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In Senate race, Democrat Lucas Kunce pledges fight for abortion rights, stronger action on guns

 Lucas Kunce, who is running for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat, on Tuesday at St. Louis Public Radio’s office.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Lucas Kunce, who is running for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat, on Tuesday at St. Louis Public Radio’s office.

The Jefferson City native faces two major competitors in Missouri's Democratic primary on Aug. 2: Trudy Busch Valentine and Spencer Toder.

Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Lucas Kunce has a relatively straightforward contention on why he’d be the best candidate in November: The Jefferson City native wants someone who’s experienced economic hardship to provide a voice to Missouri.

“Most Missourians grow up paycheck to paycheck or one disaster from bankruptcy,” Kunce said during an episode of St. Louis Public Radio's Politically Speaking podcast. “I remember being at the grocery store with my mom and watching her write a check and just begging the cashier not to cash it till the end of the month so that we could make it.”

Since entering the Senate contest in 2021, Kunce has stressed his humble origins. He’s also showcased his military service as a Marine and an economic message that can be described as populist.

Even though the state has taken a decidedly Republican turn over the past few election cycles, Kunce has often outraised GOP contenders for the Senate during some fundraising quarters. In addition to a slew of lightly funded candidates, Kunce is squaring off against two major competitors on Aug. 2 — Trudy Busch Valentine and Spencer Toder.

Kunce, who has an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, said he brings a different perspective to the table than the other Democratic contenders.

“When we went bankrupt, we didn't make it because the institutions were there for us,” Kunce said. “We didn't make it because the rich folks on the other side of town were there for us. We made it because the people in that neighborhood without any more money than we had passed the plate down at church. They brought more tuna casserole and lasagna by the house than we could ever, ever eat. And those are the people that have power in this country — people who know how to take care of each other instead of folks who are in power and use that power for their funders to strip communities like the one I grew up in for parts.”

Punishing Congress members for stock trading

One of the proposals Kunce is pushing is sending members of Congress and their immediate family members to prison if they’re found to have made stock trades.

That’s part of a policy push among Republicans and Democrats who’ve expressed outrage over high-profile instances of members of Congress trading stocks, raising insider trading suspicions in some cases, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you're going to be a member of Congress, there should be some amount of sacrifice there,” Kunce said. “If you can't get by on the salary, then that's too bad.”

Scrapping filibuster to protect abortion rights

Like other Democratic Senate hopefuls, Kunce is supportive of getting rid of the filibuster in order to pass federal legislation making abortion legal in every state.

“I have seen what it's like to live in a Big Brother government,” Kunce said. “I went to Iraq, I went to Afghanistan. Women had no rights there. And it's an absolute tragedy. You know, they told us that we were fighting for freedom overseas when they deployed us. And then I come home, and it's like, ‘Oh my God, the fight for freedom is right here.’”

When he unsuccessfully ran for a Jefferson City-based state House seat in 2006, Kunce was against abortion rights. He said his time overseas helped change his view on the issue.

“And you know, as I got older, I saw people go through very, very difficult pregnancies that they should never have to go through again,” Kunce said. “And, and for me, this has just become one of those fundamental rights that every person should have access to.”

Some opponents of abolishing the Senate filibuster to expand abortion rights, such as Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, have contended that the move will empower Republicans to pass a nationwide abortion ban if they ever capture the majority. Kunce doesn’t find that argument compelling.

“If anybody's worried about what Mitch McConnell would do, that guy's got to be laughing every single day that we don't get rid of the filibuster because he would do the exact same thing,” Kunce said.

Wants stronger action on guns

While he said he would have voted for a legislative package that increased funding for red flag laws and mental health programs, Kunce said Congress needs to go further when it comes to restricting firearms.

He doesn’t buy the argument that gun control is unpopular in outstate Missouri, which has typically voted for candidates who oppose curbs on firearms.

“When I go around Missouri, gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans, Democrats, independents, they all want the same thing and that's to keep these weapons out of the hands of criminals, teenagers and terrorists,” Kunce said. “And, you know, real expanded background checks, which this doesn't have, and real red flag protections, which this doesn't have.”

Pointing to his experience in the military, Kunce said he supports raising the age limit to purchase a gun from 18 to 21.

“There is a world in which if you got the right amount of training and the right amount of observation, then I could go lower with that,” Kunce said. “It's not like I'm not gonna be draconian about this. But we need things that keep the weapons out of people who are going to be unsafe.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkelogg 

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