On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of daylight between Rick Stream and Andrew Koenig: The two Republican contenders for the 15th District Senate seat won House seats through intense door-knocking campaigns. They’ve both served four terms in the Missouri House. And they can point to big accomplishments during their legislative careers.
But the two men who are trying to succeed state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, feel they bring different leadership styles and priorities to the table. Koenig contends he’s the more conservative candidate in this district that includes parts of central and southern St. Louis County. Stream says his experience handling the state’s budget and high-profile educational issues makes him the right choice.
Two Democrats are also running for the seat in the GOP-leaning district. They hope to chip away at the Republicans’ daunting super-majority in the Missouri Senate, a prospect that could require a big infusion of cash and a little bit of luck.
Stream is a Navy veteran who was a budget and project manager for the Department of Defense. Before he defeated a Democratic incumbent House member in 2006, Stream was a member of the Kirkwood School Board.
“It was very tough,” said Stream in 2013 about his first House race. “We had to do a lot of door-to-door. And it was very grueling, very hard. That’s how you win state representative races, certainly in these competitive districts. You go door-to-door and meet the voters.”
In the Missouri House, Stream eventually climbed the ranks to chair the budget committee. He said that was where he learned how to work with people of differing ideologies and priorities. Stream also handled big-ticket legislation, including a bill that altered the state’s school transfer law.
When term limits meant he could not run for re-election in 2014, Stream ran for St. Louis County executive. He lost to Democrat Steve Stenger, but did much better than other GOP contenders in the heavily Democratic county. Most notably, he received endorsements from a number of African-American elected leaders who typically endorse Democratic candidates.
“I have a long history in the African-American community and in the legislature, and I think that was what drove a lot of the support in the African-American community for me,” Stream said.
Koenig had a more direct pathway to the Missouri House. After running track for and graduating from Lindenwood University, Koenig ran for a state House seat in 2008 in western St. Louis County. In what many people considered an upset, Koenig defeated (now state Rep.) Shamed Dogan and Chris Howard. He attributed his victory to knocking on a lot of doors and working hard.
“When you have that personal touch and you talk to somebody one-on-one, there’s a good chance they’re going to support you,” Koenig said.
Koenig has handled several major pieces of legislation. In 2014, he was the House sponsor of the first income tax cut in decades. More recently, he sponsored legislation aimed at making it harder for cities to use tax-increment financing.
That TIF bill, Koenig said, was part of a broader focus of clamping down on what he calls “corporate welfare.”
“I think conservatives and some liberals can agree on this issue that corporate welfare is bad,” Koenig said. “Now where we disagree is I believe that we should have low taxes. I want to cut the corporate welfare so we can cut taxes, while the liberals might say, ‘We want to cut the corporate welfare so we can have more government spending.’”
Right to work takes center stage
For the most part, Koenig and Stream have somewhat similar positions on issues. They’re both casting themselves as socially and economically conservative, including on “right to work.”
Right to work would bar unions and employers from requiring employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Koenig (who’s received financial support from right to work proponents like TAMKO President David Humphreys) strongly supports such a law. While Stream purposely didn’t vote on the measure when he was in the House, he said he would vote for it if it comes up in the Senate.
Still, Koenig contends Stream is less conservative than he. Among other things, he points to Stream's vote to place a sales tax hike for transportation on the ballot.
“I’m a low-tax guy. I’m against corporate welfare. And what you’ll find is he voted for one of the largest tax increases in the history of the state,” Koenig said. “You’ll also find that he’s voted for a lot of the corporate welfare. And those are the two things that I’m definitely against.”
When asked, during his 2014 race for county executive, about voting for the transportation tax, Stream said it was important for Missourians to vote on a mechanism to fund transportation infrastructure improvements. He added: “I don’t have a problem letting the people decide if they want to raise their own taxes.”
As for not being conservative enough, Stream said that he is “consistent” when it comes to the issues.
“And I explain to people who I am and how I’ve governed, how I voted and what I want to do,” Stream said. “That’s not going to change. I am a conservative. I’ve always been pro-life. I’ve always been pro-Second Amendment. I’ve always been very pro-business. And I think those issues are issues that will resonate with most people, no matter whether it’s a Republican district or a middle-of-the-road district.”
Boyko versus Eagleton
As Stream and Koenig battle it out, Democrats Mark Boyko and Steve Eagleton are engaged in a much quieter Democratic primary.
Boyko is an attorney representing people suing under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, ERISA. He received his law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's in law from New York University.
He’s opposed to right to work, supports abortion rights and strongly backed expanding Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. And he says he was encouraged to run for office from state Rep. Deb Lavender, a Kirkwood Democrat who won Stream’s House seat after several unsuccessful tries.
"This is not the first time that someone's going to spend a million dollars trying to prevent me from doing what I think is right," Boyko said. "And hopefully it's not the last time in my life that that happens either."
Eagleton is an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the 15th District seat in 2008, losing narrowly to fellow Democrat James Trout. He’s the nephew of former U.S. Sen. Tom Eagleton.
He’s positioning himself as a more moderate-to-conservative Democrat: For instance, he said he’s in favor of right to work, a position that’s basically unheard of among Missouri Democrats. He also said he’s opposed to restricting firearms.
“I’m a very moderate Democrat,” Eagleton said. “I’m much further right than Mark is, for example.”
Neither Democratic candidate has raised as much money as their Republican counterparts. As of last week, Eagleton hadn’t even filed a fundraising committee.