JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Cindy O'Laughlin, of Shelbina, and Crystal Stephens, of Hannibal, are approaching their battle for Missouri's 18th District Senate seat from two distinct perspectives.
O'Laughlin, 62, is a conservative Republican who comes from a business background that she feels puts her in touch with key economic issues facing the state.
Stephens, 54, is a staunch Democrat and unemployed single mother who feels her life experiences put her in touch with the biggest concerns facing the "average Missourian."
They will face off in the Nov. 6 general election. The winner will take over the seat being relinquished by Republican incumbent Brian Munzlinger of Williamstown, who is finishing his second four-year term and was ineligible to run again because of Missouri's law limiting elected officials from serving more than eight years in any one office.
O'Laughlin is the co-owner of Leo O'Laughlin Inc., a family-owned business with four Ready Mix concrete plants and a trucking operation. She and her husband, Russell, are the parents of four boys and a foster daughter, all of them adults.
Stephens is not currently working. She suffered a foot injury in 2005 that still causes issues for her, so she spends a lot of her free time on Democratic committee work, women's issues and water quality concerns in Hannibal. She is the divorced mother of a 30-year-old son with autism who still lives with her.
When asked why they are running for the Senate and what they hope to accomplish, O'Laughlin and Stephens offered differing visions.
O'Laughlin said she decided to run for the Senate because "I feel like the Senate could use people who have the kind of experience that I have."
She was referring to her business background and her work in hiring people, handling various personnel issues, and overseeing banking and insurance matters for her company.
She thinks the Senate should take a more business-like approach to handling the state's finances, and she feels she could offer some guidance using the common-sense business approach she uses with her company.
"I think that results should be measured and that all of the state's departments should have measurable goals that they need to achieve," O'Laughlin said. "They should be accountable for the money that's being spent, and I think the Legislature should be accountable, too."
O'Laughlin said if she is elected to the Senate, she would urge the Legislature to take a more responsible approach to spending money.
"We need to prioritize the things that we want to accomplish in the state, and we need to turn to the departments and say, 'These are the outcomes that we need to achieve, and we need to have a plan to do that.' "
Stephens said the reason she decided to run for the Senate is that "people like me -- average Missourians -- aren't being represented in Jefferson City. There are a lot of people out here that need health care, and I'm one of them. I want to fight for others to get health care."
Stephens said health care would be her "biggest priority" if elected. She feels the state should expand Medicaid -- rather than reduce it, as some have proposed -- "to save rural hospitals" that might otherwise suffer by the loss of Medicaid patients.
Stephens said she also would work to limit the amount of "dark money" that's entering Missouri politics through outside donors trying to influence the outcome of races.
"Another big issue is infrastructure, and I don't just mean roads and bridges," she said. "I also mean our water treatment plants and our sewers" need to be maintained properly. "I also want to bring renewable energy into Missouri and the 18th District."
O'Laughlin said she, too, would put a high priority on maintaining the state's roads and bridges.
"I also think we need to look at the workforce crisis that we have, and it really is a crisis," she said. "If you drive by almost any business in our area, people have 'help wanted' signs out, and no one is applying. We can't operate at maximum effectiveness and efficiency if we can't have a full workforce."
Both candidates agree that education funding is a critical issue for Missouri.
O'Laughlin, who served three years on the South Shelby School Board, feels the federal government exerts too much influence over the operation of Missouri's schools because of federal mandates and restrictions on the use of grants.
"Schools are supposed to be locally controlled, but they are more or less controlled by the federal government," O'Laughlin said.
She said the Legislature needs to do what is can to help Missouri schools "get out from under the federal mandates."
Stephens said the Missouri Legislature "needs to fully fund education and support our public schools."
Stephens also feels the state should do more to help people who are struggling economically to make ends meet, such as by boosting the minimum wage to help those who sometimes have to work two or three jobs.
"I'm sick and tired of seeing how many people are literally just trying to survive, and they really aren't living," she said.
"I am one of the average Missourians that is not getting representation. All I want to do is run to help people like me and keep from having to go through what I've gone through to get where I am."
O'Laughlin said she would like to see the Legislature take steps to encourage more people to get into the workforce and get away from accepting public assistance. She said the current welfare system "basically traps people" into accepting handouts from the government.
"What we're basically doing is incentivizing people to stay home when what we really want to do is incentivize and prepare people to be independent," she said.
O'Laughlin and Stephens both say they support the Second Amendment's provision allowing Americans to bear arms, but Stephens added: "I do not support the National Rifle Association."
On the issue of abortion, O'Laughlin said she is "pro life," while Stephens said she supports "women's reproductive rights."
"I am running for state Senate," Stephens said. "I am not running for state pastor. That's a moral issue that belongs to whoever has to face that issue."