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Missouri’s U.S. House Members Defend Their Records, Effectiveness In Re-Election Bids

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Republican U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (foreground) and Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver speak after a September meeting at the Kansas City VA Medical Center

With heavy turnover expected in the U.S. House of Representatives, three of Missouri’s longtime incumbents are poised to have more influence in Washington, D.C., if they survive their re-election bids.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Harrisonville, said the delegation often works in a bipartisan fashion.

“We get together once a month for lunch and I have a very good relationship, for instance, with (Rep.) Emanuel Cleaver here in Kansas City,” Hartzler said. “We fly back and forth to Washington, D.C., very often on the same plane.”

But their opponents in the Nov. 6 midterm election say their actual effectiveness in office has been mixed, at best.

4th Congressional District: Rep. Vicky Hartzler vs. Renee Hoagenson

“Hartzler has not done really anything substantive,” said Democrat Renee Hoagenson, a business owner who is challenging Hartzler. “I mean, there's really nothing to point to say that she has any sort of achievement for Missouri's 4th. In fact, I would submit that she has voted against the people of Missouri's 4th at every opportunity.”

The district voted for President Donald Trump by 36 percentage points in 2016. According to an analysis by the site FiveThirtyEight, Hartzler votes with Trump 97.8 percent of the time.

Hoagenson said Hartzler's voting record is a sign she doesn’t have the interests of all of her constituents in mind.

But Hartzler countered that she is an effective representative of her entire district, which covers areas as diverse as the southern Kansas City suburbs, rural farmland and the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Credit Renee Hoagenson
Democratic candidate Renee Hoagenson is challenging Republican incumbent Vicky Hartzler for the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri.

Hartzler’s predecessor, the late Ike Skelton, was a Democrat and one of the most effective lawmakers in getting bills passed, according to the Center for Lawmaking at the University of Virginia. Since taking office in 2011, though, Hartzler’s record has been mixed.

She told KCUR that her biggest accomplishments have been pushing for an increase in defense spending and successfully sponsoring a 2017 bill requiring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to better coordinate with communities and victims in the aftermath of disasters.

That was prompted by criticism of FEMA’s response to 2013 flooding in Waynesville, north of Fort Leonard Wood in Pulaski County. Hartzler said there were still claims pending when she drafted the bill.

“They came in and lost paperwork multiple times and they sent three separate recovery teams out to the site asking to see where the roads were washed out and where the problems were,” Hartzler said. “So what my bill did is require them to come up with a plan to provide timely assistance, a phone number and a person at FEMA that they can contact and to ensure that paperwork is not lost and that these recovery teams coordinate with the local community and get them the help that they need in a timely fashion.”

Hartzler has not met with FEMA officials since Hurricanes Florence and Michael caused damage in the southern U.S. this year, but said she believes the law has led to changes in how the agency operates.

Her party has controlled the House ever since she’s been in office — something that’s affected Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, who’s seeking an eighth term in the 5th Congressional District.

5th Congressional District: Rep. Emanuel Cleaver vs. Jacob Turk

Redistricting after the 2010 Census stretched Cleaver’s district from the urban core of Kansas City into more rural areas like Lafayette and Ray counties to the northeast of the metro area. Still, voters preferred Hillary Clinton to Trump by 13.5 percent. Since the election, Cleaver has voted with Trump 17.2 percent of the time, according to the FiveThirtyEight analysis.

“Everything is done on the basis of majority,” Cleaver told KCUR about Washington. “So, unless a member of Congress wants to come in and try to trick the public and say, ‘I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that,’ they need to make sure that they tell the truth, which is that Republicans decide what legislation has heard, what legislation is voted on and what legislation finds its way to the president’s desk for signing.”

When asked about key accomplishments, Cleaver cited his work with the National Park Service to establish what is now called the World War I Museum and Memorial. The site formally received a national designation in 2014. He touted efforts on transportation funding and poverty and housing issues.

Credit Scott Alan Lucas
Republican Jacob Turk has challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver in the past several elections.

But his Republican opponent, Jacob Turk, said Cleaver doesn’t have much to show for his tenure. Turk has challenged Cleaver in the past several elections.

“Unfortunately, he has consistently been rated one of the least influential congresspeople in Congress itself, whether within his Democrat caucus or reaching across the aisle,” Turk said. “We need to do better than that and I will work hard to know my colleagues and to have influence with them.”

The Center for Effective Lawmaking backs up Turk’s assertion, rating Cleaver as having one of the lowest effectiveness scores in the previous congressional term, which ended in January 2017.

He had higher ratings before 2010, when Tea Party Republicans won in the midterms, helping the GOP regain control of the chamber.

Cleaver, however, said he’s been effective in other ways, by advocating for causes and lending the stature of his office for local projects and initiatives. If Democrats take over the House, Cleaver is in line to head the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee — a longtime goal of his.

“That would be one of the most significant positions in the country politically. Somebody asked, ‘Well, what are you going to do for Kansas City?’ Everything I can do,” Cleaver said.

6th Congressional District: Rep. Sam Graves vs. Henry Martin

Credit Samuel King / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Rep. Sam Graves, seen here in Liberty, is seeking a tenth term in office.

Redistricting also expanded the territory that 6th District Rep. Sam Graves has represented since 2001, stretching it across the northern third of Missouri, from the Kansas City metro up to St. Joseph and east to Kirksville and Hannibal.

“This is the largest one in the state as far as the congressional district goes it makes it tough,” Graves told KCUR. “When you're on the east side of the district, they want to know where you are on the west side; when you're on the west side of the district, they want to know where you are on the east side. So from that standpoint, it makes it challenging, but you've just got to move around in the district.”

Credit Henry Martin
Democrat Henry Martin is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves.

His Democratic opponent, Army veteran and educator Henry Martin, said Graves has not done an effective job of representing everyone in the vast district.

“The people of the 6th district deserve a representative who is visible. They deserve a representative who is accountable. Currently, we don't have that,” Martin said. “It's time to move on and it's time to move forward. It's time to get some real accountability and some real things going in Washington that help people.”

The 4th district favored Trump by 31.4 percent over Clinton in 2016. Graves has voted with the president 97.7 percent of the time, FiveThirtyEight found. He supports the president’s tax cut plan, which he said has boosted the economy.

The Center for Effective Lawmaking also gave Graves low marks in the 114th Congress for moving legislation. But in the last two sessions, he has led the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee. In that role, he controlled the passage of highway funding bills. Graves told KCUR he has a bigger post in mind.

“Well, if we retain control of the House, that is what my goal is, assuming I get reelected, is to take over as chairman of the Transportation Committee, which means I would control all of those programs from the House standpoint: highways, bridges, rail, aviation, pipelines, inland waterways, everything dealing with, transportation period,” Graves said. “And so obviously there's be a big influence there. And, a lot of help to all of our infrastructure throughout the district.”

It’s the type of clout that comes with serving with the majority party for more than a decade, clout that may change depending on which party wins control of the chamber in a few days.

Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews.

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