As the nation remained subdued with impeachment chatter from Washington, D.C., an interesting race officially developed in Missouri’s 33rd Senate District, which includes Webster County.
Thursday morning, we received a news release from Karla Eslinger, currently a state representative for District 155, who resides in Ozark County. A Republican, she’s entering the race for the 33rd, a seat currently held by Webster County’s own Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, who completes his second four-year term of office next year.
Eslinger’s appearance in the upcoming 2020 race brings, by our count, the candidate total to three for Cunningham’s seat. First to announce his filing was Van Kelly, R-Norwood, a former state representative for Douglas and Wright counties. Next to join the field was Robert Ross, R-Yukon, a current state representative from Texas County.
The race looks eerily familiar to the one in 2012, when Cunningham was joined in the field by a pair of state representatives from Howell and Texas counties, respectively, Don Wells and Ward Franz.
In a highly competitive Republican primary election that summer, Cunningham emerged the winner after securing a majority of the vote in all but two of the district’s eight counties.
Here in Webster County, we’ve been spoiled when in comes to representation in the Missouri Senate over the past two decades.
For eight years, we had Dan Clemens, who was from Webster County. For four years, our representative was Jay Wasson, whose staff leader was Cunningham.
After redistricting, Cunningham has held the post ever since.
As a result, Webster County has had simply stellar representation in the state senate. That’s been evident in southern Webster County and Seymour, which has benefitted from legislation authored by the two “Cs” — Clemens and Cunningham. As our county consistently has been among the state’s 10 fastest-growing counties over the past two decades, our county’s representation in the Missouri Senate also has been on the rise, with our voice heard as state government distributes its annual billions.
Looking ahead, it’s a blessing that three experienced public servants has stepped up, seeking to fill Cunningham’s shoes when term limits force his retirement at this time next year.
Eslinger, Kelly and Ross all have seen the seedy nature of the scene in Jefferson City from their previous service in the state legislature. All have waded through the swamp of lobbyists and special interests, navigating those waters in the best interests of their constituents.
None are lawyers. That’s a good thing.
Eslinger is a former school superintendent. Her track record as the leader of nearby school districts in Ava and West Plains is stellar. Raised in Theodosia and now a resident of Wasola in rural Douglas County, she and her husband also own a small business.
Kelly’s service in the Missouri House of Representatives ended nearly a decade ago. In the interim, he’s wore several hats, so to speak, including his service running Camp Joy, a summer Christian camp for children. His father, Garnett, was a longtime state representative from Douglas County. His family’s legacy is a constant stream of successful businesses of all sizes.
By trade, Ross is a surveyor. A native of Summersville on the border of Shannon and Texas counties, he’s also a successful owner of a small business that specializes in shooting. In the Missouri House of Representatives, he’s served as chairman of several committees and sponsored lots of legislation since fi rst being elected in 2012.
The two largest counties in the 33rd District are Howell and Webster.
Unlike eight years ago, technically neither county has a candidate.
Eslinger will fare well in Howell County, where she served county seat West Plains as its school superintendent. We’ll expect her to also do well in Douglas and Ozark counties.
Ross should do the same in Texas and Shannon counties, which is his stomping ground. Kelly, recently removed from the election cycle, likely will be strongest in Wright County. He also should grab votes in Douglas and Texas counties.
Counties up for grabs include Oregon, Ripley and, yes, our own Webster. Considering the population of Webster County is more than the combined total of the two aforementioned counties, the winner of Webster likely wins the race, should one candidate fare especially strong here.
To that end, all three candidates would be well advised by their handlers to invest time here in Webster County, where the vote is pretty much evenly split north and south of the James River.
There are two key corridors along two four-lane highways. The first is along Interstate 44 and based in Marshfield. The second is along U.S. 60 and includes the communities of Diggins, Fordland, Rogersville and Seymour.
Pay attention, Webster Countians, to the time spent here by all three. Converse when they come; listen to what they say. One of the three will be your new state senator, a new face in a powerful body of only 34 members.
It will be interesting to see if Cunningham supports one of the three. If so, that will give one a key edge to Webster County’s vote, a county with nearly 22,000 registered voters.