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A GOP primary in Jackson County could show the strength — or limit — of Missouri's far-right

A man wearing a gray sit and blue tie holds a sheet of paper and speaks while standing on the floor of the Missouri Senate.
Missouri Senate Communications
Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, speaks on the Senate floor on Feb. 10, 2021.

Incumbent Missouri Sen. Mike Cierpiot is facing primary challengers from the right, who criticize him for being "worst Republican in our area." But his campaign priorities tend to line up even with his opponents.

A primary election in eastern Jackson County could be a bellwether for Missouri Senate Republicans, after months of escalating tensions between GOP leaders and the Conservative Caucus.

On August 2, two hard-right Republicans will try to unseat incumbent state Sen. Mike Cierpiot in the primary election for the Missouri Senate’s 8th District. The winner will face Blue Springs Democrat Antoine Jennings in November.

Cierpiot served in the Missouri House from 2010 until his election to the Senate in 2017, and he’s served on several legislative committees involving the state budget and K-12 education.

One of Cierpiot’s goals for his campaign is to take responsibility in representing the interest of business in the Kansas City area.

During the 2022 spring legislative session, the Conservative Caucus boasted seven Republican senators, who used tactics like week-long filibusters to stall legislation and push for more aggressive redistricting tactics and anti-LGBTQ policies.

Cierpiot has called the group the “chaos caucus,” and criticized members for not taking their job seriously.

“It’s a terrible way to do business. It’s a terrible precedent for the Senate,” Cierpiot said.

Cierpiot’s Republican opponents, Rachl Aguirre and Joe Nicola, align with some of the hard-right and conservative ideals represented in the Conservative Caucus.

Nicola is a Grain Valley resident and pastor of the non-denominational church New Covenant Ministries, who wants religious leaders to get more involved in politics. He served in the U.S Navy from 1984-1990, and told KCUR in an interview that “every one of our freedoms are at stake right now.”

Nicola said he felt compelled to run against Cierpiot after investigating his voting record, calling him the “worst Republican in our area.”

Aguirre, a former teacher in Lee’s Summit, has made parental involvement in education one of her key campaign issues.

“The children of today are the decision makers of tomorrow,” Agguire’s website reads. “Radical leftists also recognize this and are busy at work to win the culture war we are currently in.”

Despite criticism from his opponents, many of Cierpiot’s campaign positions align with both Nicola’s and Aguirre’s, including on cultural issues like “critical race theory.”

“We must actively oppose any use of political ideology in the classroom that puts students against each other, makes it more difficult to learn, and eats up the teacher’s time,” Cierpiot says on his website.

Cierpiot is also ardently anti-abortion, but the state’s biggest anti-abortion organization, Missouri Right to Life, endorsed both of his opponents -- citing Cierpiot’s “vote to fund Planned Parenthood.”

This was in reference to a failed Missouri House billbarring all public funding from going to Planned Parenthood clinics, even those that don’t provide abortion services.

Cierpiot says he opposed the bill because it would have stripped funding for people with disabilities.

While the Missouri Right to Life endorsements were a blow to Cierpiot’s campaign, he isn’t worried about winning the GOP primary.

“I'm not irreplaceable by any means. There's a lot of people that can do this job,” Cierpiot says. “It's just not the people running against me in this election.”

Rachel Schnelle is an intern for KCUR 89.3. She is an alum of the Missouri School of Journalism.
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