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More MS news articles for October 2002

Candidates wrestle over new district

Ann Elwell, Jay Wasson face challenges represented by changes to territory

Oct. 22, 2002
By Mike Penprase

Trying to fill a predecessor's shoes in Missouri's House this election also means walking over different territory for Ann Elwell and Jay Wasson.

While Rep. Jim Kreider's 142nd House District covered the western half of Christian County and the southwest corner of Greene County, reapportionment that created the 141st House District from part of the old 142nd also changed the territory.

Now, whoever wins the district will represent western Christian County to just east of Nixa, along with parts of Lawrence and Stone counties.

That means undertaking a more widespread door-to-door campaign in a more diverse district including high-growth areas near Springfield, farming areas and tourist-oriented areas, Republican Wasson and Democrat Elwell say.

Both say despite long hours campaigning — Elwell has taken a leave of absence as director of publications for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Wasson has cut back on his development business to campaign — they enjoy meeting voters outside their common home base of Nixa.

"Probably the neatest part of this is meeting people I didn't know," Wasson said.

Elwell says much the same.

"It's been, really, the best part of my campaign," she said. "It's invigorating to talk to people."

That talk has been give-and-take, both listening to opinions and concerns and explaining their positions on issues.

Availability of well-paying jobs is a prime concern among voters, along with rising health costs, they say.

But issues don't seem to be the dividing line for Wasson, who served on the Nixa Board of Aldermen, then as mayor for three terms, and for Elwell, a three-term member of the Nixa School Board and active in the League of Women Voters on local and state levels.

The race revolves more around personal experience and background.

Wasson became mayor when Nixa City Hall was in upheaval. Then, being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after his 1997 appointment put his priorities in perspective, Wasson said.

Although symptoms have been under control, MS's unpredictability makes him focus on what's important: family and public service, Wasson said.

Along with watching over his 90-year-old mother, Nora, Wasson said he is close to other family members and enjoys putting on the annual family reunion.

Commitment is his byword, and a major reason for running for the House, he said.

"This is my way, this is what I want to do," he said. "I hope I can make some difference in other people's lives."

Acknowledging that while Wasson's family goes back generations in the Nixa area, Kansas City native Elwell said moving to Nixa about 20 years ago to raise a family, work and be involved in community activities helps her understand the district's residents.

Involvement in the League of Women Voters and talking to Kreider about getting more involved in politics prompted her to run for the House when Kreider couldn't run because of term limits, she said.

"Hopefully, people consider me a moderate candidate, because that's who I am," she said. "My experience and my background help me relate better to people in the district."

Being on a school board that oversaw a district with a continuing need for new schools while maintaining academic standards was a good background for government service, she said.

"That kind of gave me a taste of it, although it's a different experience than state representative," she said.

With his background in local government at a time when the city worked often with the Missouri Department of Transportation on highways and the Department of Natural Resources on building a new treatment plant, Wasson believes he knows how to participate in creating a budget, and holds no illusions it will be easy.

"I think that's going to be an extremely difficult problem in the next session," he said.

Elwell said the budget process should be more than an exercise in chopping programs.

"To me, it's more of a structural thing than ‘Let's just cut this program.' It's not simple at all, it's complex, but I think it can be done."

Both say that while something has to be done to improve Missouri's roads and highways, the Missouri Department of Transportation needs to undergo changes to refurbish a tarnished image and become more accountable.

The defeat of Proposition B in August was proof of voters' distrust, they said.

"The problem was accountability," Wasson said. "They did not trust MoDOT. I think some things are going to have to be done there."

That might include funding that involves asking for short-term financing with a sunset provision, he said.

District engineers should have more authority on how to spend funds and prove they can get projects done, rather than try for an increase in tax revenues, Elwell said. "I don't see a tax, I don't think a tax is a wise idea at this time, after Proposition B's failure."

Divergence comes on issues such as conceal-and-carry and collective bargaining.

Wasson said he supports allowing Missourians to carry concealed weapons.

The possibility of someone carrying a concealed firearm into a public building isn't just a matter of politics, Elwell said.

That's because her husband, Dana, referees high school basketball and they've had "what-if" discussions on dealing with an irate, armed fan, she said.

Despite those misgivings, Elwell said she supports a person's right to own firearms.

Wasson said he opposes collective bargaining for government employees. It would affect not only state government, but local government, he said.

"From everything I could learn about collective bargaining at the time, I'm against it," he said.

"I support the right of anyone to gather together for better salaries," Elwell said. "I just don't see how it works in the public arena."

Copyright © 2002, The Springfield News-Leader