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Special Report: Running Unopposed

Of the 163 seats in the Missouri State House, more than half are already decided, before the voters make their choices in the November election.

In fact, ABC 17 News checked into each race for the House and discovered nearly 100 of the 163 races are already decided before the August PRIMARY. 95 races have only one candidate – or a Republican or Democratic candidate with no major party competition.

It’s said electoral competition is a primary indicator of the health of American democracy. Using that data, it would seem our nation and our state is sick. But, Columbia College Political Science Professor Dr. Terry Smith said it may be too difficult to determine whether or not this lack of competition is a threat to democracy.

“It depends on why they’re uncontested,” said Smith. “Are they uncontested because it’s too hard to get on the ballot, because it’s too expensive to run for office, because nobody cares? Or, is it because on party or one candidate dominates a district and basically runs off all the competition?”

Regardless of the reason, in the 2014 election, about 40% of state legislative races in the U.S. were uncontested. In Missouri, the number was closer to 50% and looks to be even higher this election cycle.

As politics become increasingly polarized and partisan, fewer people want to subject themselves or their families to the scrutiny of running for office.

“You’d have to have the skin of an armadillo to run in these times,” said Smith.

Let’s say you’re thinking of seeking statewide office. Even if you have no major skeletons in the closet, what you have in the bank – is equally important.

“If you’ve got an opponent that Rex Singuefield likes, then you’ve got problems! Because he’s gonna write a check for six-figures or seven and that’s a tremendous amount of money to use in a campaign,” said Smith.

And, if you’re facing an incumbent, you have another hurdle that can be almost insurmountable. In the last election, 100% of incumbent Republicans held their seat nearly 90% of Democrats were re-elected.

Former Missouri State Representative Chris Kelly has run in race with competition and he’s also run unopposed.

“No matter what they say, the vast majority of candidates for public office would rather run unopposed,” said Kelly. “But, every time I was opposed I was a better state representative in the next term because I got to know the district better. I had to work harder. You’re more aware of the issues and not just aware of them generally, but you’re more aware of the nuts and bolts of the issues.”

But before a potential candidate starts thinking elected office is all power, notoriety and prestige…
“They’re sacrificing a lot,” Smith said. “If you’re a Missouri State legislator what are you making? (FSG: $35,915 per year) It’s not a full-time job. I mean they spend a lot of time down there. And then the stuff they’ve gotta put up with when they come back to their districts – in terms of hearing out constituents and solving constituents’ problems…my goodness. So, to all the people who represent us: Thank you for your service.”

And Chris Kelly has a message for people who don’t vote responsibly and don’t care for politics: “I don’t care whether you like it or not. I don’t like cleaning the house or taking a shower sometimes. But if I don’t do it, I will stink and the house will stink. It’s you’re duty (to participate). You’re an American. You’re a citizen. It’s your job. Do it!”

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