By Sara Seidel, Staff Writer
It’s not every candidate who paints his campaign advertisements on a tarp stretched over a covered wagon.
Mike McGhee does, and placing those wagons along area highways, he’s attempting to call attention to the issue he deems most important in his race for the Missouri Senate seat representing District 21. That issue is education.
McGhee questions, for example, whether it’s reasonable for some school districts to receive more money per child to educate students than other districts. He’d rewrite funding directives to take all the money earmarked for education and divide it by the total number of children in Missouri schools.
“Everybody gets the same,” he says, saying that after criteria is set, the money would be spread out equally “to educate the children.”
McGhee, a Republican, further notes that under the current system, Missouri teachers are underpaid, and its children – whom he calls the most valuable natural resource in the state – are not being properly educated. Some children aren’t getting the education they need to be successful in the workforce, and employers have to seek out workers from states that do a better job educating their children.
“Kids need to be educated first so they can do the jobs when they graduate,” McGhee says.
Further, Missouri needs to improve its educational system to enhance the overall economic climate in the state. Better schools would entice families to move to Missouri rather than to reject an opportunity because they fear the schools are substandard.
McGhee’s concern about Missouri’s schools is rooted in personal experience.
When he graduated from the Kansas City school system, he says he was unable to read or write. His siblings met the same fate, and McGhee says things are no different today.
“I’d like to do a major shake up of the whole system, in Kansas City and St. Louis,” he says, adding that he feels he’ll stand a better change of making such changes as a member of the Senate.
McGhee served in the Missouri House for eight years representing the 122nd District, which included Cass County and portions of Lafayette and Johnson counties. Although some of his constituents from his House seat would still be included in his newly redrawn Senate district, some, including Ray County residents, would be new to him.
McGhee says his position as a state representative was the first job he held since he was 22 in which he was not self-employed. He didn’t serve in the military because he couldn’t pass the physical.
“But I always felt that I owed something,” he says, so when he was asked to run for the legislature, he did. After his first four years, he was hooked.
“I fell in love with it,” he says. “All I do all day is help someone.”
During his tenure as a representative, McGhee says he was able to gain support for several measures he sponsored.
One of them will be on the August ballot. The proposed amendment, which McGhee says would align Missouri’s constitution to the U.S. constitution, would allow prayer in public places, including schools.
McGhee also sponsored a measure to design and produce a medallion that can be awarded to Missouri’s Vietnam veterans.
“Missouri never had a medallion for soldiers who served in Vietnam,” McGhee says.
Another of McGhee’s proposals, “Hope’s Law,” doubled penalties for using drugs in the presence of a minor child. The inspiration for the legislation came from an Odessa girl who became ill after her father used drugs when she visited him.
McGhee also sponsored a bill that froze salaries of Missouri’s judges, as well as those of his colleagues in the House and Senate.
“I didn’t make any friends with that,” he says.
As a representative, McGhee says he devoted all his professional attention to his legislative work. He and his wife, the former Valeta Utley, a Richmond High School graduate, were real estate investors. After his election, the McGhees sold their properties and real estate business, and she became McGhee’s “best – or worst – critic,” he says. She maintained a desk in his office in Jefferson City, read legislation and offered advice.
The McGhees have five grown children, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They live on a farm between Odessa and Bates City where they raise cows and horses.
McGhee is active in Rotary, Boy Scouts and 4-H.
And those covered wagons?
“They’re just to liven things up,” McGhee says. “When people see them, maybe they’ll think, ‘This guy seems like fun.’”