Government & Politics

‘Dirty political games’? Signature on petition stirs up Missouri Senate race

Three candidates are running to fill the Missouri Senate vacated by Republican Will Kraus: (from left) Missouri House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot, a Republican; Jacob Turk, an independent; and Democrat Hillary Shields. All are from Lee’s Summit. Turk has run for Congress six times as a Republican.
Three candidates are running to fill the Missouri Senate vacated by Republican Will Kraus: (from left) Missouri House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot, a Republican; Jacob Turk, an independent; and Democrat Hillary Shields. All are from Lee’s Summit. Turk has run for Congress six times as a Republican. File photos

The husband of the Democratic candidate in a special Missouri Senate election signed a petition to add an independent candidate to the ballot.

After Republican state Sen. Will Kraus’ decision to step down from his seat in the 8th District, voters in eastern Jackson County will elect a new state senator on Nov. 7.

The race pits Missouri House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican, against Democrat Hillary Shields, a 33-year-old paralegal and co-founder of the grassroots group Indivisible Kansas City.

But the race also features independent candidate Jacob Turk, who Republicans fear will pull votes away from Cierpiot and enable Shields to win the seat. Turk has made unsuccessful runs for Congress six times in the past as a Republican, most recently in 2016.

Shields’ husband, Mitch, signed the petition to add Turk to the ballot, according to records from the Missouri secretary of state’s office that show he used the same Lee’s Summit address as Shields’ campaign finance filing.

“Yes, he did,” Shields confirmed in a phone call Thursday. “We’re not afraid of the competition. I’m not sure why my opponent is. My husband is a qualified voter of the 8th District and he’s allowed to sign any petition he wants to.”

To get on the ballot, Missouri law requires that independent candidates for the legislature obtain signatures from 10,000 registered voters in a district or an amount that is equal to 2 percent of the total turnout in the last election, whichever is less, according to the Missouri secretary of state’s office. In Turk’s case, he collected the 629 signatures needed based on previous turnout.

Cierpiot said in an email that Turk’s decision to obtain a signature from the Democratic candidate’s husband is “exactly the kind of dirty political games voters are sick of. If voters can’t trust Hillary Shields and Jacob Turk to run honest campaigns, how can voters trust them to serve in public office?”

Turk said he had 56 volunteers collect signatures for his campaign and he was unaware that Shields’ husband had signed “until Mike’s campaign brought this up.” He said most of the people who signed the petition would have been conservatives despite suggestions from Cierpiot’s campaign that his candidacy is meant to help the Democrat.

“This is what establishment Republicans do. ... They’re trying to paint me with a brush that they themselves have,” Turk said. “They’re trying to throw dirt. That’s my integrity that they’re talking about, so I take umbrage at that.”

Turk did find humor in the fact that Shields’ husband signed the petition. “Can you imagine if I am blessed to win how awkward that conversation is going to be at that kitchen table the next morning?” he said.

Over the last 40 years, Republicans have held the eastern Jackson County senate seat every year but one: Democrat Margaret Rennau won a special election in 1993 but then lost re-election the following year. Republicans will be spending a significant amount of money to keep the seat. Cierpiot’s campaign has already spent $134,000 on television ads, which will begin airing in the Kansas City market next week.

The campaign has also posted 22 minutes of footage to YouTube that could be used in ads by political action committees.

“They seem really upset that there’s some competition,” Shields said. “I think they thought that they were just going to walk right into this seat, that it was going to be a coronation and not an election.”

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

The Star’s Jason Hancock contributed to this report.

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