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Rehder, Bill marshaling their supporters in 148th District
There are clear differences in the campaign strategies of Holly Rehder and Josh Bill, both Republican candidates hoping to move past the upcoming primary in the race for the 148th District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Rehder spent the weekend canvassing small towns in the district, which encompasses the eastern part of Scott County and part of Mississippi County.
"I have had people persuade me to vote for them by knocking on my door and telling me what they are about," Rehder said.
What does she tell them?
"That I really want to be their candidate, that I am honest and that I speak the truth," she said.
Rehder, a former U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson staffer and Jefferson City lobbyist, owns a cable communications company in Sikeston, Mo., with her husband, Ray, and is seeking public office for the first time. A Sunday school teacher for 14 years, Rehder also describes herself as a "soccer mom, baseball mom and volleyball mom."
Rehder's momentum as an "up-and-comer" in Missouri politics explains why she has endorsements, including from Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Club for Growth in addition to a significant campaign fund, her supporters say. She made a lot of friends in Jefferson City, she said.
Bill's supporters, like Charles Gardner of Sikeston, say they like him because of what they see him do on the local scene -- in particular, the effort he puts into understanding issues.
"I've watched him in city council," Gardner said. "He keeps people stirred up and on their toes."
Bill touts extensive knowledge of the legislative process. He is a former mayor of Sikeston and a nine-year city council member with a lengthy background in various levels of government -- he worked for the late Bill Emerson and two more Republican members of Congress, as well as behind the scenes in other campaigns and the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services.
Bill hasn't been pushing for campaign contributions. His fund, which totaled $11,850, according to the most recent reports filed with state election officials, includes a $10,000 loan to himself.
He said he has forgone fundraising because of his involvement in a local issue he thinks needs more attention right now.
Sikeston, which lies on the edge of the 148th District, recently hired an attorney to look into what it perceives as a mishandling of correspondence regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new floodplain maps for the area. Some city officials also do not agree that areas designated as flood zones by FEMA's maps should have been.
"This is more important than any one election," Bill said. "I think my record of public service is what will help me, and right now I believe this situation, which could be devastating for the community if not resolved, is worth putting fundraising on hold."
Rehder also claims legislative experience will give her an upper hand. As a business owner, she said, "I know what it's like to sign the front of a paycheck, not just the back of it. I know what it's like to work hard and make something out of nothing."
That combination, she said, is what the 148th District needs right now.
Bill said he wants to tackle the amount the state is handing out in tax credits, a hallmark of Sen. Jason Crowell's arguments in the legislature, to help better fund public education. He wants to make sure Missouri is "doing the best we can with what we've got," instead of raising taxes. He wants to follow President Ronald Reagan by "eliminating loopholes" and bringing down the tax rate for businesses, level the playing field and "let loose the energy of the free enterprise," he said.
Rehder said she is for legislation that in her mind supports the public good, such as a bill that will require drug testing for welfare recipients that was pushed through last year by Rep. Ellen Brandom, and wants to see Missouri become a right-to-work state, which she said will make the state more attractive to businesses and improve the economy. She wants to see reforms that will improve the economy statewide, she said.
She is also interested, she said, in protecting local economic interests, such as agriculture.
Rehder also said she wants more protection for businesses with passage of a "loser pays" law.
Rehder's interest in such a law, which would make the loser of a lawsuit pay the other side's legal fees, is connected to a suit filed in November in federal court against Rehder's business, Integrity Communications, although she said she had set the topic as a talking point in her run for the 148th before the suit was filed.
The suit alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Missouri Minimum Wage Law and Missouri common law, according to court documents, claiming the company did not adequately pay a former employee for hours worked, reimburse employee expenses and terminated the employee for making complaints.
While the suit is filed as a class-action suit, Rehder's attorney, Joseph C. Blanton Jr. of Sikeston, said in an emailed statement that the company and the law firm "vigorously deny" the allegations and that they have asked for a dismissal of the suit.
"Out of a large number of persons who have contracted over the years with Holly and Ray's company, the claims in the suit are brought by three members of the same family," Blanton wrote in the statement.
Rehder said the claims are "absolutely false" and that the suit is a good example of why as a legislator she would focus on developing a state law that would further protect businesses against such suits.
The plaintiffs are demanding $1 million.
Bill said he has read the suit and that he feels the public is entitled to know about it, but that he has not formed an opinion.
"Did they do anything wrong?" he asked. "I don't know, but that's why we have trials."
Bill said he feels the public would also be entitled to know about anything involving himself and legalities.
In 2003, three felony charges against Bill -- two for failing to make a sales tax return and one for forgery -- were dismissed after the Scott County prosecuting attorney reviewed the case with the Department of Revenue. The charges alleged Bill violated the law while participating in "Corn for Cars" transactions that allowed vehicles purchasers to avoid paying sales taxes.
Rehder said she believes the suit should not affect the outcome of the election and that she has plenty of local support, evidenced by contributions from 96 donors who live within the district. Her total receipts for the election are sitting at $56,132, with around $31,000 on hand, according to the most recent report to state election officials.
The winner of the GOP primary will have either Bart Ziegenhorn or Mike Marsh as the Democratic opponent in the November election.