Almost eight years ago, there was a three-person Republican race in Missouri’s 33rd Senatorial District featuring a trio of past and present members of the Missouri House of Representatives. The field featured Mike Cunningham, Ward Franz and Don Wells.

Cunningham emerged the winner. He was the best choice. During the past 7-1/2 years as our state senator, that’s been proven beyond doubt.

Fast forward to the present, and as Yogi Berra would say, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

Term limits have ended Cunningham’s tenure.

As a result, this year’s field, as was the case in 2012, features three past or present members of the 163-member Missouri House when election day arrives on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

This time, the trio includes Karla Eslinger, Van Kelly and Robert Ross.

Eslinger and Ross are current elected officials; Kelly left the state house several years ago due to term limits.

Eslinger comes from Wasola, located near the borders of Douglas and Ozark counties. She’s a retired school superintendent. Her last two stops as a school administrator were at Ava and West Plains, among the largest districts in the eight-county 33rd Senatorial District. She’s in her first two-year term as a state representative for Douglas and Ozark counties, as well as a part of Taney County.

Kelly lives near the borders of Douglas and Wright counties. He served eight years in the Missouri House. Like Eslinger, he’s a small-business owner. He’s also given his time for decades at Camp Joy, a Christian camp that he operates and has served as pastor. As a legislator, he sponsored several bills with teeth, seeking stiffer penalties for those who sell alcohol to minors or for those who sexually molest minors.

Ross is from Texas County in the northeast corner of the district. He’s in the fi nal year of an eight-year stint as a state representative. Ross has held key positions on several key state committees. In terms of being a “heavy hitter” in the Missouri House, he’s probably the heaviest hitter of the trio. A surveyor by trade, Ross also is the owner of a small business.

We’ve met all three.

We like two.

We’ll endorse one.

First up is Ross, whose recent claim to fame is what we call a “skeleton ad” that portrayed Eslinger and Kelly in a less-than-positive light.

For those of you who didn’t see it, the ad called Eslinger and Kelly “two failed politicians without the backbone to stand up for our values and our communities.”

Kelly was labeled as pro-abortion and “in the pocket of wealthy developers.” Not to be forgotten in this “hit piece,” Eslinger was called a supporter of the Islamic Quran in public schools and was blamed for a scandal at a truck-driving school affiliated with the West Plains R-7 School District.

All of the aforementioned claims are lies.

Rest assured, Ross will step back and say that he personally didn’t author or send the mass mailing.

Officially, it was paid for by Team Robert PAC with an address in Kansas City. But that’s much like  dictator Pol Pot going on national television in the

early 1980s and saying he didn’t personally kill more than half of Cambodia’s population in the 1970s.

Bottom line, the blood of this piece is on Ross’ hands.

To that end, for his handlers to mail such an attack is like the pot calling the kettle black. More so than any other candidate, special interests are paying the freight for the senate campaign of Robert Ross. His financial disclosures tell the tale. And there is a price to pay for being the lackey of big-business heavyweights.

They want their pound of flesh.

We’re not interested in seeing that flesh cashed.

There are two other candidates in this field with higher integrity who we feel better represent the people and values of the 33rd District. Frankly, Robert Ross is better suited to represent someplace like suburban St. Louis. Since his money comes from the cities, perhaps he should move there.

Cross Ross off your list.

Narrow it to Eslinger and Kelly.

We like both a lot.

We’ve known Kelly the longest. To put him in a local light, he’s the uncle of Hannah Kelly, who represents Seymour and southern Webster County in the Missouri House.

He’s a man of faith. He’s a man of integrity. He’s served honorably before when elected to public office. Those who know Van Kelly know that he personally has sacrificed on many occasions to follow his calling to serve Christ. We admire that.

Kelly has the experience needed to be an effective state senator. He’s got the drive and intelligence to serve us admirably. If elected, we have no doubt he’ll do a great job in the 34-member chamber.

A ballot cast in his favor isn’t a bad choice.

However, we feel Eslinger is the best option.

That’s not a knock on Kelly, it’s a credit to Karla Eslinger.

Her diversity is appealing. Her story is compelling.

A child born and raised in poverty, she headed to college with $20 to her name, earned a degree, became a teacher and rose the ranks to school superintendent. She served a large district at Ava as its leader; a few years later, she served an even larger district at West Plains as superintendent, which is the largest school district in the 33rd District.

She knows budgets. The school budget in West Plains is more than $24 million. She also knows how state government works; not only has she served as a state representative, she also worked for the Missouri Department of Education as its assistant commissioner after retiring as a school administrator.

Eslinger knows small business. She and her husband own a successful auto-body shop.

She knows families. Eslinger and her husband of 38 years, David, raised two married daughters who are both school teachers.

Karla Eslinger, in our eyes, is the total package.

Above that, she’s endorsed by Cunningham, whose word throughout the entire district is the political gold standard.

Our endorsement goes to Karla Eslinger. She’ll best serve Seymour and southern Webster County in the Missouri Senate.

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