Cooper County Presiding Commissioner Don Baragary will seek the Republican nomination next year in the 48th Missouri House District, hoping to replace incumbent state Rep. Dave Muntzel, who must step down due to term limits.
Baragary is the second candidate to announce a bid to replace Muntzel, R-Boonville. Baragary announced his candidacy Sept. 10 at the Cooper County Farm Bureau annual meeting. Jason Davidson of New Franklin, also a Republican, announced in June that he was running.
The 48th District includes portions of Cooper, Howard, Pettis, Saline, Chariton and Randolph counties.
Baragary first won office in 2014 and was re-elected to a new four-year term in 2018.
The election is still 14 months away, and Muntzel said he hasn’t seen enough of either candidates’ platforms to make an endorsement. A lot can happen between now and then, including more people entering the race, he said.
Filing opens Feb. 25 for local, state and federal races on the Aug. 4, 2020, primary ballot.
The voters will look at their platforms and decide who should be the Republican nominee and the new representative.
“I wish them both the best of luck, and the voters will decide,” Muntzel said.
Baragary and his wife, Joy, have run a construction business for over 35 years, along with a cattle grazing and backgrounding operation. His family raised him to take a conservative approach to business, he said.
“They instilled a ‘work hard and watch your pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves’-type attitude,” Baragary said.
His parents taught him at an early age to “run it like a business,” and he applies that as commissioner, he said. A few years ago, the commission refinanced the bonds issued to build the jail, allowing the county to pay the debt two years early and for $60,000 less, he said.
Decisions like that have allowed the commission to build up reserves and to lower their general property tax levy to 15 percent below the ceiling, he said. He would apply the same approach to budgeting and spending bills in the state house, he said.
“Make wise decisions on your spending, don’t spend more than you take in, and you can provide more services,” Baragary said. “That’s running it like a business.”
Transportation is a key issue for Baragary. He was on the I-70 Task Force with Boone County, Columbia, MU and state officials promoting a new Rocheport bridge. He also met with Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Sen. Roy Blunt to stress the importance of replacing the bridge. Replacement avoids a long repair project that would send I-70 traffic through the Howard County bottoms and downtown Boonville. It is also essential to economic development in mid-Missouri, he said.
Fixing and maintaining roads and bridges is the key to bringing in new companies that will give opportunities for more young people to stay and make a career in mid-Missouri, Baragary said. He supported the gas tax on the ballot in 2018, but he thinks the ballot language was confusing and kept a lot of people from voting for it.
It is bad for Missouri if the state turns down federal funds because it doesn’t have its own money to match them, Baragary said. If a tax hike can fix the roads, it could save people money in the long-term, he said.
“I’m just like everybody else, I don’t like tax increases,” he said. “But I also don’t like having to realign my car every time I drive down I-70.”
His experience as a county commissioner means he knows how counties function and interact with the state. He works with MODOT a lot already, and would work with the same people in the department if he was a state representative, he said.
“If there’s some projects that need some prodding along, I’ll work with them, talk through it and see what we need to do,” Baragary said. “I think that’s a big advantage and something not many people can bring to the table.”
He also has worked with leaders from neighboring counties, including Howard, Pettis and Saline, which are all part of the West Central committee of the County Commissioners Association of Missouri. When an issue comes up that deals with county governments, he has plenty of people he can call to get their perspectives, he said.
Baragary and the other two commissioners, Charlie Melkersman and David Booker were sued in April 2018 over alleged Sunshine Law violations by a group of residents in southern Cooper County.
The group opposes a concentrated swine feeding operation called Tipton East that has a permit to develop near their homes. The plaintiffs alleged the commission didn’t give adequate notice before it took a tour of the proposed site of the Tipton East operation with representatives of the company that would manage the operation, Pipestone Systems.
The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Stephen Jeffery, voluntarily filed to dismiss the lawsuit this July after the court took several depositions. Circuit Judge Robert Koffman dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs could bring another lawsuit on the same grounds.
“We did follow the Sunshine Law,” Baragary said.
Baragary said he supports a new state law that bans county-level agricultural regulations that are more strict than the state’s. He spoke in favor of the bill during a Senate committee hearing in March. He said he supports Gov. Mike Parson in signing the bill into law.
“I think that’s a good law, and it’s necessary to level the playing field around the state,” Baragary said.