Sunday, September 13, 2009

District 62 GOP Plans To Pick Its Candidate Saturday


Although the special election isn't until February, Stone and Taney county voters will likely know who their next state House representative will be on Saturday.

That's when the District 62 GOP legislative committee will meet and vote on the candidate who will carry the Republican banner next year.

The public meeting is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Branson West City Hall, according to District 62 GOP chair Layne Morrill.

A Democrat has never held a legislative seat in Stone County, Morrill noted.

Meanwhile, the field of candidates vying to replace former Rep. Dennis Wood continues to shape.

The Notebook has learned that former Taney County Commissioner Ron Herschend intends to compete for the legislative committee's vote. "I'm excited about what I can do as a state representative to provide opportunity for growth and new jobs in areas other than tourism," Herschend said in an interview.

Herschend, who served on the Taney County commission between 2001 and 2008, becomes the fifth candidate to publicly consider a campaign for the seat.

The other four known potential GOP candidates are 62 District vice chair Nita Jane Ayres, businessman Jeff Justus, former Reeds Spring school board member Jeff Sims and Stone County GOP chair Tom Martin.

All of the candidates except Sims addressed Stone County Republicans at a cook-out in Kimberling City on Saturday. "They were all well-received. They appear to be four well-grounded people," said Stone County vice chair Connie Johnson.

Morrill said one other candidate has approached him about running, but did not want his name public yet.

A separate source said that potential candidate is Corky Chiles of Branson West.

Those with longtime ties to the district believe the GOP candidate will ultimately emerge from Stone County, since it makes up most of the district. But insiders believe it's almost impossible to predict a frontrunner -- especially when the legislative committee is still ironing out the rules that will determine the vote.

Morrill said he's still figuring out how many committeemen and women will get a vote on Saturday. "There's 17 members in Stone County and two in Taney County. But there may be an additional two more from Taney County. I've not had time to verify that yet," Morrill said.

Late Sunday, Johnson also said she was pouring over the statutes that dictate how to fill such a rare vacancy. "Nothing's for sure yet," she said.

Johnson said that former Rep. Wood and his wife Nellie no longer live in the township they were elected to as committee people, and therefore, will not be able to vote.

She also said that local GOP leaders were researching whether the chair and vice chair of the legislative district will each get two votes.

Morrill said he will check with state Republican party lawyers to determine whether weighted voting is allowable. A weighted voting scenario could give Ayres a slight advantage, being both vice chair of the legislative district and a candidate.

"It not set forth in the statute," said Morrill. "We have to figure out if the party allows it to occur," he added.

Morrill's soft estimate is that there will be between 19 and 21 total committee votes. The winner would need to secure at least 11 for victory.

Each candidate will get an opportunity to make their pitch before the committee members on Saturday. Morrill said he hasn't determined a speaking time limit. "It depends on how many we have," he said. "If you walk in that day and want to be a candidate, we'll allow it. I'm not making any formal requests for submissions beforehand. I want it to be free and open," he said.

After speeches by each candidate, committee members will then question each one before casting a secret ballot. If no candidate reaches a majority of votes during the first round, the last place candidate will be dropped and voting will continue until someone reaches a majority.

Because this is vote is by a small politically active committee, personal relationships, loyalties and geography will be key in determining the winner.

Herschend made clear that while his service has been in Taney County, the issues are the the same in Stone. "I am not a Taney County citizen with blinders on. Table Rock water quality impacts all of us. I think there are some that will try to make that an issue," he said.

"At least from my standpoint, that won't be an issue," Herschend said.

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