Eric Burlison, the Republican nominee to potentially succeed 12-year incumbent Rep. Billy Long of Missouri’s 7th Congressional District, hopes to ride a “red tsunami” into Washington.
Burlison, who has served 12 years in the Missouri legislature as a representative and senator, may soon get to apply his brand of conservatism to foreign policy, inflation and the Internal Revenue Service, among other issues.
Burlison announced his run upon learning of Long’s eventually unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. A contentious Republican primary followed, and while Burlison took less than 40 percent of the vote on Aug. 2, he finished more than 16,000 votes ahead of his next-closest competitor in a 7th District reshaped by redistricting.
On Nov. 8, Burlison faces Democrat Kristen Radaker Sheafer, a Joplin baker, and Libertarian Kevin Craig.
Springfield area native balancing campaign and five jobs
Burlison grew up in southeast Springfield and Battlefield, and currently resides with his wife and two daughters in Ozark, where they are having a new home built. He graduated from Springfield’s Parkview High School and got a Masters in Business Administration from Missouri State University in 2002.
He first ran for the Missouri House in 2008, and served two terms representing District 136, then two more terms serving District 133, following redistricting. Facing term limits in the House, in 2018, he moved up to win election in state Senate District 20 — a seat he is giving up while running for Congress.
Burlison campaigns when he has the time between trips to Jefferson City, Washington, D.C., and his five jobs as a state senator, an investment advisor, a consultant for computer software companies Cerner and Oracle, and a property manager.
“In a work day, when I’m sick and tired of doing one thing, I just shift to the other,” Burlison said. “By the end of 18 hours, you don’t feel like you’ve worked 18 hours.”
Events like the Oct. 22 Priebe Strong 1062 Run in Republic make campaigning easier for Burlison, as he gets to have fun while promoting his candidacy. “To dovetail campaigning into the part of your life that you enjoy the most is the easiest way to do it,” Burlison said.
The Priebe Strong 1062 run is an annual 5k, 10k and half marathon dedicated to the recovery of Springfield police officer Mark Priebe, who suffered serious injuries in 2020 when struck by an SUV.
“I knew Mark before [his injuries],” Burlison said. “It really was gut wrenching and tragic to see what happened, so I’ve been a supporter ever since.”
Supporters say Burlison is ‘one of the stars’
Among the crowd at the Priebe event, Burlison found many friends who expressed that he had their vote on election day.
“I couldn’t give this guy a higher endorsement,” said Brett Sterley.
Scott George, the president of Mid-America Dental and Hearing Center in Mt. Vernon, praised Burlison for his work with small businesses.
“[Burlison is] highlighted as one of the stars that support us,” said George, who has served on the Missouri Small Business Association’s Leadership Council and the Missouri Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board.
After joining one of his campaign volunteers at the seven mile marker to offer Gatorade and pickles to half-marathon runners, Burlison rushed his way to the Library Station in Springfield to attend a panel discussion on the 2022 ballot measures. He was joined by fellow Missouri legislator Bill Owen, as well as advocates for or against various measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Soon after, he traveled down to the southern side of the 7th District for one of his daughter’s cross country meets in Kimberling City. Then it was on to Shell Knob for an event at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter and, later, back to Springfield for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Potter’s House coffee shop expansion.
All said, a day in the life of a congressional campaign, even in the arguably safely-red 7th.
For Burlison, primary may have been biggest hurdle
The Southwest Missouri congressional district has been held by Republicans for the last 62 years, with Rep. Long never receiving less than 63 percent of the vote in the general election. Burlison is the heavy favorite to represent the Republican stronghold in the midterm elections, while Democrats try to cling to slim majorities in the House and Senate.
With the general election less than two weeks away, Burlison is comfortable with the shape of the campaign, and less on-edge than he was in the primaries.
“There’s a lot less anxiety, and a lot less awkwardness,” Burlison said. “When you’re in a primary, you’re running against friends and appealing to the same crowd.
“The people that you’re talking with, and you’re campaigning to, they know you and they know your opponents. And for many of them, it’s hard, it’s hard that you’re running against each other. So that is something that I’m glad is over.”
His caucus brought Jeff City almost to a standstill. How will he work in D.C.?
The contentious primaries followed a contentious legislative session in Jefferson City, one where a handful of Republicans, including Burlison, unofficially labeled themselves the “conservative caucus,” and often found themselves at odds with more moderate Republican colleagues.
The caucus began over conservative dissatisfaction with Senate leadership, and the divide between Missouri’s Republican supermajority resulted in standstills on various legislation, including the redrawing of congressional maps.
However, after a successful primary for other hard-line conservatives, the caucus disbanded. Amid his departure from the chamber, Burlison feels confident and enthusiastic on what kind of policies the Missouri General Assembly can do in his absence.
“I really am excited to see what the next legislature is going to be,” Burlison said. “I think that leadership is going to change a little bit, hopefully, and not be so liberal.”
Willing to cooperate, without conceding his principles
Congress has its own reputation for stalemates, and it’s yet to be seen what role Burlison might play.
Burlison defended the establishment of the conservative caucus in the Missouri legislature as he thought it was “necessary” to distinguish themselves from “radically different” Republicans. But he maintained his willingness to cooperate with varying viewpoints in Washington.
“I have always been willing to work across the aisle,” Burlison said. “When I was in the Missouri House, I worked with members of the Black Caucus to pass a lot of legislation. …To me, it doesn’t matter who the person is or what party they come from. If we agree on principle, I’m going to work with them,” Burlison said.
“I think that anyone that knows me knows that I’m extremely principled, but I don’t have to give up my principles to get things done,” he said. “I just try to find creative ways to get there. …I talk to Democrats all the time who say to me, ‘I don’t agree with your views, but you don’t come about your views based off the wrong reasons.’”
Burlison policy goals include conservative talking points
Among policy goals that Burlison would like to address include securing the border, strengthening the military, modernizing infrastructure and defunding “those 87,000 IRS agents.”
Republicans have been critical of the nearly $80 billion in funding allocated to the IRS in the Inflation Reduction Act which would, in part, help the Internal Revenue Service hire an estimated 87,000 new agents to address gaps in their decreasing and aging workforce, according to a Treasury Department report from 2021.
One area where Burlison may have the opportunity to collaborate across the aisle is in exploring and promoting the renewable energy market. However, he doesn’t want to stop there in the search to make the U.S. more energy independent.
“We need to explore every energy resource possible, including natural resources,” Burlison said. “I want to see renewables explode, but I also think that we should stop being afraid of nuclear power. We cannot advance as a society by blanketing the earth with solar panels.”
Campaign finance: Burlison has significant edge
Based on the most recent campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission, Burlison still has more than $157,000 on hand, compared to $6,376 held by his Democratic opponent Sheafer.
Over the entirety of his campaign, Burlison has raised more than $800,000 in campaign contributions, much of which was spent in the Republican primary. Significant contributors include the Club for Growth PAC, the House Freedom Fund and the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation Federal PAC.
While Burlison might not have made it this far without some of his big dollar donors, he attributed some of his success to the smaller financial contributions he’s received, part of which his daughters helped raise.
At a Missouri Farm Bureau event on Oct. 15, candidates were given coffee cans and competed to raise the most money over the course of the night. Whoever received the most, would get a pie in the face.
“My daughters are great campaigners, people love to see them,” Burlison said. “They took my coffee can and went around the whole arena and collected by far the most money and it became comical. It was clear that I was going to have to take a pie in the face, and they really enjoyed watching.”