Foreign policy could be a pivotal issue in the race to represent Missouri’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
International affairs are not often the primary focus of congressional races, but the 4th District is uniquely situated when it comes to foreign policy and the military.
The district contains two military bases: Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood. Two bases in one district is a rarity, and makes it likely the representative of that district will have a spot on the powerful House Armed Services Committee. Vicky Hartzler, the Republican who represents the district, has served on the committee since she first took office in 2011. Her predecessor, the late Democrat Ike Skelton, served on the committee for three decades.
Hartzler is now running for U.S. Senate. The Missourian spoke this spring with a number of the candidates seeking to replace Hartzler. This is part of that series, focusing on foreign policy. Because the Democratic and Libertarian primaries are uncontested, we are focusing on candidates in the Republican primary.
Rick Brattin — R-Harrisonville
State Sen. Rick Brattin served for six years in the U.S. Marine Corps as an engineer prior to his time holding a number of public offices.
“I stayed stateside, I didn’t deploy,” Brattin said. “I got into an accident and crushed my ankle, but I was proud to serve.”
Brattin specifically spoke about Ukraine, calling for a balanced approach that prevented significant U.S. involvement or escalation.
“You know, I don’t want to see boots on the ground,” he said. “I don’t want us to see this unfold into a World War Three.”
Brattin also said there were a few “misconceptions” that he has heard from people in regard to Ukraine. For one, he said Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance, and the U.S. military is not obligated to come to their aid. He also said Ukraine is not a “bastion of freedom and democracy” in terms of some of the steps they have taken, including suppression of political opposition and state control of the media.
“Nobody is for another country being invaded, and that’s terrible, and we need to ensure that we don’t have that sort of situation,” Brattin said. “But I don’t believe we need to be involving ourselves militarily in any aspect whatsoever. If we can help it.”
Brattin also spoke of immigration as a national security issue. He said the number of undocumented immigrants in the labor market “eviscerates” opportunities for American workers and businesses that cannot compete. He attributed the lack of action on immigration policy by Congress in recent decades to people not wanting to deal with a “mess.”
“You know, I’ve heard it said, ‘If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.’ And that’s what we it seems like we continue to dig ourselves deeper and deeper by not just putting the shovel down,” Brattin said. “In other words, don’t stop, build the wall, stop the bleeding first, and then we can address that issue.”
Taylor Burks, R-Hartsburg
Taylor Burks is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, having served 15 years. He continues to serve as a lieutenant commander in the Naval reserves where he focuses on supply chains and energy.
Foreign policy has been a core issue of Burks’ campaign, and is based on his experiences in the armed forces. He compared his experiences coordinating the withdrawal of U.S. troops and equipment from Syria and Iraq with the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Pick the issue and this administration has failed us,” Burks said. “I’m the candidate that has first-hand experience, knowing what we ought to have done.”
Burks has opposed the U.S. sending troops directly into the fighting between Ukraine and the invading Russian forces.
“It’s not a country that we have a military alliance with, or any obligation to send troops to, barring Russia taking some some pretty extreme steps to us, whether it’s chemical, nuclear, biological weapons. There are red lines that this country, in the civilized world, has to observe,” Burks said.
He also placed blame directly on the Biden administration, calling back to the Afghanistan withdrawal and other foreign policy actions which Burks identified as “failures.”
“I don’t believe we would be seeing this situation in Ukraine, but for the other foreign policy failures of this administration, recognizing that Vladimir Putin was emboldened because of the lack of leadership that we’ve seen under the Biden administration, this Pentagon and the State Department,” Burks said.
Burks said he does support sanctions being imposed by Congress and the Biden administration on Russia, its leaders and its wealthiest citizens.
“Russia cannot continue to play the role that it used to play in the world, so long as it perpetrates war crimes and these invasions against European countries,” Burks said.
William “Bill” Irwin, R-Harrisonville
This is Bill Irwin’s first run for political office, after decades in the military and law enforcement. He served in the Marine Corps and Navy for more than 33 years, retiring as a Navy SEAL captain.
“My life has been pretty much a life of service, or as a warrior,” said Irwin, who was affectionately called “Frogman” by many of his military colleagues. “My time in the military was all the way up till I reached mandatory retirement, and they said, ‘Frogman, time for you to go home.’”
Irwin held a number of roles in his decades of military service, but he specifically recalled his time as a captain in Afghanistan.
“I’m sitting there with a whole bunch of other folks. And I’m the only white guy. And that’s because all the others were Afghanis (sic). You know, I had the chiefs, the, the sheiks, the Afghan local police leader, the different police department guys ... I have all these guys sitting around me, and right behind me were three guys with AK-47s. They weren’t Americans. And so here I am, Captain Irwin, SEAL, sitting with all these others to try to make the peace. And we had the intel; we knew which one of the guys sitting around us were Taliban. I’m sitting with the Taliban, but we’re having dialogue.”
Irwin referenced his approach to policies in Ukraine by using a metaphor for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“If I’m the bully on the playground, and I come take your lunch money today, I’m going to come take it tomorrow, and the next day, until you finally punch me in the nose,” Irwin said. “He has taken Crimea, and we did nothing. He took Georgia, and we did nothing. Do you think he really wants to stop where he is? And then look at the other bullies on the block ... China’s watching. Iran is developing a nuclear device and wants to drop it on Israel. You don’t think they’re watching? We need to stand up.”
Irwin did not say directly whether he supported sending troops into Ukraine, only going as far as saying the U.S. needs to be strong after what he sees as failed leadership thus far under the Biden administration. He added that the U.S. should consider a no-fly zone over Ukraine. He then addressed concerns of escalation that might come from that step.
“Oh, he has nuclear weapons. What shall we do?” Irwin said. “Well, we have nuclear weapons. We have better nuclear weapons. Our nuclear weapons work. I don’t want a nuclear war. I don’t want World War III. We have to let them know we’re coming in.”
Mark Alford, R-Kansas City
Mark Alford, a longtime Kansas City news anchor, lists a number of foreign policy and national security positions on his website.
On immigration issues, Alford calls for the U.S. to “finish” the border wall championed by former President Donald Trump.
“Let’s be clear, a nation isn’t a nation without borders. We must put an end to illegal immigration and fully fund the completion of the border wall and our border patrol,” the website reads.
Alford also pledges to protect Missouri’s military bases, fully fund the military, improve veteran healthcare services and “fight to end veteran suicides.”
“A secure nation must have a fully-funded and robust military to protect its interests and borders. We must also support our veterans once they come home with good mental health services,” according to the website.
The Missourian contacted Alford’s staff this spring, but he was unavailable for an interview.
Kalena Bruce, R-Stockton
Kalena Bruce, a farmer and accountant, lists three main national security issues on her website:
“In Congress, I’ll support efforts that will:
1. Ensure our allies trust us and our enemies fear us
2. Foreign groups like the UN and the WHO can’t take advantage us
3. Our financial and security interests are protected”
Bruce also pledges to “support our veterans and active duty service members and ensure they have access to the benefits they’ve earned.”
Bruce could not be reached this spring for an interview.
Kyle LaBrue, R-Osage Beach
Kyle LaBrue is an entrepreneur whose website touts his commitment to mid-Missouri, citing his time at Camdenton High School.
LaBrue’s website lists immigration as a key issue.
“America is the land of promise, and we love seeing people from around the world find the American dream, but it needs to be done legally. Our borders must be protected, our wall must be built and we must know who’s entering,” the website reads.
The website does not list military issues or specifics on policy in relation to the war in Ukraine. LaBrue could not be reached for an interview this spring.
Jim “Soupy” Campbell
Soupy Campbell is a former St. Louis Blues hockey player.
Campbell does not currently have an official campaign website or social media accounts where foreign policy positions might be stated. He could not be reached for an interview.
KOMU reporter Leah Vredenbregt contributed to this story.