Voters are heading to the polls to cast ballots to choose nominees for the November election. (File photo).

While competitive races for the U.S. Senate and House are underway at the top of Missourians’ ballots this year, a number of state legislative races in Missouri could set the tone for the upcoming session of the General Assembly. 

Missouri House Democrats say they are hoping to pick up several seats around the Kansas City area in November. The winners of next week’s primaries will determine which candidates will end up on the November ballot. 

And in eastern Jackson County, a primary for a state Senate seat mirrors the ongoing tension within the Republican caucus in Jefferson City. The 2022 legislative session was at times sidetracked by Republican infighting, largely in the Senate. A group of seven senators, known as the conservative caucus, had enough voting power to stall and sometimes sideline efforts by other Republicans. 

Alongside the task of deciding how to allocate Missouri’s largest budget ever this year,  Republican lawmakers also were preoccupied with attempts to pass legislation banning critical race theory, which is not part of the curriculum in Missouri public schools; barring participation by trans athletes in youth sports; and placing further restrictions on reproductive health care access in the state. 

The Beacon compiled a closer look at some Kansas City-area races that reflect the themes at play in the Missouri legislature.

Missouri Senate District 8

The 8th Senate District, which includes Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit, is currently represented by incumbent Sen. Mike Cierpiot, who was elected to the seat in 2018 after serving multiple terms as a member of House leadership. 

Cierpiot is staving off primary challengers in Rachl Aguirre, a teacher from Lee’s Summit, and Joe Nicola, a pastor and U.S. Navy veteran. 

Both challengers have attempted to position themselves as more conservative than Cierpiot. Aguirre is campaigning with a focus on conservative interests in education, such as parental rights and school choice. Nicola’s causes include abortion, women’s sports and critical race theory. His campaign Facebook page calls Cierpiot a “RINO” — a term popular with  former President Trump and others to mean “Republican in name only.”  

In a post, Nicola grouped Cierpiot with “so-called ‘Republican’ state senators that vote with the Democrats the majority of the time.”  He added, “They all must go and We the People can make it happen August 2.” 

Cierpiot, a former network engineer at AT&T, sponsored bills this year to recall school board members and make changes to the state’s utility provisions. Heading into the campaign season, he lost an endorsement from Missouri Right to Life, the state’s primary anti-abortion political organization, which endorsed his primary challengers

In a recent newsletter from his senatorial office, Cierpiot named critical race theory, women’s sports and defunding abortion providers as his top priorities for 2023. 

“These are all tough, complex issues, but each of you sent me to Jefferson City to represent your views and concerns in the State Capitol,” he said. “Every time I cast a vote or make a decision in the Missouri Senate, I do so with your best intentions in mind. As I look forward to 2023, establishing a Parents’ Bill of Rights, banning CRT and protecting women’s sports will be my top priorities in the General Assembly next year.” 

Democrats set sights on metro districts for November pickups

House Democrats, who are vastly outnumbered in the legislature, are hoping to hold their ground against Republicans and perhaps even pick up seats in the Kansas City area, according to House Democratic campaign chair and state Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City. 

Weber pointed to the state’s recent ban on all abortions with exceptions for the life of the birthing person as a reason voters may be reevaluating their voting preferences this year. 

“I’ve been door knocking for the candidates that we need help with – in different areas that aren’t as blue as mine,” Weber told The Beacon. “The conversations that I’ve been having at the doors with Republicans – they’re really concerned about their birth control. They’re really concerned about their daughters. 

“They’re really concerned about themselves too, because a lot of them had issues with miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, the list goes on,” Weber added. “And so they are very concerned with what’s going on and they are looking at, ‘Do we support a Republican that we’ve always supported? Or do we actually start looking at the Democrats?’” 

Democrats are especially optimistic about their prospects in a handful of districts where incumbents aren’t running. After redistricting, current Republican Rep. Josh Hurlbert is running in the newly redrawn 8th state House district, while Democrat Jamie Johnson looks to make a play for 12th District, which represents Camden Point and Smithville, north of Kansas City International Airport. 

In the 14th District, which sits north of Parkville, incumbent Rep. Ashley Aune, a Democrat, is defending her seat, which she won with 53.4% of the vote in 2020. 

Aune will officially face Eric Holmes after both candidates finish their uncontested primary races. Holmes ran for the same seat in 2020, as well as a Democratic attempt for the U.S. House 5th District in 2014. 

Democrats are also keeping an eye on House District 21, where incumbent Rep. Robert Sauls is defending his Independence-area district, which has been trending closer to a potential Republican pickup in recent elections. 

In 2012, Democrats carried the seat with 58% of the vote. In 2018, Sauls ran on the general election ballot unopposed, but only narrowly defeated his Republican opponent in 2020, with 50.1% of the vote to the GOP’s 49.9%. 

A vacant seat in the Lee’s Summit-area 34th House District could also be a prime November pickup for Democratic candidate Kemp Strickler, after Republican Rep. Rick Roeber resigned from the House in April amid allegations of child abuse made by his adult children. Strickler will run against Republican J.C. Crossley in November.

Republicans in this district carried races with wide margins for years: In 2014 the GOP won the seat with nearly 65% of the vote. By 2020, that margin had slimmed to just under 51%. 

Democrats also eye some primary contests next Tuesday

In the 36th District, home to Grandview, Rep. Annette Turnbaugh is in a three-way primary race with John Boyd Jr. and Anthony Ealy. 

Democrats attempted to get Boyd’s name removed from the ballot in the district after he had already paid the party the filing fee, according to the Missouri Independent. He has run for office twice in the past as a Republican. In 2018 and 2020, Boyd took 40.9% and 42.4% of the vote in the general election, respectively. 

Turnbaugh’s other challenger, Anthony Ealy, graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2020 and has worked for U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II. 

In the 22nd District, another three-way primary is underway for the seat held by Rep. Yolanda Young, who was elected in a special election in 2019 and reelected in 2020. She is being challenged by former opponent Kevon Graves and Davitta Hanson on the August ballot. 

Graves ran for this seat as a Democrat in 2020, but lost the primary against Young with 15.4% of the vote to Young’s 67.6%. 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...