In Kansas City’s Northland, the growing population is becoming younger and more diverse. Democrats are hoping to capitalize on those changes as they try to whittle away at GOP supermajorities in the Missouri legislature.
Competitive races in the 12th and 14th state House districts are presenting opportunities to hold on to one seat and flip another. Outnumbered Democrats are eyeing similar possibilities in other metropolitan-area districts across the state.
Rep. Ashley Aune, the Democratic incumbent in the 14th District, is running for reelection after winning her seat two years ago. Jamie Johnson is a first-time candidate running in the 12th District. They say that education, reproductive rights, gun safety and the economy are top issues they’re seeing on voters’ doorsteps.
Democrats are attempting to hold down all of their competitive districts while flipping six more in order to eliminate the vetoproof GOP supermajority in the state House of Representatives.
“I think that what I’m hearing from both sides of the aisle, over and over again, is that there is too much extremism in our politics right now,” Aune told The Beacon in an interview. “I don’t think any rational person believes that having all Republicans or all Democrats leading our state government is going to create the most effective climate for all Missourians.”
Both of the competitive races are in Platte County, where the population grew 21% from 2010 to 2020, according to census data. It was the fastest-growing county in Missouri over that time, according to the state Office of Administration.
For comparison, the U.S. grew 7.3% and Missouri grew 2.9% in the same period. Platte County is becoming more diverse, as well. White non-Hispanic residents made up a smaller percentage of the population in 2021 than in 2010, dropping five percentage points to 79%. Black residents in Platte County grew by two percentage points, the fastest growing group.
Jamie Johnson hopes to flip Northland’s 12th District with education at the center
Johnson is a single mother of three who moved to Kansas City from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She’s running against Tom Hutsler, a businessman from Parkville. Hutsler did not respond to interview requests from The Beacon.
Johnson told The Beacon she comes from a family tradition of political activism and public service, which has informed her view on what roles the government should fulfill for its citizens.
“I come from a family who helps people, who wants to help people, who have helped people, and that’s where I’ve learned to be in service to others and that’s what really influenced my priorities as a candidate,” Johnson said.
Her biggest priority is fully funding public education. She said she does not support the use of public funds to charter schools, because the Park Hill School District is the county’s largest employer, among other reasons.
“The biggest thing that I want to do is make sure that we fully fund public education,” Johnson said. “I’ve worked really hard to maintain my residence in the Park Hill School District because it’s a really good school district. And it’s just really important to me that our children, all of our children in the state of Missouri, have a firm foundation from which to launch their future. That firm foundation is public education. It is a social good.”
Hutsler has little information about his platform on his campaign website, but does say that he “will stand with our law enforcement officers.”
“Tom plans to address the rising costs of living affecting our families and will ensure parental power in their children’s education,” his website adds. Hutsler has endorsements from the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police and the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, according to his website.
The boundaries of the 12th District in the Northland have changed significantly, thanks to redistricting that followed the 2020 census. From 2010 to 2020, the district included Smithville, Kearney and the eastern half of Platte City. Two years ago, its voters cast 63% of their ballots for then-President Donald Trump, while 35% of votes went to President Joe Biden.
Now, the boundary has been bumped south and the district represents the southern corner of the county, including Parkville and t Riverside.
The new area includes more voters who are Democrats, raising the party’s hopes of adding to their numbers in the legislature.
Johnson comes from a military family, which she says has solidified her concern with gun safety and passing legislation to ensure responsible gun ownership.
“Part of being a responsible gun owner is understanding that we should have regulations that monitor, manage and make sure guns are owned by responsible people,” she said.
Johnson told The Beacon that, as a first-time candidate, she’s been able to lean on other Democratic women running for election.
“It’s really amazing to just have the support from other women who are also running a campaign,” she said. “And they take the time out of the day to answer the phone and answer a question that I have about campaigning or about anything else. It’s really like the sisterhood is building already and I haven’t even won the election.”
Ashley Aune hoping to hold on to her seat in Northland 14th District
State Rep. Ashley Aune is running for a second term in the newly redrawn 14th state House district. She told The Beacon she is most proud of her relationships with legislators across the aisle. Continuing to build those relationships would be a top priority if she is reelected, she said.
“My number one goal is to continue building the relationships that I’ve already started investing in down in Jefferson City,” Aune said. “And finding consensus on the issues that truly matter to all Missourians. That’s one of the things I feel that I really bring to the table as a legislator — especially a legislator in this superminority — is that relationship aspect.”
Before redistricting, the 14th District represented Riverside through Platte Woods. Now it runs from Weatherby Lake north to the east of Kansas City International Airport.
In 2020, under old district lines, the 14th voted for Biden by 54% to Trump’s 43%. Redistricting has captured more of the old 12th District and possibly more conservative voters.
Aune said she considers her district part of the suburban shift to blue that has been a nationwide trend over recent election cycles. She believes access to abortion and reproductive health care are priorities for her constituents. Missouri was the first state to place a near-total ban on abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case that overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that made access to an abortion a constitutional right in the United States.
“What we’re seeing in Platte County is a ton of young families in the area,” Aune said. “The priorities are shifting. We’re seeing folks who are in the midst of creating and raising families. That means that these people are of childbearing age so the abortion issue is very top of mind.”
Aune is running against Republican Eric Holmes for the second time. Holmes, a U.S. Army veteran, did not respond to interview requests from The Beacon. He lists parental rights, inflation and lowering taxes as top issues on his website.
His website states: “Eric Holmes will fight to make Missouri a growing economy and a beacon of hope compared to failing states. He supports lowering taxes and being a good steward of state’s funds…. Defunding the police has been a disaster across America. Eric Holmes believes it’s up to us to turn this around and make the Northland safe again.”
He has endorsements from Missouri Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police.
In 2020, Holmes gained 46% of the vote to Aune’s 53%.
Aune said she is hearing mixed opinions about the state’s economy when she is knocking on doors to meet voters. The purple nature of her district led her to vote for Missouri’s recent tax cuts, which many of the state’s Democrats opposed.
Aune said she’d rather see money from a state surplus go back into people’s pockets as opposed to seeing the additional money potentially being left unspent and sitting in state coffers while state programs struggle to keep their heads above water.
“I broke with my party and voted in favor of the tax cuts. And the reason I did that is because there are a lot of people in my district who wanted it,” she said.
“What I also know, from being in the legislature for the past few years and understanding how our budget works, is that the money that we have sitting in our coffers right now, I do not believe that my colleagues will appropriate that for the social services and the things that I believe need to be invested in this state,” Aune added. “They haven’t done it yet. I don’t believe they’re going to start doing it now.”
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