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Pearson wins spot as county commissioner

Democrat has spent 27 years working for the state government.
Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:40 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

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Democratic candidate Ken Pearson,right, is joined by supporters at his watch party Tuesday night. Pearson won the race for Boone County Presiding Commissioner. (JERONIMO NISA/Missourian)

After a career spanning 27 years with the Missouri Department of Revenue, Democrat Ken Pearson is going right back to work for the government.

But instead of working for the state, he’ll be working for Boone County. Pearson defeated incumbent Republican Keith Schnarre by about 1,800 votes out of about 55,000 cast to become the county’s new presiding commissioner. He will lead a three-person commission consisting of Democrats.

Pearson, a former auditor, manager and administrator, waited for election returns with fellow Democrats at Harpo’s, a downtown Columbia bar and restaurant.

“I want to thank all the voters and my wife, Dinah, who was my main campaigner,” he said.

Pearson’s victory came despite raising $24,000 less than Schnarre. Pearson’s campaign manager, Linda Vogt, said they made up the deficit using effective campaign strategies and making sure Pearson met lots of voters personally.

“We didn’t try collecting all the money in the world,” she said. “Once everyone met Ken Pearson, they liked him. He will make a wonderful presiding commissioner.”

In his campaign, Pearson highlighted his experience working with state, local and nonprofit organizations. He said his goals as presiding commissioner would be to improve communication between Boone County residents and the commission by increasing county government’s use of the Web, broadcasting commission meetings on public access television and holding public meetings outside of Columbia.

Houston Mueller, a self-employed Harrisburg resident, said he voted for Pearson because he wanted to see change in Boone County.

“They have a Republican in there now, and I would like to see someone new in office,” he said.

This was Pearson’s first bid for elected public office.

Schnarre, a lifelong farmer before coming to the commission in 2002, waited for election returns with other local Republicans at Columbia’s Holiday Inn Executive Center. Instead of talking, he paced about the lobby, arms folded across his chest, as vote tallies came in and pointed toward defeat. As he saw himself trailing in the returns, Schnarre had little to say.

“I’m just waiting,” he said. “We’ll wait until all the votes have been counted.”

By the time they were counted, Schnarre was already on his way home.

Sandy Schnarre said she had been up since 2 a.m. Tuesday putting up signs outside polling stations.

“We worked as hard as we could,” she said. “I don’t know what else we could have done.”

In his campaign, Schnarre highlighted his first-term successes as presiding commissioner. Those included the pending expansion of the courthouse, the completion of bridge projects and road maintenance, and the approval of Chapter 100 tax incentives, which offered significant tax breaks to lure larger businesses to the county or to help larger businesses expand.

The presiding commissioner serves as the county’s chief elected official and is responsible for legislation and administration of the Boone County’s $50 million annual budget. Pearson will earn $80,828 per year.


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