Hodges hopes to hold on as lone Democrat against Boyd

Monday, October 29, 2012
Neal E. Boyd
Steve Hodges

Steve Hodges, a political newcomer in 2006, achieved what Democrats in the Missouri House of Representatives considered a big victory when he won the 161st District. His fight to take back that district from Republicans, although it traditionally went to Democrats, was hard fought with a lot of money pouring in on both sides. In 2008 and 2010, Hodges held on as the strength of the Democratic base seemed to wane throughout the region. Now Hodges is the only incumbent Democrats in the state House from the area, and he's looking to hold on again.

Neal E. Boyd, Hodges' challenger for the 149th House District, has been active in politics, though he's in his first run for political office. He's also had his turn in regional to national entertainment circuits as an opera singer, and is well known throughout the state.

The newly redrawn 149th House District, which covers most of Mississippi County, about half of Sikeston in Scott County, all of New Madrid County and the northern part of Pemiscot County, is one district that takes a chunk of Hodges' old 161st.

A look at the map and past elections show the redistricting could help Hodges next week, considering the 149th district does not include Stoddard County and includes only a small part of Scott County. Hodges historically received fewer votes than Republican opponents in both counties in races for the 161st district in 2008 and 2010. He won by large margins in New Madrid and Mississippi counties.

But the race this year is different in several ways from years past, and not only due to voter geography. In past elections, Hodges, known as a Democrat with conservative values who is pro-gun and pro-life, received an endorsement from Missouri Right to Life, the state's main pro-life group. This time around the endorsement belongs to the Republican Boyd, who received it after Hodges voted against overriding Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of SB 749, which would have allowed employers to opt out of covering contraceptives in health insurance policies for religious reasons.

Another difference is the money the candidates are bringing in -- interest groups and legislative committees dumped cash into campaign accounts for the 161st District in previous years -- and fundraising for both Hodges and Boyd this year is comparatively low.

Boyd is bringing in small amounts from individuals while Hodges' support for unions has garnered financial support from related committees and the unions themselves.

Interviews with Hodges and Boyd last week found both candidates felt the most important issues in the 149th District are similar to those identified by Hodges during his time representing the 161st District. They named a high rate of poverty, a still-long road to recovering from the 2011 floods and some low-performing school districts among their concerns.

The agreement really ends there. Each man has his own ideas about how to improve quality of life for constituents. For Boyd, improvement starts with making sure the right person is doing the job of state representative, he said.

Boyd sees an advantage for himself in the bid for the seat as represented by recent endorsements. He has the support of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in addition to Missouri Right to Life.

"These are incredibly significant," he said. "It lets the people you may represent see you as a person who will look after what they believe is right."

Boyd said as a native of the area that he understands the struggles faced by people in the district -- he grew up poor, he said. He said he believes that Republican causes, such as right to work, would benefit the district by creating jobs -- jobs he said are now going to Arkansas and Tennessee when companies choose not to build or open in Missouri due to "union-friendly laws."

Many people in the area he would represent have strong union ties thanks to the location of Noranda Aluminum, an employer of about 780 union workers in New Madrid, Mo., but Boyd said he thinks voters looking for representation that will create more jobs will look to him. A well-trained workforce and business-friendly environment is what Boyd said he believes the area needs for advancement.

He said the financial support to his campaign from individual contributors instead of unions is evidence he has backing for his position on those issues.

Hodges is a self-described avid supporter of unions who touts his largest accomplishments so far as a legislator as being known as someone who is highly visible, easy to communicate and get along with and is always casting votes that he said "truly represent" the wishes of his constituents.

Hodges is endorsed by the National Rifle Association during this election cycle, and has been in previous elections. That endorsement, however, is not uncommon for Southeast Missouri Democrats, who are often considered socially conservative. State Rep. Tom Todd, D-Campbell, who is running for the 150th District, and Rep. Terry Swinger, a Caruthersville Democrat seeking the 25th Senate District, also have "A" ratings from the NRA.

Hodges has differed from his party on social votes, including those on abortion. In 2011, he voted for restrictions on late term abortions. He has also voted against additional regulations on firearms

"I don't do favors," he said, "but I do what I think is right for the people down here by listening to what they tell me."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

East Prairie, Mo.

Sikeston, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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