In the market for votes

Voters discuss amendments, candidates on primary ballot
Sunday, August 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:52 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Art Gelder’s T-shirt flashed no name but his own and endorsed nothing but his farm and beekeeping business.

Although Missouri’s primary election was three days away, the first thing on Gelder’s mind was his honey. The election, however, wasn’t too much farther down the list.

“My wife is a Democrat, and I’m a Republican,” Gelder said. “But we both vote for whoever we think will do a better job.”

There weren’t the standard yard signs and no candidates were stumping for support. There weren’t even bumper stickers.

Still, through the typical Saturday morning movement at Columbia’s Farmers’ Market, vendors couldn’t avoid making an occasional political quip. They wove talk of fruits and vegetables between talk of candidates and voting.

After all, the same hands exchanging cash for cartons of eggs and arranging potted plants will soon be casting ballots. It seemed everyone had an opinion the weekend before the election — an outcome they were hoping to see, come Tuesday.

Mike Knoll, selling eggs near Gelder, has been keeping tabs on the Boone County sheriff’s race with its many candidates and issues. Armed with literature, he’s managed to narrow his choices to two of the three Democrats in the race. He said experience, along with each candidate’s background in law enforcement, is what really matters to him.

“There is also the current sheriff’s recommendation,” Knoll, 54, said over the clucks of his chickens. “Whether or not I agree with it, I am not sure.”

Mary Stokes, a few tents down, was selling blackberries and considering casinos. A constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot would allow the building of a casino in southwest Missouri’s Rockaway Beach. Stokes was still skeptical. Proponents of the amendment claim the resulting tax revenue from the casino will go toward poorly performing schools, but Stokes, 62, said she doesn’t think more gambling will benefit education, as the state might devote less of its money to schools once the casino starts generating revenue.

“I am not really a gambler, and I hate to see people spending their money on gambling,” she said. “But it seems like the people in Rockaway Beach might want this.”

A booth away, Samantha Ridgway, 33, said she supported the casino — she considers it one of the most important issues on Tuesday’s ballot.

“It’s good for the town, if they are trying to save it,” Ridgway said. “A lot of people like to gamble. They go to different states to do it.”

Both Stokes and Knoll said they considered candidates’ experience a decisive factor in their vote, but Amanda Grubb of Odessa said her parents are usually able to sway her decision.

“I’ve gone more toward the radical end,” said Grubb, 20. “But my parents are very liberal. I usually vote the way my parents do.”

While arranging tomato plants, Grubb remembered a billboard she always sees on the side of the highway urging her to vote for Amendment 2 on Tuesday, which, if passed, would ban same-sex marriage.

“Things like that motivate me,” Grubb said. “The government can’t have a monopoly on how people love.”

Ridgway said her desire to vote for the amendment will also draw her to the polls.

Grubb said her mom works for Claire McCaskill’s campaign for governor, but watching McCaskill debate Gov. Bob Holden solidified her vote.

“Claire all the way,” Grubb said. “She knows what’s up.”

Gelder said he knows the governor’s race is a substantial one. He’s seen Holden attacking McCaskill in his ads and said her ads are just as scathing. In the end, he said, negative campaigning can’t benefit their campaigns.

Ronald Bonar of Versailles, running for U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary, was the only visible candidate at the farmers market Saturday morning, making himself known by tacking handmade posters to the back of his car and the sides of his Shiitake mushroom stand. Gas prices are too high, he said, crude oil costs too much and the United States is too dependent on foreign sources of energy. He said his signs let people know where he stands.

At the Boone County Democratic Headquarters, Bill Clark was preparing for the primary by answering questions and distributing literature and yard signs. No one at the headquarters has endorsed a single candidate, nor is the office involved in any last-minute campaigning for favorite politicians before the primary; Clark said they leave that job up to the individual Democratic campaigns.

But as people trickle into the office requesting bumper stickers and yard signs, Clark does everything he can to get Democrats — any Democrat — to November’s general election.

“We all have our own opinions, and we all argue who we are going to vote for,” Clark, the office’s coordinator, said. “But I won’t tell you who as long as I am working here.”

Jackie Pagni wandered into the headquarters looking for a Chuck Graham yard sign and John Kerry paraphernalia. She already has a McCaskill sign and aligns herself with McCaskill’s views on education, she said. Pagni really wanted a John Kerry yard sign, but the headquarters hasn’t received those yet.

At the Cherry Street Artisan, Bill Monroe was wearing a bright blue Howard Dean T-shirt, Mardi Gras beads and a button promoting his organization, Democracy for Missouri. He explained that he was taking a break from a “Dump Bush” garage sale, the money from which he will send to the liberal organization

Monroe was thinking about Tuesday’s primary but is really concentrated on promoting John Kerry in November. Monroe spent time registering people to vote in the primary, and he said he thinks issues such as the gay marriage amendment will draw voters in above-average numbers. After he votes, he plans to stick around the polls wearing his Kerry shirt and getting voters to join the campaign.

“Everyone is participating in different ways,” Monroe said. “There are so many good Democrats running against each other that there has been lots of discussion.”

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