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Politics

Is South-Central Missouri Becoming More Republican? One Longtime Politician Is Certain Of It.

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Although the southwest corner of the Show-Me State—think Springfield—has long been considered a Republican and conservative stronghold, that hasn’t always been the case a little to the east.  As KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson reports, one longtime politician in south-central Missouri says he’s witnessed a dramatic shift in his area over several decades—a shift that has moved in favor of the Republican Party.  

If you’re from south-central Missouri—Willow Springs, West Plains, Houston, Mountain Grove—you’ve probably heard of the name Wendell Bailey. Bailey has split his career between his Chevrolet car dealership and public office. He was in the Missouri statehouse in the early 1970s, then served in Congress in the ‘80s during the Reagan years.  And he says he’s sure of it:  south-central Missouri—a very rural part of the state—is definitely becoming more “Red.”

“The first time I ran, Oregon County and Texas County were solid Democrat counties. There was not a Republican in the courthouse in those early Ronald Reagan years.  But gradually, under the influence of Ronald Reagan and conservatives, many of these Democrat office holders have been replaced by Republican officeholders. Now the entire county commission in Texas County is solid Republican,” Bailey said.

Howell County, where West Plains sits as the county seat, has traditionally been solid “red,” Bailey said—but the change can be seen in the surrounding counties.  He says nearby Oregon and Shannon counties were once governed by Democrat commissioners, but now, they are heavily Republican, too. 

“And those were just not possible in 1982,” he says.

And this former Congressman says this shift has affected the lawmakers folks here send to Jefferson City. Republicans now control both the Missouri House and Senate—and both were controlled by Democrats, Bailey says, when he held office there.

“I think it’s reflective more than anything else. I don’t know that we’ve led the rest of the state, but I think it does reflect what’s happening.”

Bailey was at a campaign event for US Senate Candidate Todd Akin and other Republicans in downtown West Plains.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.