Last time Republican Congressman Sam Graves ran for re-election, his challenger was Kay Barnes -- and the big-name, well-funded, supposedly formidable former Kansas City mayor got her ass kicked. If Barnes couldn't beat Graves and his goon-powered machine, one political consultant told me, no one could.
One of Graves' newest challengers? An insurance salesman from Excelsior Springs who's never run for office. And who's gay.
Is it a suicide mission, or is Clint Hylton serious?
"I have so many people ask me that question," Hylton says.
"The bottom line is that Sam isn't for the small guy," Hylton says. "I've seen how he's voted on so many things, especially credit card reform, which needed to happen. His contributions are from big business and that's how he votes. It shouldn't be like that."
Graves might be a household name in the rural 6th District, but Hylton has made a name for himself there, too.
Working with the Chamber of Commerce, Hylton says, he helped revive Excelsior Springs' failing Waterfest. He was president of the Chamber for two years and president of the Excelsior Springs Museum. In 2008 the Chamber named him Citizen of the Year.
He says he was equally active when he lived in Liberty. "I was in charge of the Liberty Fall Festival for a few years, so a lot of people know me there." Being an insurance agent gives him a chance to meet a lot of people. "If you talk to my clients you'll hear that I'm a very hardworking, honest, dedicated individual and work for them at every opportunity."
"I feel like Clint's honest," says Wanda Dusek, who worked with Hylton on Waterfest. "A lot of people like Clint. Clint's got a good name here. He works for
the city to get things done."
Dusek and her
husband run a small business in Excelsior Springs; they prefer I don't name it because they don't want it dragged into politics. Dusek will, however, admit that she's a Republican.
"I know Clint's gay," she says. "A lot of other people know Clint's gay. I feel like he's a person. He's a good person. I don't dislike him because he's that way. I wouldn't want my sons to be that way, but Clint is who he is and he's strong about his feelings and he's a good guy. It has nothing to do with running for office."
It did keep Hylton for running from office for a long time, though.
"I always wanted to be involved in politics," he says. "I wanted to do all of the things that the old stigma about being gay says you can't do." He got married and had a child, but faking it didn't work. Five years later he and his wife divorced. "I felt really horrible about doing that to my ex-wife," he says. "Of course she knew anyway, but it was never talked about." Now, he says, "I'm fortunate to have her in my life still, as a good friend and mother of my son."
That son is now 19 -- and, after fighting a rare form of cancer called Burkitt's lymphoma, has been in remission for almost a year. Hylton says that's one reason he decided to run for Congress.
Hylton says one scientist has linked Burkitt's to pesticides. "I see the stuff going on with farmers and cattle prices. And we're importing so much beef when we have no idea what it's been
fed. Same with crops."
Plus, there was the fight over health-care reform. His son can stay on his insurance for three more years, Hylton says, "but after that he'll be
uninsurable because of his pre-existing cancer." Watching politics, he says, "infuriated me more and more. I didn't see votes protecting the people of Missouri."
Hylton says once people know him, it doesn't matter that he's gay.
for people as a whole," Hylton says. "If you're a woman he's not going to vote for something you want, if you're gay he's not, if you're small business he's not. If it's big business -- he's there."
Besides, Hylton says, it wasn't Barnes' gay support that hurt her. It was her wardrobe.
"I think Kay made some mistakes. I love her to death, but when you go into a rural community and you're not wearing blue jeans, they don't trust you. She had on those $300 suits.
"I am not going to let Sam or [his bare-knuckled consultant] Jeff Roe walk all over me. They'll try it. I love a good challenge, love a good fight. I'm going to be nice but when that doesn't work we'll see what else happens."
Another candidate, Ted Rights, a physician from Hamilton, has also filed in the Democratic primary. We're just glad people are still willing to take on the dim-witted, disingenuous, anti-government hypocrite.