Two women, a Republican and a Democrat, are challenging female incumbents of the opposite party in Missouri House races next month.
The contests are in the state’s third and fourth largest population centers – Springfield and Columbia – behind the large metro areas of St. Louis and Kansas City.
Springfield Keller Williams real estate agent Sarah Semple is taking on incumbent Democrat Crystal Quade for the 132nd District.
The inner-city seat is the only state legislative office held by a Democrat in southwest Missouri. It’s been safely Democratic for the past several election cycles, having been occupied for two previous terms before Quade’s election in 2016 by Charlie Norr.
Quade, a social worker by trade, is ideologically liberal and is a strong proponent of reproductive rights and Medicaid expansion. She also supports trade unions.
Sarah Semple, like many Republicans, favors less government and lower taxes. She believes individuals should take personal responsibility for taking care of themselves and should look to existing services in the local community for assistance.
“I feel like Representative Quade is more focused on what can the government do for you? How can we take taxpayer dollars to do that?” said Semple. “I volunteer with the Victory Gardens. I volunteer with the pregnancy care center. A lot of these different organizations that are here in the community. They’re available for people who need assistance, and I think a lot of times when folks are in trouble and they need help, that’s not where they look first. So, I think education would be the first thing. Maybe we look at highlighting some of those and so instead of focusing on a new government program that we can do, how do we share with folks out there that these things already exist, and here’s how you find them?”
The Democratic-leaning district includes the downtown area of Springfield and three colleges. In what could reflect the values of the constituency, Semple doesn’t conform to the Republican party line on all social issues.
“I’m not opposed to equal rights for everyone,” Semple said. “Right, I know that’s one of the big things we’ve got going on. How do we make that happen in the state? I am pretty socially open, especially in our district, we have a lot of people who are of maybe different backgrounds. They have different lifestyles, and they need to be treated with respect. Do they need to have the same opportunities to have a job, get housing, right? We need to not exclude those folks.”
Maren Bell Jones is a self-employed veterinarian who’s running against staunch conservative Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch for the 44th District Missouri House seat. Toalson Reisch, who is the former mayor and city clerk of mid-Missouri’s Hallsville, opposes Medicaid expansion and thinks the current arrangement of the federal low-income health care program in Missouri is too expansive, particularly its coverage of pregnant women up to 185% of the poverty level.
In sharp contrast, Bell Jones is running on a platform that includes Medicare for all. She contends, as a veterinarian, that it doesn’t make sense for a health care procedure that’s done on a dog to cost so much more for a person.
“How much goes to hospital administration and all that,” said Bell Jones. “When you look at actually when you’re doing the surgery itself, a lot of the actual equipment and the training is very similar. So, how can we save costs.”
Missouri has one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the country, offering coverage only to low income seniors, children and parents, disabled and blind people and pregnant women. Bell Jones says she learned a lot about voter issues when making house calls for her work.
“They were comfortable with me, and so they started bringing up things of concern for them,” Bell Jones said. “So, a lot of these were just kitchen table politics issues, especially in regards to things like health care.”
Toalson Reisch is seeking a second two-year term in the 44th district that includes a portion of Columbia, which tends to vote Democratic. She succeeded fellow Republican Caleb Rowden in the seat in 2016. Rowden is now a GOP State Senator.
The general election next month is now roughly five weeks away on November 6th.
(Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV provided an interview with Semple while Missourinet affiliate KSSZ provided an interview with Bell Jones)