David Tyson Smith becomes Democratic nominee for HD 45 special election

The Columbia attorney would be the first Black man to represent Columbia in the state House if elected in the April 6 special election.

By Emmet Jamieson

The Boone County Democratic Party nominated Columbia attorney David Tyson Smith on Jan. 20 to run in the April 6 special election for former state Rep. Kip Kendrick’s seat.

Tyson, if elected, will represent House District 45, which includes downtown Columbia and most of the MU campus, in the Missouri House of Representatives. He would be the first Black man to represent Columbia in the chamber, as well as the first to hold any seat based in mid-Missouri.

Rep. Kendrick retired from his seat last year to serve as chief of staff to newly elected state Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City. Rep. Kendrick had just won re-election, so his stepping down triggered a special election to fill the seat for the remainder of his term.

In such a situation, Missouri state law provides that the local parties select their candidate with a nominating committee instead of holding a primary election. The committee members represent the various wards and townships of District 45.

The committee considered three men for the nomination: Smith; Caleb Hall, an attorney for the Missouri Office of the Public Counsel and Scott Cristal, the chair of the nominating committee. The three applicants gave stump speeches to make the case for their nomination in front of the nominating committee, who then voted to nominate Smith.

Smith is a Columbia native, and he has no formal political experience besides serving as class president while he was at Tulane Law School. He currently litigates personal injury and criminal defense cases as a partner of local law firm Smith & Parnell. In 2009, he helped to organize a Citizens Police Review Board to provide oversight of the Columbia Police Department.

He said he decided to run so he could use his experience in community advocacy and law to serve Columbia in Jefferson City.

“I enjoy serving people,” Smith said. “As an attorney, I've been serving people in the city for almost 20 years, and so it's another opportunity to continue serving in other ways.”

Smith said some of his top priorities are handling COVID-19, supporting public schools and helping to implement Medicaid expansion.

To handle COVID-19, Smith said he wants to preserve local control over Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, as he feels a local approach to distributing vaccines will help Boone County vaccinate more people. He said he wants to protect public schools from legislators who favor directing funding to private and charter schools, and he said he wants to work on Medicaid expansion to uphold the will of voters who approved it in 2018.

José Caldera, the committeeman for Ward 4, said he voted for Smith’s nomination because Smith has a well-established reputation, deep ties to Columbia and a talent for public speaking. He said Smith was “all-around” the best candidate with the greatest potential.

Chimene Schwach, the committeewoman for Ward 4, said that policy-wise, she liked Smith because she believes he will fight to protect abortion rights, promote the LGBT community, advocate for small business owners and try to build bridges in the state House.

Schwach said she would have been happy to have any of the three candidates take the nomination, but she said that faced with three good candidates, she felt she should use her vote to promote anti-racism by nominating Smith, the only Black candidate. Schwach is a Black woman, and she said she felt having a person of color representing Columbia in the state House is important.

“It's high time we had a legislative representative from mid-Missouri who is not white, right?” Schwach said. “People of color need a seat at the table, and sometimes we’ve got to bring our own chair to the table.”

Smith said he does not take the historic nature of his candidacy lightly. He said he believes his candidacy will inspire people in Columbia, especially young people of color who do not often see themselves represented in politics. He said he has received messages of support from members of the community. These messages, he said, keep him going when things get difficult.

Smith said that if he is elected, one difficulty he foresees is handling the Republican supermajority in the state House. Republicans currently hold 114 seats, and if Smith is elected, Democrats will hold 49.

Smith said he plans to deal with this by working with Republicans and getting Republican co-sponsors on Democratic bills. Smith said he is a progressive, but he said he believes Republicans will still be willing to work with him if he is sensible and respectful. He said building relationships with members of the other party is always important, regardless of whether your party is in the minority.

Lyra Noce, the chair of the Boone County Democratic Party, said Rep. Kendrick was able to effectively work with Republicans when he represented District 45. She said she believes Smith would be able to work with Republicans on big-picture items that would benefit Columbia and Boone County, as Boone County is the economic hub of largely Republican mid-Missouri.

Rep. Kendrick only ran with opposition in one of his four races. In the special election, Smith will run against Libertarian Glenn Nielsen. District 45 has been held by a Democrat for at least the last eight years, but Noce said the party “will never discount the fact that” Smith now has opposition and plans to run a good campaign.

Smith said that if he wins his election, he will maintain his goal of service that he has for himself as an attorney. He said people in any career should use their position to serve others, and politicians are no different.

“My goal is to try to get up every day and work to serve people even when it's difficult,” Smith said. “I think history will determine what our legacy is in the end.”

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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