Missouri: Fifth District|
Rep. Karen McCarthy (D)
Last Updated June 15, 1999
Kansas City, Missouri, named after a state it isn't in and a river that doesn't touch it, is the center of one of America's large metro areas, the biggest on the central Great Plains. The first pioneers here started little towns on the bluffs above the Missouri River--Independence, Kansas City, Westport--which coalesced a few decades later. Here the Santa Fe Trail set out to cross the Sand Hills of Kansas and reach Mexican territory; here Jayhawks and Bushwhackers set out to fight for control of Bleeding Kansas. It was a rail center and had one of the largest stockyards in the country, a major commercial center with lean skyscrapers and the Country Club Plaza, the first shopping center in America, in the 1920s. It is famous for Harry Truman, who grew up on a farm now in the suburb of Grandview and who lived in his wife's family's house in Independence, the old county seat just to the east. It is famous also for its black community, and jazz musicians like Scott Joplin, Charlie Parker and Count Basie, and for its much-praised barbecue.
The 5th Congressional District includes most of Kansas City in Jackson County, plus Grandview and the bulk of Independence; most of the city's landmarks, including the Truman home, are here. It includes all of Kansas City's black neighborhoods and was 24% black in 1990. About half its voters are in Kansas City, half in the suburbs. Politically, it is solidly Democratic.
The congresswoman from the 5th is Karen McCarthy, a Democrat first elected in 1994. She moved to Kansas City to teach school, and shortly thereafter, in 1976, at 29, was elected to the Missouri House. She served there 18 years, rising to become chairman of Ways and Means in 1983 and president of the National Conference of State Legislators in 1994, working also as a government affairs consultant. In 1994 the 5th District congressman, Alan Wheat, ran for the Senate, and ultimately lost to John Ashcroft. McCarthy ran for the House seat and managed the not inconsiderable feat of winning 41% in an 11-candidate primary; the next two finishers also were women. McCarthy was supported by unions, environmentalists, black organizations and Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver; she raised more than $350,000 for the primary. The Republicans had a serious candidate, Ron Freeman, a black who played professional football in the short-lived United States Football League and then worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and who attacked ''a government which has refused to be accountable to the citizenship.'' McCarthy stressed her conciliatory skills. She was supported by business leaders and had a $250,000 edge in PAC money. She won 57%-43%, carrying Kansas City 2-1 but losing the suburban half of the district.
McCarthy calls herself a New Democrat and supported the balanced budget amendment, a capital gains tax cut and opposed unfunded federal mandates. But overall she has a mostly liberal voting record--pro-gun control, pro-choice on abortion, against the flat tax and school vouchers. She lobbied successfully for a seat on Transportation and met with then-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to restore funding for a $100 million courthouse in Kansas City. In the Missouri House she sponsored an energy policy act that encouraged alternative fuels; in Kansas City buses she supported mixing diesel fuel with beef tallow. ''This is the fuel of the future, and we're going to prove it right here in our community,'' she said, though she might have said the same of the soybean oil used before. She attended the Kyoto conference and praised Al Gore's speech there as ''a shot in the arm'' that ''resuscitated'' the talks.
McCarthy favors a simplified but progressive tax. But her greatest legislative accomplishment was a tax credit for cleaning up central city ''brownfield'' sites in the August 1997 budget bill. In October 1997 she was lobbied hard by business and labor for and against fast track, and finally decided to oppose it; union PACs had given her more than $130,000, some 46% of her PAC money. McCarthy has promoted many other projects beyond the courthouse--$5 million to replace the 110-year-old Chouteau Bridge, $5 million in high-tech grants to local schools to use computers to study the Santa Fe Trail and put Truman Library documents on-line, $500,000 for the Discovery Nature Center in the Brush Creek Corridor, $12 million in the 1998 transportation bill for Jackson County Roadway, Strother Road in Lee's Summit and Missouri 150.
McCarthy has been re-elected by margins better than 2-1 in 1996 and 1998 against a lightly funded opponent.
Safe. This Kansas City-based district is the second most Democratic in the state. McCarthy should have no problem winning her fourth term in 2000.
- Pop. 1990: 569,289
- 1.2% rural;
14.3% age 65+;
- 73.3% White,
0.6% Amer. Indian,
3.1% Hispanic origin;
46.2% married couple families;
20.7% married couple fams. w. children;
46.4% college educ.;
median household income: $26,968;
per capita income: $13,650;
median gross rent: $318;
median house value: $56,700.
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