Things to think about as you go to the polls
If you want to decide who would best serve your views in the U.S. House of Representatives or the Missouri General Assembly, don’t wait until November. For most voters in the St. Louis area, Tuesday’s elections will decide the winner.
August primary elections once determined the contenders for the final choice in November. It was how Democratic and Republican voters chose who would best represent their respective political teams. But as legislative districts have become less competitive, primaries are the de facto general election.
The redrawn 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts will both be settled Tuesday. The 1st is more safely Democratic than ever as the GOP-controlled legislature packed every Democrat it could identify into its boundaries including two sitting members, Congressmen Russ Carnahan and Lacy Clay. Both have almost identical voting records on the major issues so the contest is more about voter comfort levels than it is about policy substance.
The 2nd is not as safely Republican as it was before redistricting, but the uncertainty about whether Carnahan would oppose Clay in the 1st or run in an open seat contest in the 2nd froze the process, preventing any other viable Democrat from entering the race early. By the time Carnahan announced his intentions to stay in the city in February, it was too late for any other serious Democratic candidacy. Whichever Republican wins Tuesday will have similar policy positions although Ann Wagner’s prominence in national GOP circles would make it more likely that she would advance faster within House leadership roles.
Within the city of St. Louis, the 5th State Senate Democratic primary is still another reminder that race remains a significant factor in local politics. After the 2000 census, the city only had enough residents to control two state senate districts. The 2001 redistricting opted for two districts stretching from north to south, one east along the river and the other west along the St. Louis County boundary. The post-2010 map repeated this pattern. Instead of having a north St. Louis district, largely African American, and a south St. Louis seat, predominantly Caucasian, each district is closer to half black, half white.
That almost guarantees having scenarios like this year’s in the 5th. Once two candidates of one race enter (Robin Wright-Jones and Jamilah Nasheed), it is an invitation for one candidate of the other race (Jeannette Mott Oxford) to file. It becomes identity politics versus issue politics — with identity receiving the most attention since all three are among the most liberal members of the General Assembly.
For statewide primaries for offices other than governor, the August elections remain politics’ version of minor league baseball — a place you first play in an effort to reach the major leagues. Those with political fire in their bellies look ahead and, for many, the next prize is being elected governor in 2016.
Assuming Jay Nixon is re-elected in November, it will be his second of the two terms permitted by Missouri’s constitution. That is the biggest reason the lieutenant governor primaries in both parties are drawing so much competition. The office itself has very limited power institutionally and, as has often been the case, is largely invisible when the governor belongs to the other party.
The Republican lieutenant governor primary features the old guard (Peter Kinder) versus the next generation (Brad Lager). Kinder has held the office since 2005. At the request of the GOP establishment, he stepped aside in 2008 in favor of Kenny Hulshof. This cycle a combination of unfavorable media coverage and Nixon’s strength made seeking re-election more prudent than running for governor. If he wins, he would be GOP heir apparent in 2016. An impatient and younger Lager, now a state senator, is not willing to bide his time until 2020 or 2024.
If they are re-elected in November, the two frontrunners for the 2016 Democratic nomination are Attorney General Chris Koster and State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, both initially elected in 2008. The Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, if successful in November, would make this duo a trio, especially if one of the four women (Judy Baker, Sara Lampe, Jackie Townes McGee, Susan Montee) gets the nod.
The final thread running through the primary narrative is term limits. Many of the state-level candidates such as Lager, Lampe, Nasheed and Oxford have either hit or are near their legislative maximum. The result is a never-ending pool of politicians looking for the next place to land.
To see a voters guide and the election coverage of the St. Louis Beacon, St. Louis Public Radio and the Nine Network of Public Media, go to beyondnovember.org/
Terry Jones is professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of "Fragmented by Design: Why St. Louis Has So Many Governments."