Wallingford says he would bring diverse background, strong faith

Sunday, July 22, 2012

For Wayne Wallingford, the moment came four decades ago when he was a young Air Force officer staring down a 5,000-pound missile in the skies over North Vietnam.

It was the height of the so-called "Christmas bombings," a massive air campaign that called for American B-52s and fighter bombers to drop more than 20,000 tons of explosives on the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. Five B-52s would be lost in the nearly 11-day bombardment and on this day the aircraft's navigator, Capt. Wayne Wallingford of Geneva, Ill., believed theirs would be added to the list.

For Wallingford, it wasn't a matter of if: "I knew I was going to die."

Rep. Wayne Wallingford speaks Tuesday, June 26, 2012 about receiving the endorsement of Missouri Right to Life PAC as a candidate for state senator of the 27th District at Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Wallingford braced for impact. He heard the explosion. He felt the aircraft shake.

But then, nothing. The direct hit never came. The missile prematurely exploded a scant 300 yards from the bomber, leaving all six crew members shaky but unscathed. Even the shrapnel, still hurled at the bomber, missed them.

Wallingford said there's only one way to describe what happened that day -- "a pure miracle."

Wallingford, 66, relayed the story earlier this month from his office at the local McDonald's corporate headquarters in Cape Girardeau and acknowledged that day in late 1972 has guided him over the years. He's not sure why the missile malfunctioned. He doesn't know why he lived when others did not.

But he believes it happened for a reason.

"What I took away from that was that I knew the Lord had a plan for me," Wallingford said.

The story is illustrative of at least two things that Wallingford, a first-term member of the Missouri House, says define him -- a strong and diverse background and a deep Christian faith. Both, he said, have made him into the man he is today, one he hopes voters see fit to send to the Missouri Senate during the Aug. 7 Republican primary.

If they do, it will be over Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, Wallingford's opponent and one-time political ally. The two never intended to run against each other but were tossed into the same race during the state's redistricting process. The race, which has included criticisms between over who is more conservative, has soured a once amicable relationship. With no Democratic opponent, the winner will take over the 27th District.

Wallingford hopes those in the district will consider his lengthy and diverse resume that began with his 25-year Air Force career that included 300 combat missions and resulted in more than 40 medals of commendation.

After leaving the service, Wallingford transitioned into the private sector with a job as a general manager with Taco Bell Corp. After moving up the corporate ladder and working in several states, he left that job and moved to Cape Girardeau in 2004 to take a position as "chief people officer" with McDonald's of Southeast Missouri. That job basically puts Wallingford in charge of human resources.

Wallingford's first foray into politics was brief. He wanted to run in a 2008 special election for the Missouri House seat vacated by Nathan Cooper, who had resigned in the wake of his guilty plea to federal immigration fraud charges. But issues arose about Wallingford's eligibility -- he maintains today he met them -- and he dropped out of the race.

He ran in the next election, following Rep. Mary Kasten's placeholder term that expired later that year. Residency requirements no longer an issue, Wallingford lost to Clint Tracy in the primary. Following Tracy's departure from the House two years later, Wallingford opted to run again.

When going door to door, he told voters that he didn't consider himself a politician. He would rather be a statesman. A politician, he told them, is one who worries about the next election. A statesman is worried about the next generation. This time he won.

Wallingford said he attacked his job in the House as ferociously as he had any combat mission or business deal. He got there early and stayed late. He says he read every word of every bill. He voted his conscience, but only after prayerful consideration.

During his first term, Wallingford was one of just three freshmen legislators to sponsor a bill that became law. Wallingford touts a conservative voting record, supporting a resolution that would declare the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. He also voted for bills that limit the minimum wage, to phase out the franchise tax and to reform the workers' compensation system.

Wallingford makes a point of working with the other party and counts Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, among his closest friends, he said. With no Democrat in the race, Hodges suggested Wallingford's background would make him a good fit for the Missouri Senate.

"That Senate job is very, very important. There's only 34 of them and they have an impact," Hodges said. "You have to be clear thinking and intelligent and I certainly think Wayne is."

But despite all of it -- win or lose -- Wallingford said he believes God has a plan for him. If the election doesn't go his way next month, Wallingford said he will accept it.

"I trust that he has a plan for me," Wallingford said. "If it's not in the Senate, it's probably something even bigger and better."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

518 Helena Avenue, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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