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Familiar, new faces in three-way 146th House race

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Missouri House hopefuls Gerald Adams and Van Hitt have been knocking on doors from Pocahontas to Delta for weeks to introduce themselves to voters and -- they hope -- get enough support to oust an incumbent.

But the woman who already has the job, Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, is doing the same in hopes of making a convincing case that she should be allowed to keep it.

The Missouri House race for the new 146th District showcases a rematch of Lichetenegger and Adams, the longtime Jackson School Board member who narrowly lost to Lichtenegger in 2010.

But this GOP primary Aug. 7 will have a first-time candidate in Hitt, the former Jackson High School football coach who was fired by the school district where Adams serves on the board.

Hitt, a former high school science teacher, said he's heard the theories that his late entrance into the race will simply throw the election to Lichtenegger because he and Adams will split the education vote.

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, goes door to door Tuesday, June 5, in Delta to talk with voters. Lichtenegger is running against Van Hitt. and Gerald Adams for the 146th District State Representative seat.
In fact, Hitt said, someone even asked him if someone from Lichtenegger's camp encouraged him to run -- which he emphatically said was not true.

Lichtenegger said she's simply out campaigning for votes.

"I don't think in terms like that," Lichtenegger said last week. "I just have to focus on my own campaign. I don't worry about the other guys and what they're doing. Everything else is just speculation."

Instead, the three Jackson Republicans said they are all interested in serving in the legislature, where they believe they have the life experience and passion to work on issues that are important to them -- such as job creation, teacher tenure, tax credits and health care.

They all say they are the best candidate to represent the new 146th, which is basically made up of all of Cape Girardeau County -- except the city of Cape Girardeau and some adjacent territory -- and includes Jackson, Pocahontas, Oak Ridge, Whitewater, Gordonville and Delta.

Lichtenegger was a longtime Republican activist who first faced Adams in 2002, although neither survived the primary that year. Lichtenegger, a former dental hygienist, announced that she would seek a second term in February after mulling a run at the Missouri Senate seat being vacated by Jason Crowell.

In her first term, Lichtenegger was appointed vice chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee for Health, Mental Health and Social Services by House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville.

If she isn't re-elected, Lichtenegger said, the legislature will lose one of only four members with a background in health care.

Lichtenegger supports right to work, which would give employees who work at unionized workplaces a choice as to whether they wish to belong. Though she said that does not mean she is against unions altogether.

"I will tell you I am not against the unions," she said. "Unions can be a great asset. I just think people should be able to choose if they're in a union."

Lichtenegger was also one of only three freshmen state representatives out of 60 who introduced a bill that was passed in both chambers and signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon last year. She also has co-sponsored a bill that largely eliminates pensions for those who are elected to the Missouri Legislature.

"I have the experience to do the job," she said.

Van Hitt hands a bumpersticker to Matt Lang Friday, June 8, while visiting Byron L. Lang Inc. in Jackson. Hitt is running against State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, and Gerald Adams for the 146th District State Representative seat.
Adams said he doesn't have a strong opinion on right to work. Employees at Noranda where he works have had two union votes while he's worked there. In fact, Adams wondered if the legislature hasn't spent a lot of time debating right to work when its time could perhaps be better used talking about more important issues.

"I think we've wasted time and energy on a lot of different issues," Adams said.

Perhaps more important is Missouri's issuance of tax credits, Adams said. Missouri is No. 1 in the country in issuing historic tax credits and second nationally for low-income housing credits. Adams said he wasn't necessarily opposed to tax credits in general, but he believes issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits is essentially robbing from the state's general revenue.

"They're good where they add jobs," Adams said. "When we issue those tax credits, we're basically taking away from secondary and higher education."

Hitt said he's also interested in reigning in state government and that there are too many governmental agencies that aren't communicating with each other. During his talks with voters, Hitt echoed Lichtenegger in that they said they haven't heard many issues-based concerns.

He knows the economy is a worry for many, but he said the state government really can't create jobs other than taxpayer-funded ones.

"And who's going to pay their salaries? Taxpayers," Hitt said.

There are contrasts between Hitt and the other two, he said.

Gerald Adams, a Republican candidate for the 146th District State Representative seat, goes door to door Tuesday, June 5, in Jackson to introduce himself to with voters. Adams is running against Van Hitt. and Donna Lichtenegger for the 146th District State Representative seat.
"My contrast between them is my lifelong experiences," Hitt said. "I've been in education 41 years. I've farmed all my life. Those are two areas that are vital to our state -- education and agriculture are two big components of any state. I feel like I have a good background in those areas."

As of the most recent campaign fundraising filings, which were filed in April, no clear distinction had been made in the money arena. Lichtenegger had $6,373 on hand, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission filing. Adams had yet to file a report, though he said he's raised more than $5,000 since that time. Hitt had $1,278 cash on hand as of that filing.

Hitt collected money from six donors, including SEMO Specialties and Sports in Jackson and several other county residents and one who lives in Cape Girardeau. Lichtenegger's donations for that period came from seven residents and business owners, including Pyramid Home Health Services, Royal Oak Charcoal Co. of Roswell, Ga., a Sedalia, Mo., dental hygienist and a health care political action committee.



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District at a glance
Population: 38,063

Voting record 2010: 20 percent Democratic, 80 percent Republican

Cape Girardeau County numbers (city of Cape Girardeau is not included in the 146th)

Poverty rate: 14.2 percent (Missouri's is 14.0)

Median household income: $44,479 (Missouri's is $46,262)

Median home value: $132,500 (Missouri's is $137,700.)

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau and Missouri Appellate Apportionment Commission

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