Darin Chappell, Republican Missouri House candidate in District 137, speaks at the Republican candidates forum, presented by Greene County Republican Women's Club July 14, 2022. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Correction: An earlier version of this story did not include endorsement information for both candidates. The Missouri Right to Life PAC has endorsed both Barr and Chappell for this race.

One candidate touts his business experience and his record of streamlining the work in the county circuit courts. The other thinks the Missouri House already has enough business people in service and promotes the value he would bring with experience as a city administrator. 

Greene County Circuit Clerk Thomas Barr, who formerly ran a successful mailing service, is facing off against Darin Chappell, former city administrator of Chillicothe, Bolivar and Seymour, in the Republican primary Aug. 2 for a seat in the Missouri House representing District 137.

The district consists of eastern Greene County, including parts of southeast Springfield, Rogersville, Strafford and Fair Grove. Estimated to lean heavily Republican, the primary victor will face no Democratic opposition in the general election. The seat is open because new district maps this year meant incumbent Republican state Rep. John Black was moved into District 129, and he is seeking re-election there.

Thomas Barr and Darin Chappell

Greene County Circuit Clerk Thomas Barr. (Photo: submitted)

Barr, a New York native who moved to Missouri in his teenage years, is the incumbent Greene County circuit clerk with experience in the state’s revenue department and a startup mailing service. He was first elected circuit clerk in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. The mailing service — which organized first-class mail in zip code order — was groundbreaking at the time. Barr brought the innovative business model, initiated by a former postmaster, to Springfield. 

“The community was very good to me and my family,” Barr said. “My whole idea about public service is to try to repay that, for providing me and my family such a great experience. I sometimes say it’s the American dream, because when I came down here, I only knew three people.”

Chappell is a former Missouri State University professor from the political science department in addition to his experience as a city administrator. While born in Michigan, Chappell was raised in Springfield, and despite leaving the area for work and military service throughout his career, he said he’s always considered this his home. 

“I grew up with a simple equation that I’ve tried to live by my entire adult life, and that is ability plus opportunity equals responsibility,” Chappel said. “With my background and experience, the fact that I’ve done all that I have in municipal governance, I saw this opportunity as something that I needed to undertake.”

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Inflation and taxation

Barr said his experience in budgeting and the private sector could benefit the Missouri General Assembly, especially in the turmoil the economy is currently experiencing. Barr is supportive of a permanent income tax cut following Governor Mike Parson’s veto of House Bill 2090, which would’ve given one-time $500 tax credits to Missourians.  

Additionally, he is interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial strategy to help voters save money on the gas tax.

“There are grocery stores that you can go in, and if you buy certain items you will get X amount off a gallon of gas,” Barr said. “…if there is a Missourian who is wanting to save on their gas taxes, why don’t we do it at the pump, instead of making them keep all of their receipts?”

Barr said that this way, Missouri residents would be able to claim the refund instantly, whereas out-of-state drivers would be subject to the tax.

Chappell, similarly to his opponent, takes issue with the gas tax, but dissimilarly, would like to see it outright repealed. He said despite the voters saying “no” three different times, the legislature adopted the tax anyway under the cracks of the Hancock Amendment — a 1980 Missouri constitutional amendment that protects citizens from higher taxes and a bigger government.

“Not only is it bad timing and bad policy, but it’s dishonest, too, frankly…and I’d like to see us correct that,” Chappell said.

Chappell also thinks property tax laws should be addressed, especially during inflationary times for senior citizens and individuals on fixed incomes. Additionally, he said he thinks Missouri should aim to become more attractive to businesses and capitalize on the exodus of companies from the heavy-tax burdened coasts.

Views on abortion and guns

Ammo and guns at Eagle Pawn & Jewelry. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

The Missouri Right to Life PAC has endorsed both Barr and Chappell for this race.

Barr does not feel that any rights are being threatened with the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which provided protections for women seeking abortions anywhere in the United States. However, regarding the recent federal gun legislation, Barr says Missouri should reject incentives to implement “red flag” laws — which would allow a judge to temporarily take away an individual’s firearms based on the suspicion that they are a threat to themselves or others – and wants to ensure that any Missourians have their rights protected in due process.

Chappell shared similar stances as Barr on abortion and gun rights. He made clear how he viewed what rights are and said that abortion access — and Medicaid — are not constitutionally protected. But, the right to own and operate firearms is, and like Barr, he made mention of due process. 

“I think what most people overlook is these ‘red flag’ laws,” Chappell said. “They concern themselves about the Second Amendment, they miss the bigger point because it’s also about the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment dictates that we will not allow in this country the government to take away your life or your liberty or your property without due process of law. But ‘red flag’ laws are, by definition, absence of due process of law.”

Differing priorities when it comes to state operations

Darin Chappell, Republican Missouri House candidate in District 137, speaks at the Republican candidates forum, presented by Greene County Republican Women’s Club at the Relics Antique Mall, Event Center on July 14, 2022. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Barr showed concern over the legislature’s ability to craft a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as the one-time federal dollars that make up a large chunk of the current budget won’t be available next year. He said, if elected, his experience owning the mailing service business would be beneficial in carefully handling state taxpayer funds.

“The legislature is going to have to look at every single program,” Barr said. “And see what is essential and what is not, because, in these tough economic times, things will be cut. It is not going to be as good as it was this year with all of the additional federal funds and spending. I think that’s another reason why it’s important that we send business-minded people who have had to do that.”

Barr praised Gov. Mike Parson and the state legislature for the increase in pay for state employees, as it became increasingly difficult to find workers in the aftermath of COVID-related restrictions.

“I think it’s important that teachers are appreciated,” Barr said. “The increase to $38,000 (minimum salary) of course is a first step. … When my folks who work in the clerk’s office were making $13.75 an hour and they could go to McDonald’s for $16 or $17, that’s a problem. So, because of the legislature and the governor, my employees are now starting out at $16.25. I don’t think that’s enough, but at least they got a raise.” 

On the other hand, Chappell thinks experience in city government and understanding the U.S. and Missouri constitutions will help him provide the voice of reason in Jefferson City.

“In the House, we have plenty of attorneys, plenty of doctors, plenty of businessmen and women, but I don’t know of a single city administrator or city manager that’s serving in either the House or the Senate,” Chappell said. “With my background and experience from a municipal perspective, I believe that I can bring something to the table in the House, but also provide some help and representation at home.” 

Education and public school curriculum

High school students study on laptops.
Students studying. (Photo courtesy Launch Virtual Learning, Springfield Public Schools)

Thanks to his experience both in municipal government and as a professor, Chappell remains a big supporter of local government in many aspects, especially education, although he stressed the importance of separating the biases of instruction from the material being taught. 

“I have no problem with our country’s history being taught as is, warts and all,” Chappell said. “I taught it that way when I was at Missouri State. But I don’t think that anybody should be able to go in and allow their personal views to shade an entire generation of people’s understanding of who they are and where they came from.”

Barr is also an avid supporter of the “local is best” mentality when it comes to regulating public school curriculums and didn’t provide any issues he had with the way school boards in District 137 or other Missouri schools taught. 

“It is my belief that the local school board is best able to make rules and policies,” Barr said. “Of course, education is the No. 1 thing that the state is supposed to budget every year, so I’m in favor of funding the education formula.”

Marijuana

Regarding the potential legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, which has become a state issue, Barr and Chappell don’t stand too far apart. Barr said that if it comes up on the ballot in November, the will of the people should stand. While Chappell didn’t say whether he supported or disapproved of its legalization, he noted that unless he can see harm done or rights taken away from an individual by the actions of another, the government had no place to restrict matters such as the usage of marijuana. 

Voters who select a Republican ballot at the primary polls on Aug. 2 will be able to vote for either Barr, Chappell or write in a candidate. The winner will face no Democratic opposition in the general election, and is assumed to win and assume the role of Missouri Representative of District 137 next year.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is a general assignment reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen, with a focus on regional politics. McGee most recently worked at Carbon Trace Productions, a documentary film company, as a producer. He’s a Missouri State University graduate and former reporter at student-led newspaper The Standard. More by Jack McGee