COLUMBIA — For the first time in many years, a Republican will appear on the ballot for the 23rd District House race.
Paul Szopa is running against one-term incumbent Democrat Stephen Webber in the Nov. 2 election. Webber was elected in 2008 after winning his party primary and facing no opposition in the general election.
Szopa, 65, said he talked it over with his wife of 41 years, Kathy, before deciding to file his candidacy. Szopa’s wife is treasurer of the Elect Paul Szopa Committee.
“It’s a little mom-and-pop campaign,” Szopa said.
Szopa, a father of three, has lived in central Missouri his whole life. His hobbies include target shooting, reading and amateur radio.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Central Methodist College in Fayette, graduating in 1967, and later worked in research at MU. He has worked at Westlake Ace Hardware since 2000.
“I’m not a politician. I work in a hardware store,” he said.
Szopa said life experiences have shaped his conservative viewpoints. He said he is a strong proponent of small business. He opposes raising taxes and wants to improve public safety.
He said the unemployment rate is the most important issue the 23rd District faces, and he wants to increase private-sector jobs to help solve it.
“That’s the only thing that’s going to save the economy,” Szopa said. “The federal government is eating the state alive.”
Szopa said his greatest strength is that he is outside the political scene.
“I have nobody I’m working for,” he said. “The only special interest group I’ll have are the residents of the 23rd District.”
He said his biggest weakness is that he lacks the name recognition of his opponent. He’s still trying to get the word out about who he is and what his policies are.
Szopa said it’s important for 23rd District residents to know that if he's elected, he’ll put their values before his own interests, and he wants to get out and talk to people whose views differ from his own.
Webber, whose first term is coming to a close, also said he’s running with the interests of 23rd District residents at heart.
Webber, 27, has a bachelor’s degree in economics from St. Louis University and is studying law at MU full-time this semester. He has worked as an aide for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and he was in the Marines for six years, serving two tours in Iraq.
“Getting back to Columbia was my driving goal that I thought about every day,” Webber said of his time in Iraq.
Webber said the state budget is the most important issue right now. He said protecting education, specifically funding for MU and for K-12 public schools, is a priority.
If re-elected, Webber said, he would like to continue pushing issues he began to advocate during his first term. Those include the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.
Webber said his greatest strength as a representative is his ability to work well with a variety of groups. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have endorsed him.
Webber said his weakness is that his party is in the House minority. He said he sometimes has to go for “small wins” when getting a majority backing on an issue isn’t a realistic outcome, but he said that won’t stop him from fighting for the needs of the 23rd District.
“There’s a lot more things I’d like to accomplish,” Webber said.