COLUMBIA — When Chris Kelly first ran for a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives in 1982, he sought to represent a district that was entirely within the city of Columbia.
Twenty-six years later, when he came out of retirement to run for a seat in the House, he had moved across town to become a resident of the 24th District. Almost three-quarters of the district is geographically rural, along with almost half its population.
After serving one term representing the 24th, Kelly faces a challenge from Republican and Fifth Ward Columbia Councilwoman Laura Nauser in his bid for re-election. Nauser, who was first elected to the City Council in 2005, is making her first bid for a state office.
Kelly said the diverse nature of the district is indicative of Boone County as a whole. “The cultural and political sensibility of this district ranges from Murry's (restaurant) in Columbia to Midway Arms to soybean and corn farms,” Kelly said. “There is a tremendous amount of political and cultural diversity, and it is very exciting to try and understand all of those viewpoints.”
Kelly said door-to-door campaigning is a crucial way to gain an understanding of his constituents and learn how to incorporate their concerns into public policy. He said it is much more effective than candidate forums because many of the voters he meets at their homes are undecided.
In contrast, “there are almost no undecided voters at a forum,” he said.
Nauser agreed. She said she has spent four days campaigning each week, including weekends. She said she reserves Saturdays for door-to-door visits in Columbia and spends Sundays in Ashland.
Nauser said she could not campaign every day because of her City Council obligations. “I promised my constituents that Fifth Ward issues were more important than my political aspirations,” she said.
Kelly said he is doing door-to-door campaigning daily, but the most effective times are from 5 p.m. until nighttime, especially on Sundays because people are most likely to be at home.
Running for office
Nauser, 46, graduated from Columbia College with a degree in political science in 2004. She considered attending law school but decided to run for the open Fifth Ward council seat instead.
She knew last summer that she wouldn’t seek a third term on the council. And last fall, she considered running for the 24th District House seat.
"I was upset with some of the things coming down from the federal government and their impact on the state,” she said. “I wanted to be a voice speaking out about those issues.”
Nauser said she opposes higher taxes because she wants the state to attract new businesses. She also said she thinks there are areas of the state budget that can be cut.
Kelly, 64, agreed that much of the next term in Jefferson City would be spent discussing the budget. However, he said he believes the budget crisis would be very difficult to handle without increasing state revenue. One solution to budget shortfalls, he said, would be to give voters the option to increase taxes on tobacco.
Despite their political differences, Nauser and Kelly intend to keep their campaigns positive. Nauser said she decided early in her campaign that she would focus on policy instead of personalities. She also expressed an aversion to negative ads.
“Quite frankly, I change the channel when I see negative political ads,” she said. “I’d much rather learn what candidates think about issues and how they are different from their opponents.”
Kelly, 64, agreed and said he had never run a negative political ad in any of his campaigns. After serving five years as Boone County clerk, he ran for the state House in 1982 and served for 12 years. After serving as chairman of the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission and an associate circuit judge for Boone County, he retired for a brief time.
In 2008, Kelly opted to run again for state representative. He cited two reasons.
“My faculty friends from MU encouraged me to run because the university was just getting hammered in the state legislature," he said. “However, my 12-year stint in the state legislature was also my favorite job I had in my career. Besides, I was a failure at retirement.”