, , , , , ,

In 2012 GOP Rep. David Hinson ran unopposed for his 119th district seat in the Missouri House. just as he did in the general election for his first term in 2010. He’s since shown himself to be one of those Republicans who’s got the 21st century GOP looney tunes down chapter and verse. Name almost any one of the divisive, radical, right-wing issues that have come up in the Missouri House, tax cuts for rich folks, lame-brained, faux-constitutional gun legislation, stopping the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, or any of the reams of anti-women, anti-choice legislation to hit the lege, Hinson’s likely been a sure vote for it. This summer he’s been keeping busy stumping for Amendment 7, the regressive sales tax that he and his colleagues are pushing to pay for transportation infrastructure – after they deigned and delivered a hefty income tax-cut for businesses and wealthy Missourians. Send enough like Hinson to Jefferson City and Missouri will soon be in the same sad shape as Kansas.

Poor 119th you may be saying, and, by extension, poor Missouri. However, unlike in the past, folks in the 119th will have a real choice this year. An active cadre of local Democrats got together to try to identify and draft good, progressive candidates and managed to persuade one of their number, local activist Susan Cunningham, along with some other great progressives, to step up.

At this point I need to let you know that Cunningham, who is running for Hinson’s state rep seat, has in the past posted on the front page here at SMP – remember Sarah Jo? If you are worried about bias, though, let me remind you that we at SMP make no secret about our preference for progressive politicians and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I support Cunningham’s candidacy and am eager to share what I have learned about it during a recent phone conversation with her.

When asked why she’s running, Cunningham honed in on the damage being done by the brand of politics espoused by her opponent – although she was far more polite and considered than such a statement implies. She cited changes in the Republican Party to explain her personal journey from the politics of the old-time, pragmatic “business” Republicans she once embraced to her current home in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. She described her growing awareness of the economic and social wreckage that has resulted as the Republican party she once knew morphed into the radical entity that has been slowly evolving since the time of Ronald Reagan, a process which she characterized as “culminating in a dangerous flirtation with anarchy.”

According to Cunningham, the most important issue facing Missouri as well as the nation in general is that of growing economic inequality, an inequality that is fed by proponents of free-market rhetoric employed as a tool of corporate interests. However, she does not approach greater inequality and the corresponding decline of the middle class as an intellectual abstraction. She is disturbed by the deterioration she sees in the quality of life for real people in Missouri. It is the failure of rigid conservative ideology to deal with the actual problems that face the people of her district that motivates her candidacy. She points out that in her relatively poor, semi-rural district, 13-15% of the population lacks health insurance. Nevertheless, David Hinson has gone along with the relentless GOP efforts to derail the law in Missouri while offering no alternatives to help the uninsured. She also points to the outsize influence of ALEC in Missouri GOP politics as one of the obstacles to resolving the problems of growing inequality (see some of her past writing on ALEC here, here and here).

Cunningham points out that while the free-market theology espoused by so many current Missouri Republicans frequently serves corporate interests, it has actually had a negative effect on overall economic growth and prosperity. She returned to the example offered by the ideologically motivated opposition of almost all Missouri Republican lawmakers to the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which, she points out, would utilize federal funds to create jobs as an offshoot of offering healthcare to uninsured Missourians, jobs that the state will forfeit if the legislature persists in its obstinacy.

What Cunningham proposes to take the place of government by “corporate water carriers” is one which relies on “citizens having a fair shot at the kind of success that builds a strong economic foundation.” This, she claims, is what patriotism should be all about. She offers as an example that it is not patriotic to evade taxes. She cites the failure of tax-cuts to create prosperity in states such as Kansas and the need for revenue to restore Missouri’s diminishing quality of life. Real patriotism, she says, is exemplified by all citizens paying their fair share, to which end she proclaims that she is a “proud, patriotic, American taxpayer.”

Cunningham understands that the Missouri legislature is likely to remain in GOP hands. Consequently, should she take the 119th seat from Hinson, she would see one of her main tasks to be shedding a little light on what our government is actually doing. She noted that she would not be shy about calling press conferences when necessary. She believes that her background as an educator will permit her to effectively explain the consequences of bad policy and make it clear “why 99% of voters do their own families a disservice when they choose Republican candidates.”  

Even if Cunningham does not win in November, she believes her campaign will have justified itself by helping educate the citizens of her district about issues that have up to now been presented to them mostly from a one-sided, right-wing perspective. But she is, nevertheless, optimistic about her chances in what many view as a heavily red district. She points out that the Democratic performance index, or D.P.I., defined as the “percentage of the vote an average Dem can expect in an average election based on voting history,” is 43-47% for the 119th district. What these numbers imply is that the election could come down to issues of party turn-out, which means that Cunningham has lots of work to do.

Fortunately, Cunningham won’t have to do it alone. She reports that in a departure from elections in the recent past, the state Democratic party apparatus has offered guidance and continues to assist her – guess I wasn’t too wrong when I speculated earlier that Roy Temple might make a difference when it comes to rebuilding the Missouri Democratic party. But that’s not all. Cunningham’s also garnered a respectable set of significant endorsements:

–American Federation of Teachers

–Franklin County Democratic Club

–Franklin County Labor Club

–Molli’s List

–National Women’s Political Caucus

–Planned Parenthood

–Sierra Club

If you want to learn more about Susan Cunningham, take a look at her campaign homepage where you can find links to campaign information, her blog and campaign newsletters. Here is the link to her campaign Facebook page; it’ll give you a good idea about what Cunningham’s all about. If you’re so inclined after reading this post, you can go directly to her ActBlue page and leave a donation to make sure that everyone in the 119th district learns that they really have a chance to chose something other than the radical Republican candidate come November.