Former Missouri rep seeks seat in Maryland

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bill Burlison's business cards boast of his former life as a congressman. Next year, he hopes, that life will resume.

Burlison, who from 1969 to 1981 represented Cape Girardeau and 18 other counties in the U.S. House of Representatives, is entering a Maryland primary for the district covering his adopted home near Annapolis.

The 1980 election that swept Ronald Reagan into the presidency also put Bill Emerson in Burlison's chair. Despite representing a district that at the time was traditionally Democratic, Burlison lost by more than 21,000 votes.

"The main factor in my defeat was the Reagan landslide," Burlison said Tuesday. "I wanted to win, of course."

The race between Emerson and Burlison featured allegations that Burlison had improperly helped a friend implicated in a fund shortage at the Malden, Mo., post office and that Emerson was hiding his relationship with defense contractor TRW.

After winning the seat, Emerson held it until his death in 1996. His widow, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, won the seat in a special election and has held it since.

"Those were all negative newspaper articles," Burlison said of the charges and countercharges. "It's part of the game politically."

Burlison, 74, is a second-term county councilman in Anne Arundel County, Md. He's a lawyer specializing in criminal law. He said he hasn't been back to Missouri much since the loss, although he still owns some land near where he was born in Pemiscot County.

Burlison wants the seat of U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who is seeking to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes. The traditionally Democratic district is attracting a crowded field.

He faces several other strong candidates in a district designed to favor Democrats. Burlison is in top physical shape -- he regularly runs in 5- and 10-kilometer races -- and considers himself a tireless campaigner. A crowded field will help him win, he said.

"My type of campaigning doesn't take as much as most candidates spend," he said.

The Democratic primary winner should sweep to victory in November 2006, according to Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker. "It would take a miracle of significant proportions for Republicans to take this seat," he said.

After the 1980 loss, Burlison jumped back into politics two years later with a county council race in Maryland's Prince George's County. He then concentrated on his law practice before winning the seat he holds today in 1998.

He's also chaired the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee. The current chairwoman, Kathy Schatt, said Burlison has been a tireless campaigner and party worker but that that won't be enough to win a crowded primary.

"It is going to take a lot of money, volunteers and heelwork," she said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: