Far too often, the candidates who don't have any real ideas are the ones who seem to know what they're talking about. Just because you know how to talk about a problem doesn't mean you know anything about solutions."

So Spence has tried to learn what residents of the 25th District think are the most important issues by hosting brainstorming sessions, where he listens to voters and writes their ideas on a wall-mounted poster.

"I think that being a great state legislator is a lot more than how you vote or giving great speeches or rallying other legislators behind a cause," Spence said. "A truly great state legislator has got to find better ways to communicate with people and communicate their voice at the state level."

Mary Still

2000 S. Country Club Drive

PERSONAL: 54. Married to Russ Still. They have two grown daughters

PARTY: Democrat



EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in journalism from MU, 1976

BACKGROUND: Chairman of administrative council at Missouri United Methodist Church, former Girl Scout Leader, member of Blind Boone Foundation

Eight years in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Eight years as spokeswoman for MU. Two years as communications director for Gov. Bob Holden. Twelve years in Attorney General Jay Nixon's office.

Mary Still has had a lot of experience in state government, and with 25 years as a Columbia resident, she has a history in Columbia and in Jefferson City.

"I know the players in Jefferson City, and I know the people in this community," she said. "I can be a strong voice for the people of this district."

Still grew up in Fordyce, Ark. Her mother was a school board member while Arkansas was integrating its public schools, and Still said that has been a source of inspiration for her. Her father was a district attorney in eight counties and had to run for re-election every two years for 25 years.

"I grew up in politics," she said. "We spent our childhood going to rodeos and parades and factories. When the whistle blew, we were outside handing out campaign material."

Still came to Columbia to attend MU and graduated in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She worked for a number of newspapers before landing a job with the Department of Natural Resources. She had studied policy issues as a journalist, but she wanted to be an advocate, she said.

She soon became one, as spokeswoman for MU. She recalls one incident in which MU was given only a two-stars out of a four-star rating among other universities from a New York Times college review. She promptly had the reporter come back to Columbia and meet more of the faculty and see Columbia more intimately. She is proud to say that in the following year's review, MU received a three-star rating.

In 1993 she was offered a job in Attorney General Jay Nixon's office, thus beginning her long career in the attorney general's office. She retired this year, but after hearing that Baker was not seeking re-election, she decided she should put her experience to work as a state legislator.

"Having worked at the attorney general's office for so long, I'm very familiar with the issues facing the state," Still said. "Most of them land on the attorney general's desk. I have been involved in studying those issues and advising on those issues and working to explain those issues to the public. I just felt like, I've lived here for 25 years; I know the community, I know the issues. I should do this."

Still concedes she had never really thought about running for office before but said the experience has been rewarding and an area of personal growth. Because she has been so comfortable campaigning door-to-door, she now thinks that, "It suits me."

"I've had a lot of exposure, but never on the front line," she said. "It wasn't something I had planned, so I was a little hesitant."

Still said her wide range of experiences, as well as the contacts she's made along the way, will make her a strong representative for the 25th District.

"I have had wonderful career experiences, and it has come together in such a way that has provided me the most interesting jobs and the opportunity to work with outstanding, smart people," Still said.

Ryan Asbridge

24 Broadway Village, Apt. H

PERSONAL: 31. Single

PARTY: Republican


OCCUPATION: U.S. Navy Intelligence Reservist, part-time basketball coach

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in educational studies from MU, 1999; master's in education, MU, 2002; juris doctorate from MU, 2008. Studying for bar exam

BACKGROUND: Committee member of Ducks Unlimited, board member of Daniel Boone Little League, member of Calvary Episcopal Church, member of Farm Bureau, Navy Reserve Association

When Ryan Asbridge was interning in the Missouri House years ago, the legislator he was working for was trying to get support from another lawmaker for a bill he had proposed. While the second legislator liked the idea, he said he couldn't support it because if it passed, the other party would get the credit.

"I just thought, ‘You got to be kidding me,'" Asbridge said. "Why are you here if you guys actually agree on something but you're more worried about who got the credit for it than whether the bill actually went through?"

That was the moment that Asbridge realized things need to change, he said.

"I don't want to be like that," Asbridge said. "I don't believe in that kind of stuff."

So when Asbridge saw Baker would not run for another term in the state House, he began talking to his friends around the community and decided he should pursue the seat. He is unopposed in Tuesday's Republican primary.

"People keep throwing out the word ‘change,' and I think that's a big part of my campaign as well," he said. "The change I'm trying to seek is not a partisan change, it's a philosophical change. The change from focusing on partisanship, the way things have been done for the last 30 years, to actually identifying what problems are and finding common ground and common sense solutions."

Asbridge was born and raised in Columbia, and he earned his bachelor's, master's and law degrees at MU. He spent four years as an elementary and middle school teacher, and he's a U.S. Navy Intelligence Reservist. With only a couple of internships in state government, he said a big difference between him and the Democratic candidates is he doesn't have a history in the Capitol. Plus, he'll be able to represent Columbia as a member of the majority party.

"Comparatively, I'm not a person that has been in Jefferson City for a long amount of time," Asbridge said. "I'm not a person who's made a lot of friends, and I'm not a person who's made a lot of enemies. I'll be able to go down with a blank slate. I won't owe anybody anything."

The most important issue to Asbridge is public education, both K-12 and higher education. He said that after the Missouri legislature went Republican, Boone County's representation has been at loggerheads with the party in power, and it has hurt MU and public schools. But he is not going to just toe the party line, he said.

"When you turn education into a political weapon, everybody loses," Asbridge said. "(But) there's no bones about the fact that I'm willing to disagree with my party, and I'm willing to be my own person and make decisions based on what I think is best regardless of what everyone else is telling me to do."

Although he realizes that the 25th District traditionally has had Democratic representation, he is not worried that voters will not see him as an independent thinker, even though he does agree with most of the core issues of the Republican Party.

"I had someone tell me, ‘Ryan, if you get elected, you're going to be the most liberal Republican in the House of Representatives,'" Asbridge said. "That thought had never even crossed my mind. If that's the case, then so be it. I might also say I'm a reflection of the community I live in. I think Columbia is an independent-thinking community, and I think I fit that pretty well."



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