Two current southern Missouri state lawmakers and a former lawmaker are seeking the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s primary, hoping to replace term-limited State Sen. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville.
State Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, State Rep. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, and former State Rep. Van Kelly, R-Norwood, are the three GOP candidates. Ross and Eslinger both spoke to Missourinet about Tuesday’s primary. Missourinet made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Kelly.
The 33rd senatorial district has eight counties: Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Texas, Webster and Wright. Towns and cities in the district include Ava, Doniphan, Houston, Mansfield, Rogersville and West Plains.
The district is traditionally Republican. The winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary will face Grandin Democrat Tammy Harty in November.
State Rep. Robert Ross is finishing his eighth and final year in the Missouri House, due to term limits. He was first elected in 2012. He chairs the House Special Committee on Government Oversight and the House Professional Registration and Licensing Committee.
Ross says southern Missouri’s values are important.
“My top priority will be making sure that my constituents in southern Missouri, that their voice is heard, and to stop this onslaught on our way of life,” Ross says.
He says there has been an onslaught on conservative values, and says he’s focused on fighting for southern Missourians.
Ross, who also serves on the House Budget Committee, has been critical of the U.S. Forest Service, for their decision to close the Mark Twain National Forest to feral hog hunting. Ross has said that his Texas County constituents support eradicating feral hogs by hunting, and that residents should be allowed to hunt for feral hogs on public land.
Ross’ oversight committee also held several public hearings this year on Missouri’s medical marijuana program, a program that has been controversial.
Karla Eslinger was elected to the Missouri House in 2018, and is finishing her first term in Jefferson City. Representative Eslinger’s top priority is economic development. Her hometown of Wasola is located in Ozark County, which has a high poverty rate.
“I know that looking across these eight counties (in the district), five of those counties are in the top ten poorest counties of the state. So we have to focus on economic development,” Eslinger says.
Eslinger was raised by a single mother, who had three children. She says she learned the value of hard work from her mother. Eslinger has been a teacher, principal and school superintendent.
She’s also focused on workforce issues, rural broadband and infrastructure, including roads and bridges. Eslinger notes many of the roads in Ozark County are gravel roads.
As for former Rep. Van Kelly, he served in the Missouri House from 2001-2008. He was forced out by term limits. Kelly opposed tax increases that were proposed by then-Governor Bob Holden (D).
The GOP primary’s tone has received some media attention. Eslinger tells Missourinet that Ross’ campaign has been negative.
“I can tell you that I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that he has run a campaign that has been so negative. You’ll notice that I don’t do that,” says Eslinger.
Eslinger is unhappy with a mailer featuring Eslinger and Kelly with an x-ray over their bodies. The mailer was profiled in a July story by Missourinet Springfield television partner KOLR-10.
Representative Ross tells Missourinet that the mailer was sent by a political action committee (PAC).
“It is absolutely illegal for a candidate to direct, coordinate, control or approve anything that a PAC does. And so, I found out about this mailer when it hit our mailbox,” says Ross.
Ross says he wouldn’t have approved the mailer, because of the skeletons. But he also says that Eslinger and Kelly don’t want to talk about the issues raised in the mailer, and says the “feigned outrage is ridiculous.”
Ross and Eslinger both describe themselves as constitutional conservatives, with Ross saying that “in this race, I am the unapologetic constitutional conservative.” Eslinger says south-central Missouri needs a strong constitutional conservative, to protect freedoms.
Ross and Eslinger are both anti-abortion, and support gun rights.
Mike Cunningham was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016. He chairs the Senate Fiscal Oversight Committee.
Senator Cunningham has endorsed Eslinger in the primary, saying “she will be a great senator.” Cunningham praises Eslinger’s work ethic and life experiences, telling Missourinet that she had been homeless at one time.
Cunningham leaves the Senate in December.
Ross notes that he has been endorsed exclusively by Missouri Right to Life, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, the Missouri Hunting and Working Dog Alliance and Americans for Prosperity. He’s also supported by the Missouri State Trooper’s Association.
Former State Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, is treasurer of Ross’ campaign. Purgason served in the Senate in that district from 2005-2012.
Polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Click here to listen to Brian Hauswirth’s full interview with State Rep. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, which was recorded on July 31, 2020:
Click here to listen to Brian Hauswirth’s full interview with State Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, which was recorded on August 2, 2020:
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