One of the more intriguing Missouri legislative contests in Tuesday’s election is the 8th District Senate race in suburban Kansas City.
Republican Mike Cierpiot of Lee’s Summit is defending the seat he won is a special election roughly a year ago.
The seat became vacant during the summer of 2017 after Republican Will Kraus resigned to fulfill an appointment by GOP Governor Eric Greitens to the Missouri Tax Commission. The position has been safely Republican for numerous terms. Kraus defeated a Libertarian challenger in 2010 by an 80%-to-20% and was unopposed in both the 2014 Republican primary and general election.
Tuesday’s contest is a replay of the November 2017 special election to fill the spot vacated by Kraus with one change. Jacob Turk, a Republican who ran as an Independent in the special contest, is now the Republican candidate for the 5th District Congressional seat in Tuesday’s election. He’ll be attempting to unseat incumbent Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a feat he’s failed to accomplish as the GOP’s nominee for three consecutive elections dating back to 2012.
In the 2017 special election, Some Republicans were concerned that Turk’s presence would spread the party’s vote too thin resulting in a Democratic win.
As it turns out, Republican Cierpiot won the contest with 50.3% of the vote over Democrat Hillary Shields who garnered 42.5%, and Independent Tusk who collected 7.1%.
Tuesday’s state Senate race is now between Cierpiot and Shields.
In the special election, Cierpiot was accused of running dog whistle ads aimed at white voters that referenced racial tension after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in St. Louis.
Democrats also criticized an ad run by the political action committee Missouri Alliance for Freedom which alleged that Shields never called for the resignation of a Democratic State Senator who wished in a Facebook post that President Trump would be assassinated.
Shields had said at the time that the assassination comment was inappropriate and that the lawmaker in question – Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, should resign.
Cierpiot was also the beneficiary of contributions from two well-known Missouri GOP donors; Joplin businessman David Humphreys who contributed $50,000, and retired St. Louis financial executive Rex Sinquefield who gave $10,000.
So far in the current election cycle, Cierpiot’s campaign had spent $268,000 and had $14,800 on hand as of last Monday, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
As of the same date, Shields had spent $139,000 and had almost $81,000 on hand.
Cierpiot did not respond to a request to comment for this story.
Shields told Missourinet she thinks outside money distorted the special election. “Because of dark money spending, we were outspent about 10-to-1,” said Shields. “Given that math is imbalanced in spending, I think we did really well. And this year I’m hoping that we’re going to close that gap and flip the district.”
When asked if she might benefit from a national trend in this year’s election of suburban women favoring Democrats, Shields declined to link herself to any large movement, opting to focus on local needs for seniors, education, roads and working families.
Shields said she’s definitely encouraged by the victory of Democrat Lauren Arthur in a special election earlier this year for the 17th District State Senate seat in suburban Kansas City. “I think that she did a great job talking about the issues that matter to her community,” said Shields. “I was really excited to see her win and flip that seat. And I think it shows that people are ready for a change.”
The 17th District seat became vacant in early 2018 when second-term incumbent Republican Ryan Silvey resigned to fulfill his appointment to the state Public Service Commission by former GOP Governor Eric Greitens. Silvey won the 2012 election by a 53%-to-47% margin over Democrat Sandra Reeve and dominated his 2016 reelection, 61%-to-39%, over Democrat J Ranen Bechthold.
Arthur, a Kansas City state Representative at that point, face off against Kansas City Republican state Representative Kevin Corlew in the 17th District special election and won handily, garnering 60% of the vote.
Shields said she wants to address cuts to senior medical subsidies, specifically prescription drugs and in-home nursing care as she tries to follow Arthur into the state Senate. “If we can help people stay as independent as possible, as long as possible, it’s going to save our state a lot of money when people don’t end up in nursing homes and emergency rooms,” said Shields.
The in-home nursing care program Shields wants to restore is part of the Medicaid health care system for the poor that is operated by the state but is heavily subsidized by the federal government. The nursing program was cut by $50 million, with $8 million later restored as a way to help offset a budget shortfall in 2017. The prescription drug program known as the MO Rx was cut during the same budget crunch. Cuts to it affected 60,000 seniors. Bills to restore the MO Rx funding failed to cross the finish line this year.
Shields is a 33-year-old paralegal. She co-founded the Kansas City chapter of the progressive grassroots group Indivisible. The national organization formed a reaction to the election of Donald Trump as President.
Cierpiot was was the Majority Floor Leader in the state House before being elected to the Senate.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Election Day