In a Missouri House district in Lee’s Summit, Democrat Kemp Strickler is hoping to reclaim a legislative seat that has long been the property of Republicans. But he’ll have to defeat Republican J.C. Crossley on Nov. 8.
In a political and familial twist, Crossley’s son, Aaron Crossley, is running for office nearby in Independence. But, while his father is carrying the GOP banner, Aaron Crossley is running as a Democrat, against Republican David Martin. They want to fill the seat that Democrat Rory Rowland vacated when he became the mayor of Independence.
The races, for the 34th District in Lee’s Summit and the 29th District in Independence, are being closely watched. If both Democratic candidates win, their party would pick up a seat in the heavily Republican Missouri House.
The 34th District has been unrepresented since 2021, when the previous Republican lawmaker was expelled from the General Assembly following an investigation into allegations of child abuse by his now-adult children.
In candidate forums and interviews with The Beacon, the candidates say that the economy, education and homelessness are among the top issues in their districts.
Taxes and social services top of mind for Aaron Crossley and David Martin in Independence’s 29th House District
In Independence’s 29th House District, Aaron Crossley, a social worker and Republican-turned-Democrat, is facing truck driver and Jackson County GOP committeeman David Martin.
Before the legislature drew new district lines this year, the district ran from Independence to Unity Village. Now, it represents a geographically smaller portion of Raytown and Independence.
From 2016 to 2022, the seat was held by Democrat Rory Rowland, who resigned to become the mayor of Independence. In 2020, Rowland won reelection with 99% of the vote against a write-in candidate.
Under old lines, the 29th District opted for President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, 52% to Trump’s 44%.
Aaron Crossley was the sole Democrat in the primary and received 2,814 votes. Martin ran against Republicans James Lowman and Gloria Stone and received 48% of the primary vote.
Crossley said he has been a Republican for most of his life.
“Clearly, my thoughts have changed on that,” he said. Crossley credited his career in social services for his run for public office.
“I have seen that every obstacle that people in our community were encountering was almost always directly tied back to things coming out of Jefferson City,” he said. “People just want to work and be left alone. And they couldn’t do that because of the obstacles that they were encountering.”
He said he hopes to advocate for mental health and social services for residents of Independence.
“I want to be that behavioral health expert in the Capitol,” he said. “Because people on all sides of the aisle, on any political spectrum, right now just see how important mental health resources are.”
He said extra resources are especially necessary in eastern Jackson County, where those who are houseless have access to fewer resources than in the metro’s core.
Crossley and Martin both said in candidate forums and interviews that the voters they talk to are concerned about the economy and the cost of living.
Martin, who said he got politically involved during the 2016 election, said he is supportive of the recent tax cut passed by the legislature, the largest in state history, but he said legislators could have taken the savings further for Missourians.
“I think there is more that could have been done and should have been done,” Martin said during a candidate forum with the Independence Chamber of Commerce. He did not respond to an interview request from The Beacon.
“There’s more opportunities for tax cuts this next session,” Martin said at the forum. “I’d love to do more to reduce taxes, whether it’s income tax or our sales taxes. I’d like to see more done and when I get there, I intend to do that.”
Crossley said he opposes the tax cut.
“It does nothing to help retirees who are on limited incomes,” he said. “And the one thing that I’ve heard too many people in my district say is that, ‘I’m retired. I worked for 30 or 40 years to pay my house off, and I’m gonna have to move because I can’t pay the property tax.’”
Martin and Crossley have also both mentioned education as a top issue, but have different views on how to improve schools.
Crossley said he believes the system has been “chronically underfunded” in Missouri, that teacher pay is too low, and the state should step up its support of trade programs, not just four-year universities.
In the Independence Chamber of Commerce candidate forum, Martin said he thinks teacher pay should be higher, but things like school choice are just as important.
“I would also like to see parents and children be able to go to the schools of their choice and have opportunities for quality education,” Martin said. “And for the teachers to have an opportunity to teach not just in the public school system, but in the private sector.”
Kemp Strickler and J.C. Crossley put focus on education, cost of living in Lee’s Summit’s 34th House District
Kemp Strickler is a retired Hallmark Cards data analytics manager running as a Democrat against Republican and former HVAC business owner J.C. Crossley.
In 2020, under the former district lines, Trump won the eastern Jackson County district, 51% to President BIden’s 45%.
Back then, the 34th was made up of southeast Lee’s Summit. Now, it runs centrally through Lee’s Summit from Unity Village to the Cass County line.
The seat has been vacant since 2021, when then-Rep. Rick Roeber was expelled from office after the state’s House Ethics Committee investigated allegations of child abuse made against him by his adult children.
Roeber ran for the seat after his wife, who held it before him, passed away while in office in 2019. He won the November 2020 general election with 50% of the vote to Democrat Chris Hager’s 49%.
Strickler said he became interested in the race because of his support for a strong public education system in Missouri.
J.C. Crossley did not respond to an interview request from The Beacon. In the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum, he said he had not considered a run for public office until he was recruited for the seat.
“At first I thought I should do it since they had nobody to sign up. I should do it out of duty,” he said at the forum. “And after about three weeks of praying and reading about what’s going on, I realized I didn’t know anything about what’s going on. As I read more and studied more and asked more questions, I realized it is something I should do.”
Crossley said his main concerns were things like affordable property taxes and the cost of living. He said he supported the tax cut recently passed by the legislature.
“I agree any time they let us have our own money. We know what to do with our money better than any government agency. And we do need to fund the government. We need to collect enough revenue to provide the services that we said we’re going to provide,” he said.
Crossley’s next remarks at the forum raised some eyebrows.
“That’d be a great way to raise revenue is to make sure everybody’s fully employed to the maximum capability,” he said. “There are some people working $15-an-hour jobs where they could be working one $40-an-hour job and they wouldn’t be a drag on society, they would actually be contributing to society.”
Strickler said in an interview with The Beacon that property taxes have been a top issue raised to him by voters.
“You do hear concern about things like property taxes,” Strickler said. “I think we have to look at ways to make sure that we can keep seniors in their homes. That’s definitely an issue with that set of folks.”
Strickler said the apparent 50-50 partisan divide in the district could make his moderate views an advantage.
“I hope to represent this district, which is a very purple district. It’s very 50-50,” he said. “And I can’t do a good job of representing that district if my views are extreme. I think you have to look for the areas of commonality, and even if we disagree on a high-profile issue, like, let’s say, abortion, that doesn’t mean that we can’t and shouldn’t try to work together on an issue like public education.”
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