The biggest election battle of 2008 in Cape Girardeau County could be brewing as top Republicans line up against their party's nominee for District 2 county commissioner.
Rock Finch, an insurance broker and consultant, will be on the ballot as an independent candidate, challenging incumbent Republican Jay Purcell, who was unopposed in the GOP primary. No candidate filed in the Democratic or Libertarian parties, the other two recognized parties in Missouri.
Finch has enlisted David Limbaugh, a prominent lawyer and conservative columnist and author, as his campaign treasurer. And Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, in office for 20 years, has been one of Finch's high-profile supporters since the petition effort to place Finch on the ballot was launched in June. Finch named Mike Woelk, an electrical parts salesman at SMC, and Jo Boettscher, manager of Patricia Ann's, as his campaign co-chairs.
While the idea to run was his, Finch said, he has received encouragement from many area leaders. "They basically said 'do you want to serve? If the answer is yes, we will support you. If you don't, stay in the agency and live happily ever after.' I said I wanted to serve."
Purcell, who did not return a phone call, issued a statement about the challenge: "I congratulate Rock Finch and Morley Swingle for successfully campaigning to get an independent candidate on the ballot for the Cape Girardeau County Commission 2nd District seat which I currently am elected to," Purcell said. "We already know that because of Commissioner Bock's retirement that we will have a new independent commissioner to take his place. That makes the commissioners race in Cape Girardeau a pivotal one that will tip the balance of power. I look forward to making the case to the citizens of Cape Girardeau that a vote for Jay Purcell will finally allow for county government to do the work of our citizens in a fair, open, transparent manner."
Finch, who needed 318 signatures from registered voters, turned in 432 signatures, said Kara Clark, Cape Girardeau County clerk. He will be the only independent candidate for a local office on the ballot.
Finch began his petition campaign after serious differences between Purcell and his two colleagues, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones and District 1 Commissioner Larry Bock, became a public feud. Purcell is suing the commission over alleged Sunshine Law violations. Bock and Jones voted to strip Purcell of most of his duties and Swingle brought a special prosecutor into the picture to consider misdemeanor charges against Purcell for recording closed meetings.
Finch said Tuesday his timing had less to do with the commission controversy than a turning point in his business life that occurred June 1. His firm, Finch Marbanks Insurance Consultants, purchased two St. Louis brokerage offices and merged with a Springfield firm, and he plans to divest himself of the business.
He said he began considering the contest when he heard about a possible independent bid by former commissioner Joe Gambill. "The timing was there to divest myself, and I saw an opportunity to give people a choice in November."
Finch said he approached Gambill about running and Gambill deferred to him.
He said he missed the late February and March filing period for office because he was uncertain whether the business deals that made his bid possible would bear fruit. He decided not to wait until the next election cycle in 2010, he said, because he wants to win an office now and wants to hold a local office.
"I wasn't interested in going to Jefferson City, and I am not interested in going to Congress," Finch said. "I can have more impact in the local area."
Finch was the only independent candidate to seek a county office in the area, according to election officials in Perry, Scott and Bollinger counties. There will be sales tax elections in Morley, Mo., and Chaffee, Mo., in Scott County. Local jurisdictions have until Tuesday to add items to the November ballot.
Ralph Nader filed petitions to be placed on the ballot as an independent candidate for president, the only independent candidate on the statewide ballot.
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