Mike Cierpiot shows how low he’ll stoop to win next week’s special election
You are Mike Cierpiot, and this was supposed to be your shining moment.
For seven years, you’ve toiled in the Missouri House, working your way up to the exalted position of majority leader. That’s a big deal in Jefferson City, even if your constituents in Lee’s Summit and other parts of eastern Jackson County don’t much seem to care.
Now a state Senate seat has opened up in your district, which means that, instead of being term-limited after 2018 and having to get a job as a lobbyist or something, you can look forward to eight more years of perks and importance.
All you have to do is win one measly special election.
It’s supposed to be yours for the taking. The 8th Senate District has been Republican turf for nearly 40 years, and your party didn’t hesitate to put you up. Being an incumbent, you have quite the campaign chest, plus the backing of the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee. So you commission some yard signs and roll out a cute commercial featuring people trying to pronounce your tricky last name.
But things start to go wrong. Instead of the lightweight you were expecting, your Democratic opponent, Hillary Shields, turns out to be smart, hardworking and capable of rallying a good-sized core of volunteers. She also knows a lot about Missouri government and starts hammering you for those outsized campaign donations you’ve received from big donors. She reminds everybody about your party’s role in stripping aid from disabled and elderly people.
Even worse, another candidate is on the ballot. Jacob Turk, the perennial GOP loser to U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, for some reason decided to run for a state office, then turned in enough signatures to run as an independent. Your people will find out that Jackson County Democrats collected some of those petition signatures.
Oh, the skulduggery. You’ve never seen such a dirty trick, you tell people. Party leaders even go to court to try to get Turk off the ballot so that you can have the clean shot you were expecting. But there he remains, gumming up the works.
Then again, that’s only fitting. After all, your party has systematically gerrymandered election districts in Missouri. Your party has brazenly encouraged the flood of dark money in politics.
So now, instead of acting the part of the avuncular senior statesman, you have to take off the gloves. You attack Turk as an interloper and a pawn of the Democrats. But Shields proves to be a different, bigger problem. She’s squeaky clean and, never having held political office, has no voting record for you to distort. So your allies, tapping into all that dark money — from groups connected to Jeff Roe, the Darth Vader of campaign consultants — produce a nasty ad insinuating that your opponent is an enabler of a state senator from St. Louis who created an uproar this year by saying she hoped President Trump would be assassinated.
The ad is deceitful. It says Shields refused to call for the senator’s resignation, when in fact she did exactly that. But your campaign and its backers figure that linking your opponent to a radical black politician from St. Louis should be sufficient to scare voters in your mostly white district.
Yet here we are, just days before the election, and your polls continue to show a close race. So you subject TV viewers all over the Kansas City metro to another commercial, this one showing scenes from the worst violence experienced in Ferguson, Missouri, three years ago.
“The St. Louis riots have made Missouri a national disgrace,” you soberly tell the camera, promising that, as a senator, you will support law enforcement. Astute viewers may wonder what Ferguson and St. Louis have to do with mostly peaceful Lee’s Summit. They might also question what the heck you’ve been doing in the legislature the past seven years, when the unrest in the St. Louis area was building.
You’re banking on the hope that more frightening images of black people will push you over the finish line. Still, leaving no dog whistle unblown, you also say in a commercial that Shields would “use our tax dollars to provide scholarships for illegals.”
You are Mike Cierpiot, and maybe the hundreds of thousands of dollars you and your backers have had to spend on your race, plus your party registration advantage, will get you into the Missouri Senate. Or maybe you’ll lose and have to try again in 2018. Either way, you’ve resorted to lies and race baiting to get elected. And now that’s part of who you are.