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First-time officeholders vie for open House seat

Voters on Tuesday will choose between Republican Sara Walsh (left) and Democrat Michela Skelton for Missouri's 50th House district. (KRCG 13)

Voters in southern Boone and northern Moniteau counties next week will give one of two candidates their first elective office.

Republican Sara Walsh and Democrat Michela Skelton are running for Missouri's 50th House District, currently an open seat. It's the only state legislative election in mid-Missouri next week. Although neither of them has ever held elective office, both women have experience working with state lawmakers. Walsh's resume includes stints as a legislative assistant and as a staff auditor in the state auditor's office. Skelton, a distant cousin of the late Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, is a former employee of the Missouri Senate's nonpartisan research office.

House District 50 encompasses the southern half of Boone County, including southeast Columbia, and the northern half of Moniteau County, including California. Eastern Cooper County and the northern tip of Cole County fall under the district's lines as well. California Republican Caleb Jones has represented this district since it was created in 2012 following redistricting. He was scheduled to be term-limited next year but resigned in January to become Gov. Eric Greitens' deputy chief of staff. Jones faced no opposition in the 2012, 2014 or 2016 elections.

Walsh said jobs are foremost on voters' minds when she talks to them. She said many voters ask her about onerous government regulations.

"You've got people trying to do, kind of home business, or babysitting, or different things to try to bring in income for their families," she said. "So I want to work to get burdensome regulations out of the way of our job-creators, get people together so we can collaborate on real solutions for real jobs."

Skelton said state lawmakers need to focus less on helping corporations and more on helping workers.

"We keep talking about a business-friendly environment, but what about a worker-friendly environment?" she said. "What about an environment where the workers in our communities can actually work just 40 hours a week and be able to put dinner on the table and keep a roof over their heads, and send their kids to good schools, and really be able to support themselves?"

Both candidates said the University of Missouri is a major economic driver and research center in addition to its primary educational mission. MU has recently announced 400 layoffs due to a combination of budget cuts and a drop in enrollment. Walsh said it's important to bring all parties to the table to come up with lasting solutions. Skelton said the funding problems ultimately stem from tax cuts that led to lower overall revenue.

For the past two years, the Missouri House has approved a ban on gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists representing special interests. The legislation has died in the Senate each time. Skelton said she strongly backs a lobbyist gift ban and she supports an initiative petition aimed at curbing the practice. Walsh said the issue depends on how valuable the gift in question is, but she would not want to accept a gift of significant value.

The winner of the August special election will serve out the remaining year in Jones' term. A Missouri House spokesman said depending on when the winner is sworn in, they will be eligible for either three or four terms of their own beginning with the 2018 election.



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