Rasheed Aldridge

Rasheen Aldridge faced no competition in the contest to fill out of the rest of former state Rep. Bruce Franks’ term in the St. Louis-based 78th House District in a special election on Tuesday, November 5. Franks resigned to tend to his anxiety and depression.

Aldridge first came on the political scene in the city as an activist within the movement to raise the minimum wage. Then-Gov. Jay Nixon later appointed Aldridge to the Ferguson Commission, which sought to chart out a policy path after Michael Brown’s shooting death. Aldridge was ultimately elected 5th Ward committeeman in 2016, defeating longtime incumbent Rodney Hubbard Sr. 

Michael Person defeated Libertarian Nick Kasoff in the 74th House District, which takes in parts of Ferguson, Jennings, Dellwood and Country Club Hills. Person captured 57 percent of the vote. 

Person is the Ferguson Township Democratic committeeman who recently ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Ferguson City Council. He previously served on the Riverview Gardens School Board and works for Ameren on diversity and inclusion issues. 

Person will serve out the rest of former state Rep. Cora Faith Walker’s term in the Missouri House. Walker resigned to become policy director for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.

The statewide headline news came with Democrat Trish Gunby winning  a high-profile Missouri House race in the 99th District over Republican Lee Ann Pitman, capturing a historically Republican seat with 54 percent of the vote in west St. Louis County.

Gunby prevailed over Pitman 3,357 to 2,855 in a district that includes Manchester, Valley Park and Twin Oaks. Turnout was 25 percent.

Gunby, who has been a marketing professional for Citicorp and Purina, will fill out the last year of Jean Evans’ term. Evans resigned earlier this year to become the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party.

Gunby raised significantly more money than Pitman and received help from Democratic elected officials and activists throughout the state. Her platform includes making it easier for people to vote, enacting stricter background checks on firearms and extending statewide anti-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ community.

“I believe there are more people who have Democratic-leaning ideals and ideas than people originally thought,” Gunby said in an interview after her victory. “I kept reassuring them: You have a voice; there are other people who feel this way.’ And that just kept getting bolstered throughout all of our canvassing efforts.”

Gunby said her campaign hit over 30,000 doors in the run-up to the special election. 

“And we just kept saying, ‘Trust me, there are other folks out there. We can do this,’” Gunby said. “I think this victory shows with the right candidate and the right message, you can really win. And you can take the message you’re hearing at the doors and take it to Jeff City."

Pitman, a senior accountant for Protective Life Corp., focused her campaign on reducing regulations around small businesses, assisting veterans with benefits and opposing the Better Together proposal that would have merged St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“We did expect the race to be close,” Pitman said. “We really did, because both of us have been working very hard.”

The contest between Gunby and Pitman drew statewide attention, primarily because the other five House special elections on the ballot Tuesday were either in safe Democratic or Republican districts. Many contended that a Gunby victory would signal an end to GOP dominance in west St. Louis County — and cement the once-competitive county as strongly Democratic turf.

Republicans conceded Tuesday night that the district has become a tough one for the GOP to win. 

Evans, who held the seat just a couple of months ago, referred to the district as “Democratic leaning.” She said former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and former Secretary of State Jason Kander, both Democrats, had carried the area in previous statewide races.

Outside committees spent more than $150,000 on the race. Gunby received a boost from the carpenters union and the Democratic Caucus-aligned House Victory Committee. The House Republican Campaign Committee spent tens of thousands of dollars to support Pitman.

“She’s somebody that could build trust with people when she talked to them,” state Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, who is part of the House Victory Committee, said of Gunby. “They could tell she believed what she said. And she wasn’t trying to pretend to be anybody else. And I think that matters to voters more than anything else.”

Aldridge, Person and Gunby will likely take office in January. They will have to run again next year to win a full term in the Missouri House.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum. Follow Julie on Twitter: @jsodonoghue.

Edited for space and reprinted with permission from news.stlpublicradio.org.

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