Politically Diverse District May Play Well with Both Candidates; State Rep. Sifton Challenges Incumbent Sen. Lembke; ELECTIONS 2012: 1st Missouri Senate District

Article excerpt

Each candidate for the Missouri 1st District Senate seat is hoping the area's mixed makeup could prove to be a disadvantage for his opponent.

State Rep. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, says incumbent Sen. Jim Lembke is too conservative for the more northern parts of the district, while Lembke, R-Lemay, says he thinks Sifton will alienate anti- abortion voters in the south.

The Senate race has become one of the more interesting legislative battles this year, because of new district boundaries and the competitive campaigns.

Homes in the area have been peppered with fliers and cards from the candidates.

Lembke is the incumbent in the race, but the terrain has changed from what he faced four years ago.

Thanks to legislative redistricting, the 1st District - previously centered in conservative south St. Louis County - now stretches north to Webster Groves and Maplewood. About 40 percent of the district is new, and much of the added area has tended to favor Democrats.

The shift has created a diverse group of constituents - ardent liberals, staunch conservatives, older voters and immigrants new to the area. The district covers blue-collar homes, as well as affluent ones.

"It's just a very interesting district," Sifton said. "It really is a microcosm of the St. Louis region with very diverse viewpoints. I think that's good."

Both he and Lembke have been trying to strike the right balance to attract a broad base.

"I want to talk to all of the voters," Lembke said.

While canvassing a Webster Groves neighborhood recently, several homeowners assured Sifton: "You're the Democrat, I'm voting for you."

At one home, Sifton - a former Affton School Board member serving his first term in the state House - touted efforts to keep taxes low in the district.

"That's good, but it's not the most important thing," the homeowner replied before telling Sifton that education is important enough to justify a tax increase if needed.

Lembke has pledged never to support a tax hike, but he said he has also run into people who wouldn't oppose increases.

"They said, 'Raise my taxes,'" Lembke said of some opinions in new parts of his district. "It was the first time I had ever heard that while campaigning."

Lembke is finishing his first term in the Legislature's upper chamber and will be term-limited if he wins his re-election bid on Nov. 6. He frequently mentions that to voters as he's campaigning door-to-door - a sort-of guarantee that he won't overstay his welcome.

With his frequent blunt remarks and propensity to verbally spar on the Senate floor, the conservative Republican from south St. Louis County has built a name for himself in Jefferson City over the past 10 years. In his district he says he has more than 80 percent name recognition, and residents often recognize him when he comes to their doors.

OUTSIDE INFLUENCE

Looking to shift favor from the incumbent, the lesser-known Sifton has criticized Lembke for taking gifts from lobbyists while serving as a lawmaker.

"Is he there to make policy or is he there to help Jim Lembke?" Sifton said.

Sifton said he would move to prohibit lawmakers from accepting such gifts if elected.

State lobbying records show Lembke accepted more than $7,300 in lobbyist-reported gifts last year. Among them were several meals at the Jefferson City Country Club, golf fees and cigars. As of August - the most recent data available, Lembke has accepted more than $1,300 in gifts this year, including four bottles of wine totaling $63.86.

"We're talking about filet mignon at the country club," Sifton said. …