COLUMBIA – Elections for seats on the Boone County Democratic Central Committee are generally uncompetitive. This year, however, Katy Township committeewoman Phyllis Fugit, who has been chair of the group for years, has drawn a challenge from newcomer Janice Faaborg.
Between 2000 and 2010, only nine races for seats on the committee were contested. Currently, only 20 of the 54 available seats on the committee are filled.
Faaborg said she wants to get more involved in politics now that her children have left home. She said she’s concerned about the number of empty seats on the committee and thinks the committee would be more successful under different leadership.
“Almost none of the seats are filled. If she hasn’t remedied that by now, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Faaborg said of Fugit.
Fugit has chaired the committee since 2004. She said that she has tried to get more people on the committee but that it’s difficult to get those who live farther from Columbia involved. Most seats representing the six Columbia wards are filled.
“In town we don’t have to drive,” Fugit said. “It’s just been tough to get people on, and it’s not because we haven’t tried.”
Fugit has been on the committee since about 1996 after she retired from the city of Columbia's Finance Department. This is the first time her election has been contested.
State law, the bylaws of the national Democratic Party and the bylaws of the Missouri Democratic Party govern the central committee. It’s composed of a committeeman and committeewoman from each township and from each ward of every city in the county. So there are 12 seats representing Columbia – six men and six women representing the six wards in the city.
The Republican and Libertarian parties both have central committees for the county. This year, 12 of the races for seats on the Boone County Republican Central Committee are contested. Candidates filed for 33 of the seats on the Republican committee.
Central committees support party candidates for local, state and national offices. They also can recommend people to Gov. Jay Nixon when he is tasked with appointing someone to fill a vacant office.
“We try to do what we can to help Democratic candidates,” Fugit said. “We do voter registration, take people to the polls on election day, just a variety of things.”
Committeewoman Linda Vogt, who represents the Rocky Fork Township, said she also wants to see the empty seats filled.
“Phyllis has done some good things, and some of her leadership could be improved,” Vogt said. “Leadership does make a difference.”
Vogt said she’d like to see more subcommittees formed to solve problems such as the vacant seats. She was on a committee formed to address that issue but said it was difficult to get Fugit to form it.
“You practically have to beg her to form a committee,” Vogt said.
Vogt said that although she is good friends with Faaborg and thinks she would make a good committeewoman, she doesn't think it's her place to voice an opinion in the race. She said it is similar to primary races; the committee doesn't get involved, even though individual members may support one candidate over another.
"I'm not actively working against Phyllis," Vogt said.
Vogt and committeeman Thomas Pauley both credit Fugit with the 2005 opening of the permanent headquarters for the Boone County Democrats in downtown Columbia. Fugit also said the office now has a copier that Democratic candidates can use instead of paying for copies.
“That ongoing office has been a huge benefit,” Pauley said. “Phyllis has done a really good job of a lot of things. She’s gotten a lot of people involved.”
Pauley represents Hallsville's First Ward. He thinks other factors, such as people’s overall interest in politics, affect involvement in the central committee.
“It seems to me that there have always been vacancies,” Pauley said. “It kind of comes and goes… when there are aspects of politics that bring out people for whatever reason, participation is higher.”
Fugit said participation is always lower when the party has a sitting president.
To run for a seat on the committee, an individual must have lived in the ward or township the seat represents for at least one year. Fugit said sometimes people move out of the area they represent or out of Missouri altogether, making them ineligible to continue in their seats.
Pauley is an example of this – he served on the committee for several years before leaving Missouri and is just now finishing his first term since he returned to the area.
Sometimes, Fugit said, committee members just forget to file.
“Two years ago half of the people that were on the committee forgot,” Fugit said.
A few committee members also forgot to file this year, despite her efforts to remind everyone, Fugit said. Only 11 other people, excluding Faaborg and Fugit, filed for seats on the committee. When this happens, the committee can vote to appoint individuals to the vacant seats, as long as they meet the residency requirement.
The first step to filling seats, Faaborg said, is to tell people about the committee. She said she has learned during door-to-door campaigning that many people don't know about the central committee.
“I think the first way to remedy that is to go to those townships and cities,” Faaborg said. “I think you can get people to help just by asking. You just have to start talking to people.”
Faaborg said she didn't know she was in the same township as Fugit until after she decided to run.
“I was going to file regardless,” Faaborg said. “It just so happened that I was in the Katy Township.”
Faaborg said that she’s an unlikely political candidate and that she doesn’t have any big political ambitions. She is an adviser and senior capstone instructor for fisheries and wildlife students at MU. She also owns an editing business.
Even though it’s outside her comfort zone, Faaborg said she enjoys campaigning.
“What surprised me is how wonderful people are when you walk up to their doors and bother them in their homes,” she said.
According to documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Faaborg has raised $600 for her campaign from people giving $100 or less. The contributions have come mainly from family and friends, Faaborg said. She also loaned her committee $1,000. She has spent most of the money on printing and mailing services.
Fugit has filed no reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission, but said she mailed out campaign fliers.
Faaborg said if she wins the election, she will spend her first two-year term getting to know people on the committee and learning about it.
“I wouldn’t dare come into an established committee and try to declare myself a leader without having any experience or knowing anyone,” Faaborg said. “That doesn’t mean I couldn’t go out and talk to people and try to fill those seats.”
Committee officers are selected at the first meeting after the primary election; the meeting will be the third Tuesday in August.
Fugit said that in addition to opening the permanent Democratic headquarters, she also has represented the committee at events such as Earth Day and the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival. Olin Fugit, her husband, is the committeeman from Katy Township. The committee bought a tent they take to events.
Fugit said she and Olin Fugit are often the only ones at events to set up the tent and table. In presidential election years, she said, they don’t even have time to open their lake house.
“I was at the fair all week in 104-degree heat,” Fugit said. “We’ve tried to be visible.”
Pauley said he’s seen the effort Fugit has put in.
“It’s kind of a thankless job,” Pauley said. “Anybody who takes on the job of chair of the central committee is taking on a task.”
Fugit said Faaborg has not been involved in the party. “She hasn’t helped with anything.”
But Faaborg said she has been to three committee meetings and saw only about 15 people at them.
“There’s just not a lot of enthusiasm. If there were 50 people, I think there’d be a lot more,” Faaborg said. “I just want to make the Democratic Party as strong as it can be in Boone County.”
Vogt said she sees Faaborg's challenge as a good thing.
“It’s really uncommon, but in a perfect world, they’d all be competitive,” Vogt said. “I’d be tickled if more seats were challenged.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.