It is possible to speak of West St. Louis County in the way cartographers used to designate unknown areas on early maps, with the caption “Here there be dragons.”  Only there really are dragons in West County, and chief among them is the Republican candidate for the State Senate in the 7th District, Representative Jane Cunningham. Given Cunningham’s record, it is safe to say that her Democratic opponent, Kevin Leeseberg, like all would-be dragonslayers, has his work cut out for him.

Cunningham is notable for efforts to undermine public education, and promote the culture war agenda of the right, weaken the court system, eliminate campaign finance limits, and, via her “Intellectual Diversity” Bill (HB 213), to chill academic freedom of expression.  This is only a sample of what this busy legislator has been up to during her tenure in the Missouri House–no one can deny that no matter how misguided she is, she is also energetic, dedicated and, unfortunately, occasionally effective.  

Leeseberg, who grew up in Independence, Kansas, and was, until about ten years ago, a Republican, may be the perfect foil to Cunningham’s ideologically driven conservatism.  He is enthusiastic, articulate and down-to earth, with an ability to cast issues in ways that ought to appeal to thinking conservatives and independents as well as Democrats.  For Leeseberg, “smart” seems to be the operative word.

A good example is the way that Leeseberg talks about fiscal responsibility.  He takes the Republican mantra of “tax and spend Democrats,” and stands it on its head, pointing out that taxing and spending is just another way of talking about balancing a budget.  Instead responding defensively, he is instead interested in determining how both taxing and spending can be done in a smarter way.  He offers the example of past state support for Alzheimer’s research that brought in ten dollars of out-of-state money for every dollar the state spent.

Another area that Leeseberg believes we need to be smarter about is that of tax incentives to encourage new business. He is emphatic that incentives should not mean “free money.” He suggests that the amount of the incentive might be tied directly to the number of new jobs, exclusive of executive positions, that the business brings to the region.  Incentives could also be contingent upon environmental enhancements that new business might partner with the community to provide.  

Still yet another example of Leeseberg’s emphasis on being smart can be found in his views on health care.  He condemns the Republican legislature’s Medicaid cuts that not only threw large numbers out into the uninsured cold, but which actually cost the state many of those good federal dollars in matching funds.  One of his pet ideas is tax incentives to subsidize Long Term Health Care Insurance which provides in-home care and asset protection for the elderly. Additionally, he wants to expand the  Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) model.  He contends that encouraging in-home care would not only improve quality of life, but is less costly than institutional care, and would consequently be financially smart for the State and its taxpayers as well.

Overall, Leeseberg offers a flexible, common-sense approach that sees government as an effective mechanism to promote the common good, offering a strong contrast to the efforts of his opponent to use government to impose a specific, narrow ideology.  You can find fairly full details of his views on numerous issues on his Web page–if you live in the 7th Senate district, I encourage you to take a look when you begin to evaluate your voting options.

So far so good, you say, but how will this modern, very smart Saint Kevin manage to slay our backward dragon–especially since the dragon is holed up in reliably Republican territory and wields lots of name recognition as well as, presumably, lots of organizational mojo.  His answer lies in a two-pronged strategy.  

Leeseberg contends that Cunningham’s support may not be as strong as many assume. The extreme nature of her social views are well-known, and many moderate Republicans in the district are somewhat embarrassed by them and might respond to Leeseberg’s pragmatic approach.  His campaign carefully analyzed voting patterns during past elections and targeted specific precincts for canvassing activities during August and September. His goal was to secure support from 3000 heretofore “leaning” Republican voters.  When I asked him about the success of this gambit, he just shrugged, indicating that, of course, nobody will really know until November.  

The second part of Leeseberg’s strategy is to “go public” in October with yard signs, phone calls and themed emails (check his Web page to subscribe to get emails) in order to raise his profile just before the election and get the most bang for the buck.  The success of this strategy depends at least partly on fundraising–if you are inclined to offer assistance you can contribute money or volunteer on Leeseberg’s Web page, or, alternatively, you can make financial contributions via his ActBlue page