Races for open St. Louis-based legislative seats beginning to take shape | St. Louis Public Radio

Races for open St. Louis-based legislative seats beginning to take shape

Sep 9, 2015

Even though Missouri’s primary elections are a year away, some contests for St. Louis area state legislative seats are beginning to take shape.

St. Louis Alderman Donna Baringer announced Wednesday morning that she will run for the 82nd District House seat, which encompasses most of southwest St. Louis.  And Wednesday night, Republican Rick Stream of Kirkwood — who narrowly lost a bid for St. Louis County executive last fall — officially kicked off his campaign for the 15th District state Senate seat.

Stream also made news in an interview when he said he now supports "right to work,'' which would curb union rights. He had demurred on the issue in his county race, and refrained from voting on such a bill in 2014, while he was still in the Missouri House.

Baringer, a native of Jefferson City, has been the alderman of the city's 16th Ward since 2003. She won re-election to her seat earlier this year without opposition.

Baringer said in a telephone interview she was spurred onto run after watching a speech from Attorney General Chris Koster. She said the Democratic statewide official "talked about how we need to start thinking about how to move the state of Missouri forward — and to do that we have to have more people that are willing to get out there and make a difference.

"It’s an open seat. And with all the open seats, you’ll probably have more people step forward. I expect that," said Baringer, who added she will stay in her aldermanic seat while she runs for the state House. "All I can say is that I’m treating this the same way I treat being an alderman. I’m trying to see what are the issues that are before us and what’s the best way to address them."

State Rep. Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis, is term-limited in the heavily Democratic district, which could lead to a spirited primary. PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman told St. Louis Public Radio last week that he may run for the 82nd District seat next year — or the 4th District Senate seat in 2018.

The 82nd District seat isn’t the only state legislative race that will likely be competitive next year. State Reps. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, and House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, are also terming out of their south St. Louis-based seats.

At least three Democrats — Ben Murray, Peter Meridith and Robert Stelzer — have formed committees to raise money to run for Colona’s seat. Thus far, nobody has announced for Hummel's seat.

Stream emphasizes education, economy

In St. Louis County, Stream is among three Republicans angling to replace departing state Sen. Eric Schmitt. State Reps. Andrew Koeing, R-Winchester, and Mike Leara, R-St. Louis County, announced their bids for the 15th District Senate seat a few months ago.

More than 100 relatives and friends showed up for Stream’s kickoff, held in a VFW hall in his hometown.

Rick Stream during his 2014 bid for county executive
Credit Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

He was introduced by former state Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, who used to hold that 15th District seat and now is a prominent lobbyist. 

Gibbons lamented Stream’s loss for county executive last fall. But Stream was philosophical: “God closes one door, he opens up another one.”

Stream — a former member of the Missouri House — said in an interview that his campaign will focus on the need to improve public education, and strengthen the region’s economy. Those two issues also were key in his county-executive bid.

He also plans to highlight the importance of defusing the region’s racial tensions. Stream had been endorsed last fall by some African-American officials.

But Stream now appears to be on the same page of fellow Republicans when it comes to “right to work,’’ which would bar employers and unions from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay fees or dues.

The Missouri General Assembly will decide next week whether to override a “right to work’’ bill that legislators passed this spring, but which Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed.

Stream had said last summer that he didn’t believe it was an issue that should be pushed. But now, Stream says he’s convinced that “right to work’’ could allow the region and the state to attract more business. He also doesn’t believe the measure would hurt unions as much as their leaders say.

Stream said he avoided voting on the issue in 2014 because he knew it wouldn’t pass the General Assembly that session.

Stream’s shift this time makes some political sense. The 15th District is deemed a safe Republican seat, and both of his GOP rivals back “right to work” — an important issue for party activists and Republican donors.