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by Rory Riddler

A Tale Of Two Cities

Every year thousands of Missouri school children travel to Missouri’s State Capitol on field trips.  One of the highlights is to meet their State Representative and have a photo taken to remember the visit.  Representatives are keen to spend time with these future voters, so eager to learn just what goes on in Jefferson City, beneath that imposing dome of Missouri’s State Capitol.

But children from the 18th State Representative District (comprised mostly of the older portions St. Charles North of Interstate 70) can stay home.  You see we don’t have a State Representative.  There is no one there to show these young people around, let alone represent the over 27,000 people who live in the 18th District.

So a small desk and chair, on the floor of the Missouri General Assembly, sits empty.  No green or red light goes up on the electronic voting board to indicate how our representative voted.  We don’t have a vote.  Laws are being passed, vital issues debated and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, without the voters and taxpayers of this portion of St. Charles having one word to say about it.

The fact is that two seats became vacant in St. Charles County last year.  But only ours remains unfilled.

One seat opened up in the City of St. Peters when State Representative Carl Beardan resigned to pursue other interests.  At the same time, a vacancy was created in the City of St. Charles when former State Representative Tom Dempsey was elected to the State Senate.

When such vacancies occur, it is the responsibility of Missouri’s Governor to call a Special Election to fill the unexpired term.  That is exactly what happened in the City of St. Peters.  The Governor called a Special Election, the Democratic and Republican District Committees selected their respective candidates and an election was held the first Tuesday of [February].

The voters of that district elected a new State Representative who was promptly sworn into office.  But no notice came from the Governor’s Office about the 18th District.  No explanation was ever forthcoming as to just WHY we weren’t entitled to the same treatment as the voters and taxpayers of St. Peters.

It wasn’t as if we weren’t going to the polls that day anyway.  The Special Election in St. Peters was held on Super Tuesday, the Presidential Primary in Missouri.  A record 40% of voters turned out on a cold day to make their voice heard.  It would have cost the State of Missouri next to nothing to have held a Special Election in the 18th District to fill Tom Dempsey’s vacant seat.

Yet money is the only half-way excuse anyone ever offered.  The Republican Party Chairman in St. Charles County was quoted in an area newspaper as saying that if the Democrats were complaining about the cost of running these special elections then maybe the seats would just sit empty till the next regular election.  But, of course, that isn’t what happened in St. Peters or elsewhere around the State.  To his credit, behind the scenes, I heard that he had urged the Governor’s Office to do the right thing and call the election, knowing the Republican Party would be blamed for seemingly punishing the voters of St. Charles.

But what exactly did we do to deserve punishment?  In every really good mystery there is a motive that is revealed in time.  Now seems to be as good a time as any.

What great sin did we commit to be stripped of our representation?  It seems the Missouri Republican Party didn’t trust us to elect another Republican State Representative.

Demographically the 18th District is becoming slightly more Democratic in its voting patterns.  It has been that way for a while.  It explains why former Representative (now State Senator) Tom Dempsey had to outspend challenger Joe Koester four to one to hold on to his seat in November 2006, just to get 54% of the vote.

The Republican Party has been able to hold on to this vital swing seat with old familiar family names and big money for the last few elections.  But they didn’t have a similar candidate waiting in the wings this time and they knew the Democratic Party had two good candidates to choose from with lots of name identification.

So knowing they might lose the 18th District, the Republican Governor was “advised” to leave the seat vacant.  I use the word advised, because I can’t fathom that a Governor from Southwest Missouri, would know anything about the lay of the political landscape here, and make the critical decision to deny us representation without depending on some expert local advice.

Which begs the question, why didn’t our newly elected State Senator Tom Dempsey insist that the Governor call an election to fill this vacancy?

I will leave it to your own imaginations.

So there you have our tale of two cities.  St. Peters voters have a brand new State Representative and St. Charles voters can have their school age children take a picture standing next to an empty desk on their next field trip to Jefferson City.  At least they will learn something about how government truly functions in a State where politicians put partisan interests ahead of the public interest.