Brandom: Longer political experience means more effective leadership

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The political bug first bit Ellen Brandom when she volunteered for a congressman from her home state of Illinois.

As a high school student in Quincy, Brandom worked for U.S. Rep. Paul Findley, the 11-term congressman known as a strong advocate for the farmers of his district. Brandom saw her interest in current events take shape.

The shape they took had a conservative bent, and it was then she knew she was a Republican. She liked the party because it espoused the value of hard work and pulling your own weight, she said.

Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, left, talks with Greg Boldrey of Sikeston, during an open house June 2 at her campaign headquarters at 1621 Independence St. Brandom is running for the Republican nomination for the Missouri Senate's 27th District seat. (Adam Vogler)

As Republicans, "we expect people to be self-sufficient," she said. "We expect people who are able-bodied to do their part."

Now a three-term member of the Missouri House, Brandom hopes to take that political experience and conservative viewpoint to the state senate. She will face Rep. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, in the Aug. 7 primary for the 27th District seat being vacated by Sen. Jason Crowell because of term limits.

While her opponent may have a resume that includes military accolades and years in private-sector business, Brandom has operated a business. And while Wallingford can be dismissive of the fact that Brandom has held office for six years, compared to his two, Brandom said that should matter to voters.

"I think there isn't any question it's important," Brandom said last week from her Cape Girardeau campaign headquarters on Independence Street. "I've had more leadership experience and I know what it takes to get some very important bills brought before the House and Senate."

Also, she said, she's been in the House since 2006, meaning she's worked with some former representatives who have already crossed over to the other chamber.

"I've worked with them really closely in the House," said Brandom, 70. "I know what they're about and they know what I'm about."

Brandom also feels her strong business background makes her best suited to serve in the Senate in time when job creation has to be the No. 1 goal, she said.

After working for the government recruiting federal employees, she married Richard Brandom in 1968 and moved to Sikeston, Mo. Her father was aware of a jobbership there that the new couple could buy. It was similar to her father's company but on a smaller scale. It basically is a petroleum marketer that buys refined fuel from companies to either sell to gas stations or directly to the users of those products. Called Hutter Oil Co., it also sold wholesale across the Bootheel. At one point, the company grew to 75 employees.

"I was 100 percent involved with the company," she said. "It was smaller when we bought it. It takes a lot of hard work to take a small business and make it grow."

But it wasn't until her husband died of lung cancer in 2003 that she was asked to run for the Missouri Legislature. Rep. Peter Myers was term-limited out, and members of the local business community asked her to consider a run.

It wasn't as if she was completely without local political experience. As a mother of two, she had served 12 years on the Sikeston School Board, including a stint as president. She'd also helped run campaigns, such as the one to raise the sales tax to help build Southeast Missouri State University's facility there.

After careful consideration, Brandom decided to run in early 2005; she would face Democrat Larry Tetley in the general election. Until Wallingford, it would be the last time she would face an opponent. In her six years in the House, Brandom feels she's earned her conservative credentials. She was used to working hard, she said, and she was a quick study.

Brandom has voted to authorize employers to exempt contraception from health care coverage, to require presidential candidates to show proof of citizenship and to amend the state constitution to limit state spending.

The most popular legislation she sponsored, she said, was a bill that will require welfare recipients to be drug tested. While Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill into law in private, Brandom said she's heard from constituents who think it's important. Wallingford voted for the bill as well.

"Working taxpayers all over Missouri wanted that bill passed," she said. "They didn't care what party anybody was."

Wallingford suggests that because he's from Cape Girardeau County, which carries more than half of the district's GOP vote, he's got an advantage. Brandom, who far and away leads her opponent in fundraising, says she's just been working hard to get her message out.

It's working to some degree -- and even among some Cape Girardeau County voters.

At the Southeast Missouri Pachyderm Club's meet-the-candidates picnic Saturday, Tonya Schwartz said she plans to support Brandom. She said she didn't know about Brandom until she noticed her political ads.

"I read her record and I like what she stood for," Schwartz said. "I really liked her bill about drug testing for the welfare recipients. There should be some requirement for them, just as there's a requirement for anybody who holds a job. I feel like she has a lot of experience."

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

1621 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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