Politics is said to be personal, and it’s no different for the two candidates vying for Missouri’s open 34th State Senate district.
Democrat Martin T. Rucker II and Republican Tony Luetkemeyer have known each other since their student years at the University of Missouri in Columbia. The two Mizzou millennials now find themselves in a heated — and recently personal — battle over who should fill a seat being vacated by term-limited Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf.
Rucker, 33, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. The 2007 Mizzou graduate was an All-American tight end who went on to play in the National Football League before tearing his ACL and subsequently retiring from the sport. He currently is a project engineer for Kissick Construction.
Luetkemeyer, 34, won August’s Republican Primary after defeating Harry Roberts in a contentious and expensive race. The private attorney graduated from the University of Missouri in 2006.
Now, just days before voters will decide the outcome of this statewide-watched Senate showdown, the candidates are showing just how personal politics can get.
As direct mail pieces began stacking up, Rucker took issue with a mailer that attempted to link him to the St. Joseph School District’s 2015 turmoil.
In an interview this week, Rucker called the Missouri Republican Party mailer “intentional,” and that he hoped his college friend Luetkemeyer would “disavow” the misinformation.
“The Tony that I knew in college, I thought probably would have, but whenever you get into politics sometimes people change,” Rucker said. “There’s a lot of different factors that influence how you act and how you respond sometimes, and I know that there is a wide array of folks that are supporting his campaign and so maybe he feels that he can’t.”
Luetkemeyer responded by saying Rucker “would probably do the same thing” and pointed to the scores of misrepresentations that have come out against his campaign.
“There have been a ton of mailers and ads that have come out against me that told complete mistruths,” he said in an interview. “And that has happened on his side of the campaign.”
Before launching into an attack on Rucker’s record on taxes, Luetkemeyer said his college friend is “an extreme liberal” and is acting hypocritically regarding the back-and-forth negative ads.
“This is someone who hasn’t met a tax that he doesn’t like, and it recently came to light that he failed to pay his own taxes,” Luetkemeyer said. “I think that’s hypocritical and voters deserve to know about that type of thing.”
In response to that accusation, Rucker said he doesn’t owe any taxes.
“All of my taxes are fully paid,” said Rucker. “I’ve had the same CPA since I was in the NFL and so any questions you have, feel free to direct those to him, but all of our taxes are fully paid.”
While true that Rucker currently owes no known back taxes, he has faced several penalties and even a warrant regarding failure to timely pay taxes in the Missouri counties of Buchanan, Jackson and Platte — as well as with the State of Kansas.
Barb-trading aside, the candidates said they are focused on the issues during the “get out the vote weekend” ahead of Tuesday’s election.
While knocking on doors around the district, Rucker said education funding is something that voters tell him is a top priority.
“We’ve been making cuts to education for years now,” Rucker said. “A lot of the schools have been hampered by that.”
The Democrat said education funding drives economic development and gives students a brighter future. Rucker indicated that other “hot button issues” were healthcare and middle-class working families.
While building up a definite cash advantage over his opponent Rucker, Luetkemeyer said his campaign isn’t taking any votes for granted.
“We need to bring more good-paying jobs to Northwest Missouri,” said Luetkemeyer. “We need to keep taxes low for people and we need to do better for our schools.”
One thing both candidates appear to align themselves together on is the importance of this race. This, as spending for the general election has exceeded $1 million with legislative leaders to party insiders greatly anticipating the outcome of Tuesday’s race.