Reporting from Jacob McCleland of KRCU.
The Republicans who hope to replace Jo Ann Emerson in the U.S. House of Representatives stressed their conservative credentials while trying to differentiate themselves in a crowded field at a voter forum in Cape Girardeau Thursday night.
Before taking the stage, the twelve candidates worked the room, grinning from ear-to-ear, shaking hands and making small talk. About 300 people filled the Concourse building, but the candidates honed in on those wearing red, white and blue ribbons. Those ribbons indicated membership to the 8th Congressional Committee, according to Southeast Missouri Pachyderm Club president Lori Trump.
“The committee members are the members who will be making the votes and the selection of the Republican candidate for the ballot when the election occurs to replace Jo Ann Emerson,” Trump said.
The Republican candidates who participated Thursday night were:
- State Senator Dan Brown
- Former State Senator Jason Crowell
- Bob Parker
- Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder
- Attorney John Terrell
- Former Missouri GOP Executive Director Lloyd Smith
- Former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman
- Former Congressman and Missouri Treasurer Wendell Bailey
- Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith
- Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy
- State Representative Todd Richardson
- State Senator Wayne Wallingford
(Former State Representative Scott Lipke was unable to attend the forum.)
The moderator asked each candidate six questions, and answers were nearly identical on most issues, like natural disaster funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I will not support emergency hurricane relief that is more laden with pork. Have you guys seen this new Sandy relief bill?” Crowell said.
The House passed the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill this week, and most echoed Crowell’s sentiment against what they view as pork-infused disaster legislation. They also agreed on never compromising conservative principles, that federal regulations strangle economic growth and many would like to see food stamp funding separated from the Farm Bill.
But the candidates did differ in some respects. Bob Parker wondered if there should be any Farm Bill at all.
They had some different takes on economic development. Sarah Steelman recommended a moratorium on new federal regulations. Lloyd Smith and Peter Kinder both emphasized modern infrastructure. Senator Dan Brown wants to see so-called agri-enterprise zones.
Wendell Bailey said he would only fill out the remainder of Emerson’s term and not seek re-election.
“Now there are some people that believe that the duty is to pick somebody for the next ten or fifteen years. That’s not the committee’s job. That’s the people of the 8th Congressional District,” Bailey said.
Mary Ann Pankhurst and her husband of 50 years, Carl, both wore those red, white, and blue ribbons. As members of the Washington County Republican committee, they’ve received over a dozen resumes in the mail, and had candidates visit their living room.
“I like the credentials of a lot of them, some more than others. I’ve just got to sit down and think about it now,” Mary Ann Pankhurst said.
“It’s a very serious thing to both of us. More than I ever thought it would be, actually. It’s very difficult. Because when you go to vote, you know a little bit. You go in and throw a lever and that’s it. This is infinitely more difficult,” Carl Pankhurst said.
Jefferson County committee member David Courtway has narrowed his list to a few names and says he is looking for leadership.
“We’re just swinging back and forth, no dialogue. We need some leadership to try to bring some good ideas together and get some progress down. Move this country forward,” Courtway said.
Democrats are going through a similar process, but this is a staunchly Republican district, so whoever the GOP committee picks will be heavily favored to win the election.
Once Emerson’s resignation is official, committee members will choose their nominee and Governor Jay Nixon will set a special election.
Follow Jacob McCleland on Twitter: @jacobmccleland