When President Donald Trump announced in December that he intended to remove U.S. troops from Syria, attorney Lindsey Simmons wrote to U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler opposing that move, stating it would abandon the Kurdish fighters who had worked with her husband, an Army helicopter pilot.

Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a strong supporter of Trump, could have influenced him to change his mind, Simmons said Friday.

“These are the people who made sure men like my husband could come home,” she said.

But Simmons never heard back — not an email, phone call or even a form letter, she told about 30 Democrats at the weekly meeting of the Boone County Muleskinners.

“I decided if she could not give me the time of day, that was fine, I will just take her job,” Simmons said to strong applause.

When Simmons, an attorney who lives in Hallsville, announced her plans at the end of September, she did hear back, she said. The staff member she spoke to apologized and said her letter “fell through the cracks.”

Simmons' letter didn't  receive a response, but that was not intentional, said Steve Walsh, Hartzler’s press secretary.

When Hartzler’s chief of staff and military affairs aide called back, “the conversation went very well, the three of them on the phone agreed that moving our troops out of Syria was something she and Vicky agreed on. She feels that we would be better off having those U.S. service members staying there.

“There was never an intent to ignore her,” Walsh said.

A few days later, Trump followed through on his December plan, ordering troops out of Syria following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. And for the first time since his election, Hartzler voted against Trump on a major issue, supporting a non-binding resolution calling on Trump to reverse his decision.

Simmons is one of two Democrats, along with Erich Arvidson of Boonville, seeking the nomination to oppose Hartzler, who will  seek her sixth term in Congress in 2020. Hartzler has won re-election easily every two years since unseating the late U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton in a narrow victory in 2010.

The 24-county district stretches from central Missouri to the Kansas border and includes all or parts of Audrain, Boone, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Randolph counties in central Missouri.

Simmons was born in Marshall, attended Missouri Valley College and received a master’s degree from the University of South Dakota before graduating from Harvard Law School. During her talk to the Muleskinners, she said she will emphasize her role as a military spouse and, if elected, would become the first spouse of an active duty service member to sit in Congress.

 

She explained how that will help in the Fourth District, won handily by Trump in 2016 and home to Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood.

“I think that one piece of that is that I am an active duty military spouse and we have two incredible military bases in the Fourth District and past campaigns haven’t been able to speak to their experience and haven’t been able to engage them and talk to them about issues they are actually experiencing,” Simmons said.

After her talk, former state Rep. Chris Kelly said Simmons can compete because she brings a fresh perspective to the race.

“It’s tough,” Kelly said. “It’s important to get the folks in the district to not think tribally but to think intellectually, to remember how good Ike was for the district. And the fact is that Hartzler has done nothing for the district except to take money for herself.”

Simmons said little about the impeachment inquiry underway in the U.S. House in her remarks and wasn’t asked about it during the audience question part of her appearance. In an interview afterward, she said the impeachment inquiry should include the Syrian withdrawal.

Her husband is preparing for his third deployment to the Middle East.

“I think it is impeachable to not take care of the troops that are on the ground,” Simmons said.

Walsh, as an official spokesman, could not address the political charges Simmons made and a message to Hartzler’s campaign consultant was not returned.

Asked about other issues, Simmons said she wasn’t ready to endorse the Medicare for All proposals of U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but wants to expand access to health insurance coverage. She also supports some restrictions on guns —  including laws limiting the ability of domestic violence offenders to have weapons — and to fight anti-immigration terrorism.

Her husband is from Puerto Rico, and Simmons referenced the Walmart shootings in El Paso, where the gunman targeted Hispanics.

“My baby ain’t going into a Walmart until these gun laws are changed, and I am a person who started shooting guns when I was 5 years old,” Simmons said.

The race will be tough, but Simmons said she likens it to when she endured three surgeries to repair damage from an injury during a high school track meet.

“If I was willing to learn how to walk again, to go through three different surgeries just so I could prove myself at a track meet, think about what Vicky Hartzler is going to be up against when I am now committed to doing that to protect my family,” Simmons said.

rkeller@columbiatribune.com