Candidate Review: MO State Senate Republican 2012 Race, District 31

Last Thursday, the Cass County Young Republicans had a candidate forum for three who were running for Missouri’s new 31st Senatorial District: Scott Largent, Ed Emery, and David Morris. The candidates had an opportunity to introduce themselves and give a short biographic review. Thereafter the moderator asked the candidates questions on three subjects: Education, Jobs, and how to work with a democrat Governor.  The audience was also able to submit questions in writing to the candidates.

I’m not going into the details of each candidate’s responses.  In most of the cases, they professed similar views at a high level.  The differences appeared when discussing details.  The one area that did not have consensus was the subject of vouchers for education.  Ed Emery and David Morris thought vouchers could be beneficial.  Scott Largent disagreed.

Emery and Morris were of the opinion that vouchers gave parents more freedom in choosing schools…that vouchers would force schools and districts to be competitive and thereby improved the overall quality.  Scott Largent disagreed. He thought that vouchers could force educational conformity upon all who accepted vouchers and not for the better—more so if private and church affiliated schools were forced to accept vouchers.  Largent’s argument could be summed up as, “He who pays the gold makes the rules.”  The rules could be incompatible to the views of the private or church affiliated school.  For an example we only have to look at the recent HHS requirement that would force Catholic institutions to support contraception, abortions and other requirements incompatible with the Church. HHS is proposing to apply rules that would be contrary to the Catholic Church’s, core beliefs and canons. At last count, forty-three Catholic institutions have filed suit against HHS to block this political edict.  If the feds believe they can force such views on the Church in violation of the 1st Amendment, why should we believe they would allow private and/or religious educators to not comply with state curriculum and guidelines?  It’s a valid point.

Personally, I like vouchers but only if there are no strings attached with the funds.  It could be possible if the law was properly written.  But if it isn’t…  Well, let’s say that Largent’s argument has set me rethinking my position.

PROs:  All three believe that unions and disconnected policies have greatly impeded education. They all agree that reform is necessary. They don’t agree as to the methods. 

On jobs, all agree that passing Right-to-Work would draw industry to the state. Ed Emery stated that in a survey of CEOs on business friendly states, MO was in the middle, ranked as 24th.  He noted that the top 20 ranked states all had Right-to-Work legislation.  All three agree that state regulations must be streamlined and some eliminated. None provided any specifics.

The question of working with the Governor had a different response. Scott Largent was the only one to point out that the Legislature really didn’t have any way to force the Governor to do what they wanted.  The Legislature could override the Governor’s veto but he controlled the funds.  Funding for a specific program could be provided but the Governor was not obligated to spend the funds.The Governor could not be coerced into enforcing a bill that he did not support. The only real solution was to have a ‘Pub Governor and a ‘Pub controlled Legislature.

CONs:  Here is where I’m going to get into trouble with someone…most likely with a number of folks. I hope everyone will take my comments as constructive.

All three candidates professed conservative values. I have no reason to doubt any of those professions. I’m sure if any of the three win election next Fall, they would do their best to follow their convictions. Let’s examine each candidate. As I understand it, the ballot order is Scott Largent, Ed Emery and finally David Morris so let’s take Scott Largent first.

Scott Largent is knowledgeable. He had specific answers to the questions. He’s a serving state Representative and much of the new Senatorial district covers much of Scott’s current district. He has the advantage of the incumbent. His conservative credentials are quite good and he has an established track record in Jeff City.  He also has the support of the ‘Pub establishment.

I have a thing about the establishment. I don’t trust them. I’ve a number of friends who would count themselves as part of the establishment. I listen to their arguments. I don’t necessarily agree.  There’s still too much of an Old Boy’s club about the state’s ‘Pub committees.  The down side of this is that when a grassroots movement appears, like the Tea Party or the Ron Paul supporters, the establishment circles their wagons. It becomes an Us vs. Them. That position is a great impediment to the growth of the Party.

Be that as it may, Scott Largent is seen as a member of the ‘Pub establishment. If he is to be successful, he must reach out to those Tea Partiers and Paul supporters.

Ed Emery is a former Missouri state representative. He was term-limited in 2010. Professionally he is an petroleum engineer. He, like Scott Largent, has experience as a legislator in Jeff City.

Of the three candidates, Emery was the most polished speaker. From his comments at the forum and at other public sessions, I would judge his views as more Libertarian than run-of-the-mill ‘Pub. He is a strong small government advocate. He is also more outspoken on controversial issues that the others—his comments concerning “gay” marriage for example.  Those views have a strong draw among many. I like his comments about personal liberty and small government.

However, and there is always a however, I was disappointed in his performance last Thursday. In his responses to the questions, he never once gave a direct answer. To every question, he responded with a general statement supporting personal liberty, individual responsibility and the need for smaller government. But no specific answers to the question.  He was the only one, when asked to give a short bio, did not.  He did come back to that later during the questioning but not at the appropriate time.  During the give-and-take session during the questioning there was an implication that Emery may not be as capable of building consensus among fellow ‘Pubs as would another candidate…like Scott Largent.

David Morris was the third candidate and a local one from Cass County.  He has a passion that was apparent when he spoke. But, when compared against the other two, he was simply outclassed.  Largent and Emery are politicians. They have the look and mannerisms of a politician. While that is not necessarily a positive impression, they do project an aura of experience and knowledge of the various subject matters under discussion—real or not.

The PROs and CONs for David Morris is that he is no politician.  I have no doubt of his strong conservative views. But…if he wants to enter the political arena he needs some experience other than being involved in the local Fire Protection District. Let David run for a county office, gain some experience before diving into state politics.  Jumping directly into a state sentorial race, however, is too much, too quickly. He needs some seasoning and more experience.

If you win the primary David, I’ll vote for you but I think your chances are slim.

Suggestions:  Scott, you need to practice more on extemporaneous speaking. Ed wiped the floor with you.  You knew your subject matter, you responded directly to the question and you appeared to quick on your feet. But you paused, noticeably, before you spoke. Add some polish. Practice speaking and make your responses smoother without the noticeable hesitations. Record yourself and then listen to the playback. You’ll be amazed what you are…and are not saying.

Ed, you have the vocal polish Scott lacks.  However, you need, when asked, to speak to the question, directly and without equivocation. Talk about specifics, not generalities.  Win the primary first, win your own party. Generalities are for the fall election when you have to pull in the independents and disillusioned democrats. That’s when you can be persuasive with your overall views. For now, you’re preaching to the choir and as a rule, us ‘Pubs and conservatives are more knowledgeable that the rest. Speak to us. Convince us that you’re a better choice than Scott or David.

David, I’ve dinged you pretty hard here. Try to understand that I want you to succeed but you have to do better.  First, when you come to a forum of the party faithful to debate your opponents, dress like it.  A candidate forum is a serious event. You are appearing before the party and the public. Appearing in shorts and sandals may be fine for a BBQ or outing at a neighbor but not for a scheduled political event—unless that is your point. If appearing as a non-politician, say so and make comparisons that you’re one of the “guys” not one of the establishment.

In addition, sit down and enumerate your positions on the various issues that you expect to come up in legislature. Write them down. Memorize them. Saying, “me, too” or, “yeah, what he said,” won’t cut it. You need to distinguish yourself from the others.  Why should folks vote for you instead of your opponent(s). Plan in advance what your response will be to a subject. It wasn’t too hard to expect questions about education and jobs. In these times, those questions are a given. Scott was prepared. He had specific answers to the questions.

For example, if someone asked for your views on making I-70 a toll-road, what would you say? You need to have that answer on the tip of your tongue, memorized and the issues understood for an immediate response. Compared to the others, you have no track record. You need to overcome that lack. If you have some successes, state them and how those successes can be applied as a Senator. Although you’re practically a neighbor compared to Scott and Ed, I know little about you. I came away from the forum knowing little more than I did before.

I have no public political experience.  I do have thirty years of observance of political maneuvering in large corporate businesses as an engineer, manager, and executive level project manager. Successful politics is all about perspectives—what you project, what you perceive and how you are perceived. I hope my observances of last Thursday and my review will help one of our candidates win in August and in November.

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