Democrats say 'now is time' to seize 8th District

Monday, January 28, 2013
Jack Rushin speaks at a Democratic committee candidate forum for the 8th Congressional District Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Other candidates, seated from left, are Todd Mahn and state Rep. Linda Black. Ramona Fitchpatrick spoke on behalf of her husband, Markel Fitchpatrick, who was unable to attend. (Fred Lynch)

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Democratic hopefuls Sunday said the resignation of U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson last week presents the best chance their party's had in years of ending the GOP's 32-year reign over the state's 8th Congressional District.

State Rep. Linda Black speaks at a Democratic committee candidate forum for the 8th Congressional District Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

Each of the now four Democratic candidates acknowledged at a candidates forum in Poplar Bluff that it will take hard work. But they vowed to do just that during a short campaign season that will culminate with a June special election to determine Emerson's replacement.

"We can take this district back," said candidate Todd Mahn, a funeral-home director from De Soto, Mo. "We just have to ask ourselves if we are better off today. We're not the poorest district in the state for no reason."

Mahn, who toyed with the idea of running against Emerson last year, was joined by a growing list of Democratic candidates, including state Rep. Linda Black of Bonne Terre, Mo., chiropractor Jack Rushin of Poplar Bluff and word of new entry Mark Fitchpatrick, a former mayor of Blodgett, Mo.

Fitchpatrick was not in attendance Sunday afternoon, but his wife, Ramona, said he had a prior commitment to his job and that her husband keeps his commitments.

Her husband did not make the decision to enter the race lightly, Ramona Fitchpatrick said, and they discussed the pressures and scrutiny that often come with campaigns.

"We understand our lives will be an open book," Ramona Fitchpatrick said. "We know the media can be cruel and condescending."

Todd Mahn speaks at a Democratic committee candidate forum for the 8th Congressional District Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

But the goal is worth fighting for and one she said her husband comprehends. She pointed out that, while her husband was mayor only for two years, he helped the Scott County village secure grants for its public water supply and knew how to get the parties to work together.

The rest of the forum at St. Andrew Lutheran Church focused on the economy, candidate experience, education, agricultural issues and Social Security, during the hourlong forum that was largely a question-and-answer session with the questions predetermined.

Black spoke of her experience in Jefferson City, Mo., where she has been a state representative since 2008. Democrats need to reclaim their message if they hope to reclaim a seat that hasn't been occupied by a Democrat since the early 1980s, she said.

"I'm known to be tenacious in Jefferson City," Black said. " ... Thirty-two years of the Emerson name has not gotten the 8th District anywhere."

She represents, she said, Democrats who are conservative on social issues, and noted that she is pro-life.

"It is possible that Democrats are going to rise again," she said.

Jack Rushin speaks at a Democratic committee candidate forum for the 8th Congressional District Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

About 70 people gathered for the forum that was made uncertain by 8th Congressional District Democratic leaders who first described it as a nominating meeting, then as a forum that was closed to the press and public and then late Saturday said the committee meeting was a candidate forum open to the public.

The GOP was critical Saturday before Democrats settled on the meeting as a candidates' forum. Going back and forth and being indecisive, said Missouri Republican Party spokesman Jonathon Prouty, is just the latest in a series of missteps that he said shows the party is in disarray.

Last week, the Democratic committee announced they would select their candidate at the Sunday meeting, but then changed the date, without explanation, to Feb. 9. On Thursday, Democratic committee chairman Art Cole announced his resignation. And late Sunday he explained why.

Cole said rumors that he resigned because of frustration weren't true. He said he simply made the decision, at age 71, to cut back and focus his energies on his role as chairman of the state's 25th legislative district. Vice-chairwoman Cindy Jenks will serve as acting chairwoman.

Whether the party's meeting could have been legally closed isn't readily apparent. In Missouri, political party committees are established by state law, including specifics such as when the committees are to meet and that each committee is to name a man and woman to chair and vice-chair positions.

The Missouri Sunshine Law governs quasi-public governmental bodies, in addition to public governmental bodies. Public governmental bodies are defined by the Sunshine Law as any legislative, administrative or governmental entity created by the constitution or statutes of the state or by order or ordinance of any political subdivision or district.

The latest opinion on the matter from a Missouri attorney general came from John Ashcroft in February 1979. It addressed specifics of the voting process. In 1976, Attorney General John Danforth issued an opinion that answered public body and Sunshine Law questions. A copy of the latter opinion is linked on the attorney general's website. However, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster's office was not aware of the opinion when the Southeast Missourian inquired Friday about the committees' status as a public body and the Sunshine Law.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

2750 N. Westwood Blvd., Poplar Bluff, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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