The Race to Jeff City: Missouri House District 136
When Kevin Austin announced he was not going to seek a fourth term as State Representative for the Missouri 136th District, the “race to Jeff City” was on for two new candidates: Republican Craig Fishel, and Democrat Jeff Munzinger. From going door to door with their district to attending candidate forums and meet-and-greets hosted by supporter, both men are trying to get their faces—and messages—out to the people in their district. You’ll meet both of them in this KSMU Sense of Community installment.
The 136th State House district covers about 20 square miles comprising a population of more than 41,000 residing in nearly 18,000 households, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Its boundaries are roughly the Greene/Christian County line on the south; Campbell Avenue on the west; Sunset Street on the north—although east of Highway 65 the line moves northward as far as Cherry Street and follows Mumford Road down to East Sunshine/Highway D. Along the east side the district line follows Farm Road 205 back down to the Greene/Christian County line.
I talked to Craig Fishel amid the spas and swimming pool accessories at the business he started back in 1976, Fishel Pools on Stewart Street behind the Plaza Shopping Center. Fishel has lived in southeast Springfield since the age of 9, and says he has always been interested in politics. “When I was 12 years old I was getting The Congressional Journal. I have loved politics, to hear and listen to everything going on.”
Fishel retired from his pool business in 2013 and was elected to Springfield City Council. He says he just “casually mentioned” to a friend of his that he thought “it would be fun to run for City Council. Next thing I know, I was elected—and on—City Council. And I really enjoyed it.”
Earlier this year Craig Fishel was approached by outgoing 136th District State Representative Kevin Austin about running for Austin’s vacant seat. Fishel says he was both “honored—and shocked! And it took me about six weeks to decide.”
When asked what he feels his district most urgently needs, Craig Fishel’s immediate response is: “Job force development—work force education, I would say. We don’t have a pool of work force people that are trained or willing to work. That’s a problem. We have to get our education system involved, much before college—probably before high school. If a child can’t read by the third grade—and everybody says this, but I’m serious: if you can’t read, nothing else matters.”
Fishel feels state government in general needs more cohesion, more willingness to listen to both sides. “Why can’t we go up there and work together?” he asks, noting that that “there’s nobody in the Legislature now that was there before term limits. It’s all new people. So all that old blood needs to go away.”
Craig Fishel feels two things separate him from his Democratic opponent Jeff Munzinger: “Experience with City Council, city government, understanding how the government works; and my philosophy of ‘I want to take care of me—I don’t need the government to take care of me.’”
I met Democratic candidate Jeff Munzinger at his comfortable home two miles east of Springfield. He’s lived in Missouri since his college days at the University Of Missouri School Of Journalism. After writing about business for several years for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Munzinger decided he wanted to get into the business world himself: first as a sales and marketing manager for a small company, and later he and his wife Cathy started their own business, acting as sale managers for various manufacturing companies.
Munzinger and his wife would go to Jefferson City to advocate for social-justice issues such as the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act. When talking to the various state legislators from our local area, Munzinger says most all would tell him, “’That’s a good idea’... and then in the next breath they’d say, ‘But we can’t vote for that!’ And I’d say, ‘Explain, please?’, and they’d say ‘Well, we will get in trouble if we do not vote the way our party instructs us.’ And I thought, ‘this is NOT the way government should work!’
This is not Jeff Munzinger’s first time running for the 136th District State House seat. He first ran for the office in 2016, losing to Republican Kevin Austin.
Like Craig Fishel, Jeff Munzinger says he supports workforce development wholeheartedly, and cites education issues as being of prime importance to voters in the 136th district. But he lists several other, different priorities from his Republican opponent.
“I’ve been hearing lately about crime. People are concerned, crime is everywhere now, and they’re curious as to know what the state can do about that.”
Munzinger also talks about healthcare. He feels the state of Missouri should accept the Federal government’s offer to expand Medicaid. Another issue he mentions is how the state government sometimes overreaches and takes authority away from cities like Springfield.
Finally, he says, “I would like us to eliminate lobbyist gifts in Missouri. The special interests have such a loud voice, and I think it’s a problem.”