Missouri candidate filing deadline comes amid uncertainty on congressional districts

Legislative filings show lack of competition, safe Republican majorities for coming terms

By: - March 28, 2022 6:55 am

Candidates wait to file for election on Feb. 22, 2022, at the James C Kirkpatrick State Information Center in Jefferson City (photo by Madeline Carter).

Taylor Burks, the former Boone County Clerk running in the Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District, said Friday he’s in the race to stay even if state lawmakers draw his residence out of the district.

Burks, like another of his six primary opponents, state Rep. Sara Walsh, lives in the southern part of the county that would become part of the 3rd District if the Missouri House accepts the plan for the state’s eight districts approved Thursday in the state Senate.

Burks blames Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden,who represents Boone in the upper chamber, for putting himself and Walsh outside the 4th District. Boone, seventh-most populous county in the state with 183,610 people, has never been split between districts.

Each district has 769,364 people.

Taylor Burks, director of the Division of Labor Standards. (Columbia Daily Tribune photo)

“Why the hell do we have the majority leader if we don’t have some kind of protection for our constituents?” Burks said.

The only residency requirement for Congress is to live in the state, not the district. And, Burks said, he has family that live in the northern part of the county that remains in the Senate’s version of the district, is a fifth-generation resident of the area and he feels secure remaining in the race.

While Burks isn’t changing his political plans, others are. Since new Senate district maps took effect March 14, two candidates for Missouri House have withdrawn to run for Senate seats and one candidate switched races. 

Filing for the Aug. 2 primary began on Feb. 22 with a rush of candidates. There was a mini-rush of sorts on Friday, with 22 filings. Candidate filing closes at 5 p.m. Tuesday for state and local partisan offices on the Aug. 2 primary ballot. There are statewide races for U.S. Senate and state auditor, and district races for Congress, state Senate, Missouri House and circuit judges who file in Jefferson City.

Congressional districts are the last piece of this year’s electoral puzzle.

Candidates may file in the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Constitution parties.

Burks noted that one of his primary opponents, state Sen. Rick Brattin, voted for the plan. Brattin lives in Cass County, and the Senate map picked up areas of Jackson County adjacent to his Senate district. Brattin is also a member of the conservative caucus that filibustered redistricting for weeks before the impasse broke Thursday.

It seems silly and not less than coincidental that two of Rick Brattin’s opponents are not in this district that he helped draw,” Burks said.

After Thursday’s vote, Rowden said the split was necessary to get a deal and “you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is in order to get something done.”

He did not play favorites in any district, Rowden said, and where any candidate or potential candidate lives did not play a role in his decision to support the Senate plan. 

Burks said part of Rowden’s re-election pitch in 2020 was that Boone County would get the plums that fall from the tree of influence.

“We worked hard for Caleb to get re-elected and part of it was, ’I am the majority leader, I am going to protect Boone County,’” Burks said. “It is not leadership to sacrifice your constituents for other members of your caucus.”

In response to Burks, Rowden said he did protect his constituents by increasing their representation in Congress.

“Unlike some, I have always prioritized my constituents over political ambition — mine or anyone else’s,” Rowden wrote in a text to The Independent. “With this new map, 1/4 of Missouri’s representation will be representing Boone County. In my experience, having more people fighting for you is never a bad thing.”

State Sen. Rick Brattin, directly behind podium, is joined by family and supporters including his wife, Athena Brattin, daughter Hannah, far right, and son Garrett, to announce his bid for the 4th Congressional District seat. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

Neither Brattin nor Walsh could be reached for comment. Walsh will get her chance to express her views on the Senate redistricting plan when it comes to the House floor Monday.

The 4th District seat is open because incumbent U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler is seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Roy Blunt. The winner will enter the fall campaign with a big partisan advantage in the district that gave almost 70 percent of its votes to then President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Only one Democrat, Jack Truman of Lamar in Barton County, has filed.

The 7th District in southwest Missouri is also drawing a large field for the GOP primary in a region that has been reliably Republican since the 19th century. Seven candidates have filled for the seat held by Rep. Billy Long since 2011. Long, like Hartzler, is running in the U.S. Senate primary.

The field of filed candidates will increase by one by Tuesday afternoon. State Sen. Mike Moon, who came in sixth in the 2010 primary won by Long, smiled when asked if he intends to be the last name on the ballot. 

That’s a good strategy,” he said. “It is interesting.”

Candidates who filed on the opening day entered a lottery for the coveted first spot. The last to file is listed last, a position seen by some as a small advantage.

I remember the last time the seat was open, there were eight on the ballot, looks like there is going to be eight on the ballot again,” Moon said. “The more the merrier. I probably have better name recognition than 12 years ago so that will be an advantage.”

Legislative races

Unless something dramatic happens in the final hours of filing, the GOP majorities in both the state Senate and Missouri House will be safe as soon as it ends. The filings so far also show how important primaries have become to determining representation when so many districts are dominated by one of the major parties.

Half of the Senate’s 34 seats are on the ballot every two years. This year, even-numbered districts will be elected. As of Friday afternoon, 11 of 14 Republican-held seats on the ballot have no Democratic candidate.

If nothing changes, they would join the 10 Republicans and seven Democrats who represent odd-numbered districts, giving Republicans an assured 21 seats.

Republicans currently hold 24 seats in the upper chamber.

Of the 14 GOP seats, five are open seats due to term limits and one because the incumbent, Sen. Eric Burlison of Springfield, is running for Congress. All six open seats have primaries but only two have drawn Democratic entrants. There are also GOP primaries in six of the eight districts held by incumbents, but only one has a Democratic candidate.

One of the six incumbents being challenged is Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield. He had not filed for re-election as of Friday but said he will before closing Tuesday. Hough drew an opponent, Angela Romine, on the first day of filing. Romine gave up a seat on the Springfield City Council to run.

“I was waiting to see what those maps looked like,” Hough said. Both districts formed out of Green County, the 20th and Hough’s, the 30th, are on the ballot this year. Hough represents the city of Springfield, which remains entirely within his district, he said.

No Democrat has filed but Hough said he expects one will. 

“I always assume we are going to have a primary election in August and a general election in November,” he said. “I have never operated under the auspices of I am going to get a free pass.”

In Missouri House races, there are 84 Republican-held districts with no Democratic opposition for November. That would be a majority in the 163-member House, where seats are on the ballot every two years.

In the 2020 elections, Republicans won 114 seats. All of the 49 Democratic districts in the 2020 election were in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas except four – two in Boone County and two in Greene County.

House Democratic Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield, who has won three of the four allowed terms, has not filed for re-election. She is leaning toward running for another term, she said, but is also considering a run for Hough’s seat.

“The individual who has filed was my city councilwoman and if Sen. Hough does not run again, I will definitely file,” Quade said. “There is absolutely no way I would let that go in that situation.”

Democrats have been mired in super minority status in the Missouri House – holding fewer than one-third of the seats – for 10 years.

As of Friday, the party had 34 seats where no Republican challenger had filed. That puts the partisan balance in the hands of voters in 45 districts.

Rep. Crystal Quade
Members of the House Democratic Caucus look on as Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, addresses the media on the final day of the legislative session on May 14, 2021. (photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications)

Quade said she expects more Republican districts to be challenged. The redistricting plan approved by the House Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission created many more competitive seats, she said.

Democrats will have to be selective, concentrating on the seats most likely to change parties, as the party looks to increase its presence in the House, Quade said.

“I want candidates to run in as many places as possible, but as far as investments, we are not going to do it in every 50-50 seat because there are just too many at this point,” she said.

There are 40 districts where Republicans will have a primary, with the winner in 24 unopposed by a Democrat in the fall. Of the 89 districts where only one Republican has filed, 60 are unopposed by a Democrat.

Democrats have 66 districts where there is only one candidate filed for the primary; in 27 of those, no Republican has filed for the fall election. Of the 13 districts with a Democratic primary, the winner so far would have no GOP opponent.

Only one, the 29th District that includes Independence in Jackson County, has a primary in both parties.

This story has been updated since it was initially published.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.