Blue-collar challenger seeks to unseat speaker

Monday, October 30, 2006

By MARK BLISS

Southeast Missourian

Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton says the state has improved its roads in recent years, but Democratic challenger Michael Winder contends that a major highway in Jetton's district remains a driving nightmare.

Winder's sister and several of his friends died in traffic accidents on Highway 34, a narrow, two-lane highway with sharp twists and turns.

Five years after Jetton walked to Jefferson City to call attention to the poor condition of state roads, Winder sees no sign of progress.

"There has been nothing done on Highway 34," he said. "One of the first things they need to do is start fixing the roads down here."

Jetton, a Marble Hill, Mo., Republican who was first elected to the House in 2000, sees the situation far different. He has said that the Missouri Department of Transportation is moving ahead with road improvements. "The Highway 34 study is complete and we are close to having a super two-lane road approved," Jetton wrote in his Capitol Report newsletter earlier this month.

Winder, an ironworker from Marquand, Mo., contends that his well-financed Republican opponent is more focused on his future political career than on serving constituents in the 156th House District.

"I think I am willing to fight a whole lot harder for our district than he is," Winder said. "I think he sold out our district."

Winder said he's not looking at the race as a stepping stone to future political office. "I am not looking at the governorship. I am not looking to go to the state Senate. My only goal is to help the district," he said.

The district covers Bollinger and Madison counties and most of Wayne County.

Jetton, who has stumped for other Republican candidates around the state this fall, didn't respond to the Southeast Missourian's repeated attempts to interview him about his own election campaign and the issues.

In September, Jetton flew to Yuma, Ariz., with Gov. Matt Blunt to visit Missouri National Guard troops deployed to help secure the border with Mexico and stop illegal immigration. Earlier this month, Jetton sparked controversy on a statewide tour with Blunt. Jetton, according to Kansas City media reports, said in Platte County that it's harder for Republicans to get to daytime political rallies than for Democrats because Democrats don't have jobs. "Republicans work. It is a little harder for them," Jetton was quoted as saying.

"I just can't believe what he says sometimes," Winder said. "I think that shows he is not representing everybody in his district."

Winder portrays himself as a regular working man whose construction job means a daily commute to St. Louis and lengthy workdays "bolting stuff up, welding and beating on the pieces of iron to get them to fit."

His campaign slogan is "Working Man, Working for You."

Jetton lists his occupation in his official biography as a real estate broker and appraiser.

Winder said he and Jetton agree on some issues. "We are both pro-gun and pro-life," he said.

Winder said the Republican-led state government has cut Medicaid benefits which have hurt the elderly. Lawmakers need to restore the money to provide for needed health care, he said.

"We all deserve decent pay, affordable health insurance and a good retirement plan," Winder said.

"Government needs to stick out a helping hand for people who are trying to do better."

Jetton, in his Oct. 21 newsletter, argued for changes in the Medicaid program. He wrote that the Medicaid program is inefficient because patients have no reason to control costs and many providers are encouraged to pad the books to show higher costs or to do more and often needless procedures to increase their reimbursement rates.

"I believe we should have Medicaid to help those who truly need it, but it should cost something. No matter how poor you are, you should be required to pay part of the bill," the House speaker wrote.

Jetton has spent far more money on the campaign than Winder has raised. Through September, the top Republican officeholder in the Missouri House had raised more than $90,000 this year compared to just more than $20,000 for Winder.

Jetton had $46,186 in the bank on Sept. 30 compared to $2,282 for Winder.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123


Michael Winder

Party: Democrat

Age: 31

Hometown: Marquand

Occupation: Ironworker, formerly served in the Army.

Political experience: First run for political office

Education: Graduated from Woodland High School in 1993, attended three years of apprenticeship school for ironworkers.

Personal: Married. He and his wife, Angela, have a 3-year-old daughter and are expecting another child in February.

Rod Jetton

Party: Republican

Age: 39

Hometown: Marble Hill

Occupation: Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, and a real estate broker and appraiser. Served as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995.

Political experience: Elected to the Bollinger County Commission in 1996; elected to the Missouri House in 2000 and re-elected in 2002 and 2004.

Education: Graduated from Southwest Baptist University.

Personal: Married. He and his wife, Cassie, have three children.

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