Herschel Young — a man without a party? Or a man with too many?
In little more than a year, he’s been sworn in to one office as a Republican, filed for another as a Democrat and is now considering a Libertarian run.
But while his political party affiliation may confound, on this be clear: Herschel Young is staunchly angry.
Earlier this month — quietly — the Missouri Democratic Party returned Young’s $100 filing fee for the state’s 4th District seat in the U.S. House, effectively barring him from the party’s August primary ballot. They don’t think he’s a real Democrat. They also say a 1995 felony conviction for assault would keep him from taking office anyway, so leaving him on the ballot would waste time and votes.
That would be the same felony that got Young tossed two days after he took the oath last year as the newly elected Republican presiding commissioner of Cass County.
The state party’s action also eliminates a primary opponent for Teresa Hensley, who is considered a formidable opponent for Republican incumbent Vicky Hartzler. Hensley also happens to be the prosecutor who forced Young from office last year.
When Young filed for the 4th as a Democrat, speculation was that it amounted to shenanigans; a primary opponent would force Hensley to spend money before a fall showdown with Hartzler.
Young — who had called himself a Republican for years — denied that he filed just to irritate Hensley.
“Her on the ballot was just icing on the cake,” he said recently outside his tire shop in Harrisonville.
Hensley’s campaign declined to comment.
Steve Bough, chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee, said he was familiar with some of the discussions surrounding the decision to reject Young.
He said Young was kept off the ballot in part because Democrats — and, for that matter, Republicans — cannot be required to associate with candidates they oppose.
“Either party can kick out somebody they don’t like,” said Bough, a lawyer.
He also said most Democrats are convinced Young is not truly supportive of the party’s platform, unlike former Cass County Prosecutor Chris Koster, who left the Republican Party to run for state attorney general as a Democrat in 2007.
Young, probably like most people, didn’t know a political party could block access to its primary ballot.
It is rare, but legal. In 2006, Democrats rejected F. Glenn Miller, a white supremacist and subject of a nationwide manhunt, as a congressional candidate. Two years later, the Libertarians wanted nothing to do with Chief Wana Dubie, who filed for governor.
The Missouri law that prohibits felons from running for or taking office in the state does not apply to federal offices such as a U.S. House seat, said the Missouri secretary of state’s office. Other congressional members, though, could refuse to seat him if he won, said a state Democratic Party official.
The decision on Young was not meant to protect Hensley, party counsel Rob Heggie said. Instead, Democrats concluded Young could not take office because of his criminal history.
As a felon, “he would not be able to ever serve in Congress,” Heggie said. “Congress has a long tradition of expelling convicted felons.”
The Constitution does allow each house of Congress to determine the qualifications for its members, and has expelled members after criminal convictions. But Heggie could provide no examples of the House of Representatives refusing to seat an elected candidate with a prior felony conviction.
In one of Missouri’s fastest growing counties, Young, as a Republican, defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Gary Mallory in 2010 for presiding commissioner.
In a lawsuit, though, Hensley argued that Young should not have been allowed to run because of the 1995 assault conviction. A Missouri law says that no person shall qualify for elective office if he or she has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a felony.
Young countered that the statute didn’t apply to him because his offense occurred more than a decade before the 2007 law went into effect. Besides, he said, all he did was slug a guy who spat on his wife.
A lower court agreed with Hensley. Young appealed and took the fight all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled against him earlier this month.
By then, Young had already filed to run for Congress.
Now, he’s thinking about filing for the Libertarian ballot, where he could face Hensley and Hartzler in November.
“This old dog’s got a lot of fight in him,” Young said.
While not official, Young’s run as a Libertarian could affect the 4th District race, some Democrats said. Young is considered conservative, like Hartzler, and could take votes from her, in effect helping Hensley.
Probably not what the old dog had in mind.