Tuesday’s election includes races for two Kansas City-area Missouri House seats that were vacated earlier this year.
The 22nd District House seat came open after Democratic Rep. Brandon Ellington resigned to serve on the city council, while the 36th District House seat is open because Democratic Rep. DaRon McGee stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations.
KCUR interviewed candidates for both seats. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Tammy Louise Herrera (Republican)
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom, works in the retail business
How will your background influence how you approach legislating? I've been in this district for over 40 years. I was 4 years old when I moved here … I know the people of our district. I know the challenges we face. And I would do my best to vote for policies that would strengthen District 22.
If elected, what will you focus on? My main focus would be strengthening the family, tax breaks and incentives. The second one is school choice. I am an advocate for school choice. Kansas City public schools have had their struggles and I think one of those answers is school choice.
What is one bill you plan to introduce? I don't have an answer for that at this time.
Yolanda Young (Democrat)
Occupation: Managing director of community outreach and engagement for Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council
How will your background influence how you approach legislating? I've had 30-plus years of grassroots organizing, spent 30 years advocating for my neighbors, mobilizing folks to action around issues that concern them. And they have garnered a lot of results. I also have a lot of experience in creating programs and systems from the concept phase to the implementation phase. I plan to take those types of skills and experience to the legislature.
If elected, what will you focus on? My first priority because I will be a freshman or a rookie on campus would be to get busy right away learning how to navigate the political realities in Jeff City. But in respect to addressing my constituent issues, I'll be looking at legislation that will support job creation, living wages, not just minimum wage ... I’ll also be looking at affordable housing … quality education, especially helping bring more resources to our public schools. Improving access to health care, that's a huge one. That includes Medicaid expansion, and then overall, safer neighborhoods.
What is one bill you plan to introduce? I don't have the answer to that right now. Should I get elected, I will be able to focus more keenly on on that.
Why did you choose DaRon McGee to run your campaign? DaRon has experience because he has been a representative for many years. And DaRon and I did work together. Prior to him getting that job, he worked for COMBAT. My agency was a COMBAT-funded agency. … You need people who are familiar [with running a campaign] and who are experienced and who can help you navigate something like this. This is my first experience with it. So he's been helping me walk through this process.
Do you have any reservations about working with McGee considering he was investigated by the ethics committee? That has nothing to do with my candidacy… I don't see any connection with that and utilizing his skills and experience in the political world.
Jeff Francis (Green)
He could not be reached for comment.
Mark Sharp (Democratic)
Occupation: Third-grade language arts teacher.
How will your background influence how you approach legislating? This is my fifth year of teaching. Over the past few years of this current presidency (Donald Trump), I've seen some things change with students, with classroom culture and just with people generally. A few years ago, when I saw that he was being elected, I had a lot of students at the time who were starting to look up to swastikas ... I started seeing other students treating students who didn't look like them differently and that's when I realized that perhaps some of the issues that we're trying to resolve as teachers, it's going to be kind of tough to resolve those issues in the classroom. And some of those issues have to be addressed at a different type of level.
If elected, what will you focus on? It's hard to live in Kansas City and not talk about gun violence. Reducing gun violence and getting more funding for public education are my two biggest priorities. ... One of the first things we’re going to try and pass is Blair’s Law … That would make it a state offense for celebratory gunfire. And like many people know, Blair Shanahan Lane was 11 years old (when she) was killed by one of the (stray) bullets that came down, back in 2011. So that bill would be for her and to try to prevent future deaths like that from happening.
My second priority would be getting more state funding for our public schools and secondary schools here in Missouri. Right now, the conservatives down there in Jeff City have shifted what it means for schools to be fully funded.
What is one bill you plan to introduce? The very first thing I want to try to get passed will be Blair’s Law. And this is kind of like low-hanging fruit at this point, because I think people, in general, are just so anxious for something to be done to reduce gun violence … I think people across the state are ready for at least some type of legislation. I'm not saying that Blair’s Law is going to be the end-all be-all. But it's the little things like that, that are going to drive us toward where we want to be.
Roberta Voorhees (Green)
Occupation: Subcontractor for a low-voltage wiring systems company.
How will your background influence how you approach legislating? I'm an Iraq war veteran. I also come from a rural area. I grew up poor and that gives me a little insight. I didn't get the opportunities that I would have gotten in an urban area in the early ’90s. I really want to see education extended both rural and urban areas, because so many people leave rural areas for the city for opportunities. But my biggest focus really, after serving in the military and spending years in Kansas City, is on criminal justice reform and sustainable community living.
If elected, what will you focus on? My big focus is criminal justice reform and sustainable community living. Especially in Kansas City we have a lot of undeveloped greenery … There's a lot of undeveloped land that we could utilize to grow food for the community, and it would provide jobs also for the community. ... A lot of people who live in District 36 don't want to send their kids to public school because of the underfunding. ... I don't try to pretend to know everything that's going on with our education system. But I know after 10 years of living South Kansas City, nobody wants to send our kids to public school. And I would really like to get into that and see what I can do to help the people in my neighborhood get the resources they need to help reduce crime, poverty and recidivism.
What is one bill you plan to introduce? I don't like to think that I can come up with ideas for a group of people that I'm trying to represent without their input ... I really just want to represent my people that live in my community, and take their voices up. And from what I've heard and what people are talking about, they're really tired of crime and trash. So I will be first looking into what we can do about that.
Nola Wood (write-in candidate, Republican)
Occupation: Insurance agent and independent broker.
How will your background influence how you approach legislating? I have an extensive background both in the insurance field and, in past years, in real estate and as a small business owner. I feel that I bring a lot of experience in leadership training to the position that I believe will help in properly representing our district.
If elected, what will you focus on? I'm very concerned about the Jackson County tax assessment fiasco. I know that it could come to needing oversight from the state to the county. And so I feel strongly that we need to have someone with a background in real estate, knowledge of what's involved in tax assessment. And, also, I don't have the ties to the Jackson County political machine that my main opponent would of course have since he’s the Democratic nominee.
Another issue that is very important to me is educational freedom. We have many people who actually move from our district and move even out of state. We've lost good, productive members of the community who were very frustrated with the situation with our schools here. And so I want to help see our schools, our public schools and our other educational options, all have the best showing and to do the best job for our next generation.
What is one bill you plan to introduce? I would say probably an initial effort would be in the area of health care freedom. There, the governor has recently established a task force on improving access while finding ways to decrease cost for our people in our families. And so I am very interested in being part of that. And we'll be looking at the options that we have available.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.