Battles For Two Area State Senate Seats Attract Cash, Controversy
The St. Louis area is home to Missouri’s arguably most competitive – and expensive – state Senate contests on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Both state parties, and their allies, have been pouring money into the battles for the 22nd District and 24th District seats. The 22nd District is in Jefferson County, while the 24th stretches across a large area of central and west St. Louis County.
The 24th District pits state Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, versus Republican attorney Jay Ashcroft.
It’s the type of state Senate race that’s become fairly common in recent years: A Democratic state representative with a lengthy voting record squares off against a Republican neophyte making an inaugural run for office.
In the 22nd District, the contest is a rematch of two longtime rivals: state Reps. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, and Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart.
Both seats are open because the incumbents are leaving office. In the 22nd, Democrat Ryan McKenna of Crystal City left early to take a post in Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration. In the 24th, Republican John Lamping of Frontenac is leaving after one term.
Both parties see opportunities for victory, although the results won’t dramatically affect the veto-proof majority that the Senate Republicans already enjoy.
Schupp has proven to be a formidable fundraiser, racking up more than $1 million for the race since she announced last year. She’s received help from the Missouri Democratic Party, as well as fundraising help from U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Attorney General Chris Koster and Gov. Jay Nixon.
But Ashcroft, too, has received a generous stream of money from his party’s campaign committees. He recently netted a $250,000 donation from the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee. The Missouri Club for Growth also has launched an independent $250,000 TV ad campaign attacking Schupp’s record in the Missouri House.
Meanwhile, many of the same heavy-hitters in both parties have assisted Roorda and Wieland. Both also have gotten a significant amount of financial help from their respective parties and party leaders.
The combined fundraising by Roorda and Wieland is close to $1.2 million, excluding their parties’ help.
On Friday, the GOP's state Senate arm gave $250,000 to Wieland.
After working in the advertising business and as a teacher, Schupp eventually ran for and won a seat on the Ladue School Board. She later served on the Creve Coeur City Council before winning a hard-fought state representative race in 2008.
Schupp spent her three terms in the Missouri House in the minority, and she often stood up to oppose some House Republican priorities – including efforts to cut taxes, relax gun regulations and restrict abortion rights. She said she’ll try to strike a balance in the Missouri Senate between working with her Republican counterparts and fighting against what she sees as bad ideas.
“Finding solutions to the problems we face and working with people across the aisle have always been the way that I’ve worked best,” Schupp said on a recent edition of the Politically Speaking podcast. “But we’ve also seen the past six years that I’ve been in the legislature, the extremists have set the agenda. And the things coming out of Jefferson City are very extreme pieces of legislation.
“Sometimes playing defense is the most important thing we can do and the best thing we can do,” she added.
Schupp also is a strong supporter of expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. And if she wins, the fact that she’ll be replacing a major opponent of that move – Lamping – could help get a plan across the finish line.
Ashcroft, who earned an engineering and law degree, is making his first run for political office. But he’s not a stranger to politics, as his father John Ashcroft ran for and won numerous statewide offices before becoming U.S. attorney general.
In previous interviews with St. Louis Public Radio, Ashcroft said he was prompted to run for the seat because he felt a calling to represent his friends and neighbors in the Missouri Senate. He promised to take a different mindset than other lawmakers in Jefferson City.
“I’m not looking to be a career politician,” Ashcroft said. “I really want to be someone that’s taking the voices of the district to Jefferson City, instead of being the voice in Jefferson City that’s dictating to the district. There’s 160,000 to 170,000 people in the district. It doesn’t matter how smart our legislators are in Jefferson City. The people of the district know more.”
In interviews, Ashcroft has tended to veer away from promising specific policy goals. But he has said, in line with other GOP candidates, that he wants to focus on removing regulatory hurdles for individuals and businesses.
“We need to be willing to take the general principle that the purpose of government is to protect individual liberty – the liberty of individuals to live their lives how they choose to as long as they’re not hurting someone else,” Ashcroft said.
“And with that in mind, find the best solution for that area or whatever the problem is: Be it education. Be it creating an environment that’s conducive for more jobs. Be it just creating better transparency so the people have a better idea what’s going on in Jefferson City.”
Wieland defeated Roorda in a 2010 contest for the Missouri House. But in 2012, thanks to redistricting, the two ran and won different House seats in Jefferson City.
The two have similar conservative voting records in the state House. Both also are pro-union and oppose right-to-work proposals to restrict union rights.
Each says he’s focusing primarily on economic issues. Each also accuses his rival of actually pressing other issues.
Roorda accuses Wieland of being “in lockstep with a radical agenda in Jefferson City.’’ Wieland says he’s more in tune with the district, portraying Roorda as not conservative enough, especially on social issues.
Both men have been in the news a lot lately, and for reasons not directly tied to their contest.
Wieland and his wife, who are staunch Catholics, say they don't want such coverage available for their three daughters. The family is insured under the state of Missouri's insurance covering state employees, and he is suing because there isn’t an opt-out provision for contraceptive coverage.
Roorda is a former police officer and currently business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association. Roorda also sits on the board of directors of Shield of Hope, the charitable arm of the Fraternal Order of Police. Shield of Hope is a 501C3 group, meaning that it is a nonprofit and must report its finances to the IRS.
Shield of Hope has raised money to assist Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. The shooting has triggered months of unrest and protests. Roorda emphasizes that he’s not taking a stand on whether Wilson acted appropriately or not. But he adds that Wilson deserves a fair investigation and an adequate defense.