Kasten enters race for 158th

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cape Girardeau Republicans will reach back into their past for a nominee in the Feb. 5 special election to replace Nathan Cooper in the Missouri House.

Former state representative Mary Kasten, 79, will ask the 158th District House Republican Committee for the GOP nomination this evening during a meeting at Dexter Bar-B-Que. Kasten, who first won the seat in 1982, stepped aside in 2000 when her late husband, Dr. Melvin Kasten, fell ill.

In a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, Kasten won endorsements from U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Cape Girardeau Republican who held the state Senate seat during part of Kasten's time in office, and nominating committee chairwoman Holly Lintner.

Kasten put her name forward after retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wayne Wallingford, an executive with McDonalds of Southeast Missouri, was forced to withdraw because he has not been a "qualified" Missouri voter for the required two years. Another candidate, former J.C. Penney manager Harry Rediger, withdrew Monday and endorsed Wallingford.

Two other candidates -- Naval Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Clinton Tracy, who is on active duty in Iraq, and mortgage and real estate broker Gary Lange -- were also seeking the nomination before Kasten's announcement. Lange said in an interview that he would not oppose Kasten. Tracy spoke of his determination to win the nomination in an interview from Baghdad earlier in the day Wednesday before Kasten's announcement.

The 158th District House Republican Committee will meet at 6 p.m. today to endorse a candidate for the special election.

The Republican nominee will face Democrat Mike Keefe, the former Cape Girardeau postmaster, and Libertarian George Webster.

Cooper, a Republican, resigned his House seat Aug. 14 after pleading guilty to two counts of immigration fraud in federal court. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 19.

Kasten won election to represent Cape Girardeau in the Missouri House in 1982. Under the term limits approved by Missouri voters in 1992, Kasten may legally serve out the remainder of Cooper's term and another full term.

Wednesday evening, Kasten said she was unsure whether she would seek a full term next year.

"I will meet that when I come to it," Kasten said. "I won't make that decision until later."

The problems with Wallingford's qualifications stem from his delay in registering to vote when he moved to Missouri to take the executive position with McDonalds of Southeast Missouri, which is owned by his son-in-law. He moved to Cape Girardeau late in 2004 and voted by absentee ballot that year in Pennsylvania. Under the constitution's requirements, Wallingford would have needed to become a registered voter by Feb. 5, 2006, to run in the special election.

The problem wasn't discovered until late Tuesday, he said. The key phrase in the constitution is "qualified voter," Wallingford said. "We had a lot of discussions about what that really means."

If the committee had nominated Wallingford, his candidacy could have been subject to a court challenge.

In a news release announcing his candidacy, Tracy said he was planning a bid for the House seat in 2008 before Cooper's legal troubles surfaced. Tracy is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and works as general manager of Timberline International Forest Products, a family business, while not on active duty.

His deployment to Iraq ends soon, he said.

Tracy's wife, Carrie, and mother, Cape Girardeau Councilwoman Debra Tracy, have been helping with contacting committee members, he said. He has also contacted them by e-mail and telephone, he said. "They have asked about my military service and, of course, they are concerned about the timeline issue of when I will be home."

If elected, Kasten will join a Republican-majority House for the first time. "It will be a little different experience for me," she said. "It will probably be very pleasant."


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