Area Dems ready to choose nominee

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Cape Girardeau Democrats will choose a nominee Thursday for the Feb. 5 special legislative election from among three candidates, county chairwoman Brenda Woemmel said Saturday.

The line-up of contenders includes two past candidates for the post and one political newcomer. The party's nominating committee for the 158th District Missouri House seat will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the basement conference room at Commerce Bank, 160 S. Broadview St.

The three candidates expected to take part are Mike Keefe, former postmaster for Cape Gir-ar-deau, Matt Hill, a lawyer who was the party's 2006 nominee and Melinda McCulley, operator of an assisted living facility in Scott City who carried the party's banner in the 1994 election.

Each candidate will be given three minutes to make a final pitch to the committee members, Woemmel said. The nomination will be decided by 17 members of the party's Cape Girardeau County Democratic Central Committee who live within the boundaries of the district.

The seat became open when Republican Nathan Cooper resigned after pleading guilty to two federal felonies for immigration fraud. Cooper, in his capacity as an attorney, helped trucking companies obtain visas and other documents intended for temporary seasonal workers for use by the companies' full-time, year-round foreign-born drivers.

While Democrats are moving quickly to put their candidate forward, Republicans haven't set a date for their nominating meeting, said Holly Lintner, chairwoman of the 158th District Republican committee. Lintner said the party has two prospective candidates that have come forward since a GOP county committee meeting Monday.

Lintner said she did not personally know either candidate, but has interviewed one and plans a meeting with the other. She declined to release their names.

The Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties have the right under state law to nominate a candidate for the Feb. 5 election. Each party is required to set a date for the nominating meeting by Friday, but the parties are not obligated to make a choice by that date.

Under state law, each committee must have a quorum of its members present to choose a nominee. A majority vote of those present selects the candidate.

Anyone seeking to run as an independent or under another party's label must file a petition with at least 239 signatures from registered voters by Nov. 15 at the Missouri Secretary of State's office.

McCulley issued a statement Saturday touting her experience dealing with state agencies and understanding of how state budget cuts have effected people dependent upon state assistance. McCulley and her husband, Ron McCulley, operate Sunshine Villa, a 20-bed assisted living facility that specializes in helping the mentally disabled.

Democrats know they will have a tough battle winning the Cape Girardeau seat, which last elected a Democrat in a race for an open seat in 1978.

"If there were ever a time in the history of this state when the Democrats could win this seat the time is now," McCulley said. "It doesn't matter as much what the party is as who the person is."

Hill said his advantages include being ready to run, both with material remaining from his 2006 bid and with campaign funds left over from the race. Being a lawyer may be a disadvantage, he acknowledged.

"It is a liability at this point because of what Nathan Cooper did to sully the image of the profession," he said.

Neither Hill nor McCulley said they had sought any commitments from committee members.

Keefe did not return a message left at his home.

All three candidates are acceptable, and Democrats are not looking for any last-minute entries, Woemmel said.

335-6611, extension 126

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