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Last day of legislative session

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, speaks on the Senate floor on the last day of the Missouri legislative session on Friday, May 15, 2015. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte, cfletes-boutte@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • State Sen. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis County Democrat who beat her GOP opponent four years ago after an expensive campaign that turned nasty, faces a Republican this year who has not reported raising any money.

But Schupp has raised money, and lots of it.

As of Sept. 1, Schupp, 63, of Creve Coeur, reported raising more than $1 million for her reelection bid, a total that includes $200,000 she loaned herself.

Schupp reported spending more than $300,000 as of Sept. 1. She had just over $686,000 heading into the final two months of election season.

"I would never take a race for granted in a swing district like mine, but I'm feeling really good about the effort that I'm putting forward and the people who are working on my behalf," she said during a September interview in her Capitol office.

Her Republican opponent, Gregory Powers, 68, of Manchester, signed up to run in the 24th Senate District after Republicans had trouble recruiting a candidate. Libertarian Jim Higgins, of St. Louis County, is also vying for the seat.

Republicans have said that the district — which includes some of St. Louis County's most affluent suburbs surrounding the Interstate 64/Interstate 270 interchange — has shifted in recent years to favor Democrats over Republicans.

Powers, a substitute teacher and former member of the Parkway School Board, said his focus, if elected, would be to promote economic growth. He considers himself a budget watchdog, and said he would scrutinize state spending.

He also said he would take an interest in education policy, but he struggled in an interview to name specific concerns he had. And, perhaps predictably, he complained about the influence of money in politics.

"One of my biggest frustrations is the amount of money that a candidate is supposed to raise," Powers said. "That's very, very frustrating to hear that. I haven't really raised anything."

Schupp pointed to a series of legislative accomplishments she says show she has made an impact in the Republican-controlled Senate. Among them:

• Suicide prevention training: In 2016, as part of a larger bill, Schupp successfully shepherded legislation that allows teachers to learn about suicide prevention as part of their professional development. Schools must now also craft strategies to prevent youth suicide.

• Whistleblower protections: This year, former Gov. Eric Greitens signed Schupp-sponsored legislation that protects government whistleblowers from retaliation if they report government malfeasance. The new law also prohibits state agencies from requiring workers to sign confidentiality agreements, or gag orders, when settling legal disputes.

• Surprise billing: Schupp sponsored a bill this year designed to prevent "surprise billing" in emergency room situations — when patients receive unexpected medical bills for visiting out-of-network physicians who work at in-network facilities. The language was folded into an omnibus insurance bill that Greitens signed. "We are trying to make sure that all the patient is responsible for is what they would be responsible for if the doctor was in-network," Schupp said.

She said her constituents' biggest worry this election season is healthcare, and "making sure that it's affordable and accessible to everyone." Schupp said her constituents are uncertain about their healthcare, especially because of GOP attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act.

Schupp said that she would continue to press Republicans to expand Medicaid in Missouri, but said voters may have to approve such an expansion at the ballot box in 2020.

Schupp said she didn't know whether she would empty her campaign coffers to beat an opponent who hasn't raised any money.

But she pushed back when asked if she was planning to run for higher office in 2020. Democrats hold just 10 seats in the 34-member Missouri Senate, meaning Republicans control the legislative agenda.

The minority's main defensive mechanism is the filibuster — when a senator speaks for an extended period of time to stall or kill a bill. Schupp is one of the Senate's most prolific speakers.

"I'm not," Schupp said when asked if she was planning to run for higher office in 2020. "I'm committed to serving in the Senate."

For four years?

"That's my plan," she said.

So no campaigns in 2020?

"People have talked to me about that," she said. "It's really not something I'm looking at. I think that I'm needed in the Senate. There just aren't enough people in my party and (people) who are progressive legislators. And we need to have this voice."

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Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.