Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe was term-limited as the 6th District Senator. Since the 2011 redistricting, the 6th Senate district covers seven, mostly rural Mid-Missouri counties — Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Miller, Maries, Osage and Gasconade.
Mike Bernskoetter, Republican
Family: Married to Jeannette, 38 years; four adult children; 6 grandchildren and one on the way.
Work: Owner, Art's Pest Control, since 1986
Mike Bernskoetter always wanted to own his own business — and got the chance in his mid-20s, when a previous job ended.
"I was working for the Cole County Sewer Department, and they decided they didn't want to be in the sewer business anymore," he recalled. "They did away with my position, and one of the fellows who worked with me, his brother worked for Art," and said the long-time fireman and pest control owner was looking to sell.
"I asked Art if I could ride with him and see if it was something I was interested in," Bernskoetter said. "I rode with Art about six months, and then I bought it."
He sees his story as a part of the "American Dream," and he wants to do work that will help keep that dream alive for others.
Being a local business owner eventually led to his running for the state Legislature, Bernskoetter said.
"You get involved in your community; you get involved in your church," he explained. "I was president of the Pest Management Association. I was president of the East Side Business Association.
"You just kind of do those things, then decide, 'Maybe I can be a state rep.'"
With term limits, he can't run for another two-year term in the House — so he's looking to go to the Senate.
"We probably do business in four of the seven counties, so we're known outside of the Jefferson City area," Bernskoetter said. "A lot of it, truthfully, has to do with timing — if now-Lt. Gov. Kehoe and I hadn't come in at the same time, we might not be having this conversation.
"The time is right, and our business is in a good spot."
Bernskoetter said he's spent most of the last couple of years visiting with people throughout the seven counties, "and I feel like I would be a good fit for this district."
Approving the annual budget is "the main thing" lawmakers have to deal with each year, he noted.
"And then, there's always some issues that come up with education reform, getting kids to go to good schools, no matter what their ZIP code is."
Pointing to a recent decision by a jury in St. Louis awarding a multi-million dollar verdict against the Johnson & Johnson company for a claim its talcum powder caused cancer, Bernskoetter anticipates more debate on tort reform.
And the state needs to do more to improve economic development, Bernskoetter said, although he acknowledged that's a long-term project.
"I don't think it's a fast-fix," he said.
He supports increasing funding for education and also reducing taxes.
"I think that letting the people keep more of their own money in their own pockets, they can spend it better than the government does," Bernskoetter said. "I'm not saying I'd never vote for a tax (increase), but there would have to be a good reason."
For example, he supported putting the proposed 10-cents per gallon fuels tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot for statewide approval or rejection.
Letting people spend their own money will lead to increased revenues for the state and local governments, he added.
For most of his time in the House, Bernskoetter has been involved in trying to improve state workers' pay, but he said it's a bigger issue within about 45 miles of Jefferson City than it is in other parts of the seven-county 6th District — or the rest of the state.
Even though voters in August rejected a right-to-work law by a two-to-one margin, Bernskoetter anticipates some lawmakers next year will introduce another version of the controversial law.
"I don't think it will get much traction," he said, "given what the people have said."
Bernskoetter said the past year was successful, legislatively, in spite of the controversies surrounding now-former Gov. Eric Greitens.
"We were able to get a lot of good legislation passed last year, under Gov. Greitens," he said. "Gov. Parson and Lt. Gov. Kehoe have had a good, calming effect on the state — and I think the government is bigger than one person."
Nicole Thompson, Democrat
Family: Married 10 years to Andrew Thompson; no children.
Education: Bachelor's degree in in occupational safety and health from the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, and a master's degree in business administration from Western Governors University.
Work: Owner of a consulting business, run from her home, specializing in occupational safety and health. Worked nine years for the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, first as an OSHA consultant and then as a program manager in the Division of Workers' Compensation.
Thompson grew up on a farm and married her high school sweetheart.
When they got married in 2008, he already had a job in Jefferson City, and she moved here to join him.
She also got a job with the state's Labor and Industrial Relations Department, working nine years in two different positions, before resigning to launch her own consulting firm.
Thompson said she's running for the state Senate partly because "I was in a position where I had the opportunity, that I could run — (and) not everybody has that opportunity."
Over the last few years, Thompson said, she has wondered "why it seems that our representatives don't really seem to represent the people's interests, and how can we make our government run better?"
One area of improvement, she said, is in her own field — workplace safety and health.
"We don't have, in the state of Missouri, any safety and health protections in place for government workers in our state," who are not covered by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, she said.
"We're not holding our government to the same standard that we hold our private sector employers to, and I find that unacceptable," Thompson said.
She also thinks the Legislature must improve state employees' pay.
She said the state provides quality training for recent college graduates, who then stay only for a year or two, getting experience before they go on to better-paying positions.
"We need to look at state revenue, so we can raise salaries and cover those benefits," Thompson said. "A lot of people say that the benefits kind of make up for the (low) pay — but they really don't, anymore."
Lawmakers should take another look at both the recent income tax reductions and at the 1980 Hancock Amendment, which requires voters' approval before any significant tax increase can occur.
"I think we need the government to have the flexibility (to) raise revenues and to put systems in place to keep our state efficient and competitive," she said.
Thompson said the biggest issue facing lawmakers is the state's revenue, "just because it goes into so many of the other things that we're concerned with," including education and the infrastructure.
"In order to attract businesses to our state, we need to improve our entire infrastructure system," she said, including better roads and bridges.
Thompson acknowledged lawmakers in recent years have said tax cuts will spur the economy and increase overall revenues.
"If we don't have the workers that a business needs — by educating them — if we don't have the infrastructure that a business needs to transport their goods," she said, "they're not going to come here, no matter how low our tax rate."
Public education, and the state's role in it, also are important, she said, noting she would not have succeeded in her own college career without the help of federal grants and local scholarship awards.
High schools and higher education should do a better job of giving students a better idea of what kinds of careers and financial assistance programs are available to them.
She said her rural upbringing helps her understand the 6th District's needs and issues.
"To represent those interests, I'm very open," Thompson explained. "I want to hear from people and get their input about what needs to be done to improve things in our state and in our district."
Lawmakers and state leaders especially need to do the research and "find solutions to develop our rural communities," she added. "The question, as I would ask it, is to ask people in our district: 'What do we need to do so you can start a business?
"'And what do we need to do to help make your business better?'"
Steven Wilson, Libertarian
Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology experimental design, from Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, Tennessee; master's in business administration in marketing, brand equity specialty, from William Woods University, Fulton
Work: Currently works as a "fine artist" in a number of media, primarily with online sales; has worked with medical devices, in international trade and in construction.
Steven Wilson grew up in northern Illinois, and moved to Mid-Missouri about 12 years ago to help with a family situation.
"The reason that I am a Libertarian is that I do not believe in the projection of ethics and virtues for government — or abstract rights or state rights," he said last week. "I advocate for individual rights.
"I believe in a non-aggression principle, where the world is based on volunteerism and, really, a focus in on the ability for us to communicate on an individual basis."
Wilson supports industrial hemp and its potential to be profitable for Missouri business.
For starters, he said, people are confused when they want to link hemp with marijuana.
"Industrial hemp and marijuana are two separate plants," he explained.
One of the main reasons he decided to run for the state Senate was the bill lawmakers passed this spring, that Gov. Eric Greitens signed into law.
"I don't think it's a very good bill in regards to the business model of industrial hemp," he said. "My problem with it is, it's just another hemp pilot program" when "the window for opportunity for industrial hemp is closing."
Canada and Colorado both have industrial hemp laws now that will make it harder to establish an industry and attract investors, he said.
"I'm really trying to promote 'Made in Missouri,' and I'm trying to get the state of Missouri to embrace industrial hemp in the same fashion as Canada and Colorado," Wilson said.
"Industrial hemp can go into about 1,100 sub-categories of commerce," including milk, lotion, building construction materials and clothing fibers.
Wilson sees its production as a good thing for agriculture, the state's top industry.
"I wouldn't say I'm a single issue candidate," Wilson said. "As a state senator, I would focus on agriculture, but I also would focus in on education reform (and) get involved with mental health reform."
He wants to see parents "given more of a choice" about the schools their children attend, with a college-like tuition-based program — even at the grade school level.
"Instead of paying in for taxation, you would take that money and use a voucher, so you could pick the best school for your child," he said.
Wilson wants elementary teachers to "really focus in on logic, reasoning and some of the educational, psychological models that help children teach themselves," rather than having teachers "teach to the test."
He added: "And I believe that it's time we go through a complete reform."
Wilson is against taxation, including the proposed 10-cents per gallon increase in the state's fuels tax to pay for road improvements and better Highway Patrol services.
"I believe taxation is theft," he said.
Missouri's road and bridge improvements should be accomplished through "a public corporation, with negative dividends in perpetuity" rather than "forcing people to go through another tax increase," he said.
Wilson believes marijuana should be "completely decriminalized," with "no oversight and no taxation," which would reduce problems in the prisons by removing people in prison for non-violent crimes.
He said Missouri can improve health care by making it more competitive.
If elected, Wilson said, meeting with constituents would come first.
"I will leave a committee, I will leave the Senate floor," he said. "Something I've dealt with since I've been in Missouri is inaccessibility."