When voters cast their votes for the 159th District Missouri House seat Nov. 4, they'll choose between two familiar faces to the political scene -- the incumbent seeking a third term in office and his opponent attempting to make a political comeback in the state 28 years after losing his seat in Congress.
Former Democratic U.S. representative Bill Burlison of Advance is seeking to unseat state Rep. Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter, who was first elected to the office in 2004. The 159th District covers portions of Cape Girardeau, Stoddard and Wayne counties.
"I think people will judge me on the four years I've been in office," Wright said. "I know the people well because I've lived in this district for more than 50 years, while my opponent has lived out of the state for nearly 30 years."
Burlison said politics has been his livelihood and he hopes to make a difference in an area where he once served as a lawyer.
"I want to serve the people and improve our government," Burlison said. "I feel like I'll get elected because of my door-to-door campaigns, where I get to know what the people are saying and thinking."
Burlison has a long history of political success in the state.
After graduating with a law degree from the University of Missouri in 1956, Burlison set up practice in Cape Girardeau and six years later won his first of three two-year terms as prosecuting attorney. Burlison won the 10th Congressional District in 1968, an office he held until he lost to Bill Emerson in the 1980 election.
Following his defeat, Burlison moved to eastern Maryland to practice law. Though he ran unsuccessfully for Ann Arundel County, Md., county council seats in 1982 and 1994 and a state legislative post in 1986 and 1990, Burlison won the council seat in 1998. His only election loss in Missouri was in 1980.
Burlison's opponent is a proven fundraiser and winner in politics.
In the 2004 and 2006 159th District race, Wright defeated former Dexter High School football and wrestling coach Boyce Wooley by 55 and 57 percent, respectively. In the 2006 election, Wright spent $62,889, compared to Wooley's $28,695. The Missouri Republican Party and the House Republican Campaign Committee also spent $36,123 on independent expenditures to re-elect Wright.
Wright's latest fundraising report shows he has raised $82,679. Burlison has raised $41,643.
If Burlison wins, he believes one reason will be because voters seek a change from eight years under President George Bush. He said that dissatisfaction could filter down to the local level.
However, Wright disagrees.
"A lot of these issues that my opponent talks about such as the conflict with Iraq and a military draft are congressional issues," Wright said. "I'm trying to address issues in my district such as alternative energy uses."
Burlison said the "ultra rich" should be taxed. By doing so, he said the increased taxes could support health care and education programs.
"This would provide more revenue for basic needs," Burlison said. "I don't think we can afford that revenue by continuing to give tax rebates and tax cuts to the ultra wealthy. The answer is to require the millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes."
But Wright said that would be counterproductive to the economy.
"I've done surveys and the majority of the responses are not to raise taxes," Wright said. "Those businesses are the ones that provide jobs for our economy. We must remember that without helping businesses with certain incentives, we could tax them out of business and they'd go to some other state."