Karla Eslinger announces run for Senate seat in 2020 election

Current 155th Missouri House District Rep. Karla Eslinger visited with Rocky Sullivan in Gainesville auto parts store Bumper-to-Bumper Friday morning after officially announcing her plan to run for the Missouri Senate in the 2020 election. Eslinger, who has lived in Wasola with her husband, David, for 35 years, is the sister of Sullivan’s wife, Kim. “Whatever Karla does, she does a great job at,” Sullivan told the Times. “This won’t be any different. She’s a hard worker, and she’s not afraid to work for the people of the district.” Times photo/Jessi Dreckman

During a visit to the Times office Friday morning, Wasola resident and current Missouri 155th House District Rep. Karla Eslinger announced her intent to run for the Missouri 33rd Senate  District seat in the August 2020 primary election. The position is currently held by Mike Cunningham.

Cunningham, elected into the office in 2012, will have reached his eight-year term limit in 2021. Eslinger will have served one two-year term in the House at the end of 2021. She was elected into office in November 2018 and was sworn into office in 2019. 


‘Proud of the work’

“It has been an honor to serve the fine residents of District 155. I am proud of the work we have been able to do in a short period of time,” Eslinger said. “I am running for the 33rd Senate District because I want to continue my mission to improve education, economic development and access to quality healthcare to all Missourians.”

When asked why she decided to run for the Senate seat instead of running for re-election in her current House position, Eslinger said she believes she can make a bigger impact as a senator, because the Missouri Senate includes 34 districts rather than the 163 districts represented in the House. “I want this area to be better represented. Ozark County, of course, but also the other areas of the district as well,” she said. “The people who approached me about running for the Senate seat thought I was well suited for the position because I have a large network in this area. When we started talking about what we could do down here, I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”


Generations of hard workers

Eslinger was raised by a single mother who was married at age 15 and divorced with three young children at age 18. She says despite her mother’s early struggles, she worked “every job she could find,” including as a truck driver, nurse and third-shift factory worker. 

“My mother taught me to always keep my word and work hard because no one owes you anything,” Eslinger said. “My mother was a proud woman who refused government support to raise her children, even reduced-priced lunches.”

Karla and her mother, with her sister, now Kim Sullivan and brother Jeff Lamar, moved often and were even without a home for a short time before the family relocated to Theodosia, where they found a home and a community that welcomed them with open arms. 

Eslinger graduated from Gainesville High School, and began her college career at College of the Ozarks “with $20 to her name, $5 of that spent on gas to get there,” according to a press release announcing her Senate run. 

She, and later both of her daughters, Chelsey Gilmore and Katy Chapman, graduated from C of O, which has earned the nickname “Hard Work U” based on its structure that focuses on students earning their tuition through work programs instead of paying cash. Chelsey now teaches business classes at Gainesville High School, and Katy teaches fourth grade at Ava Elementary School. 

“The College of the Ozarks changed my life and made me see the direct impact a quality education can have on anyone’s life,” Eslinger said. “I am 100 percent committed to ensuring all Missouri children have access to a quality education and have a path to a well-paying job in the workforce.”

While working full time, Eslinger earned a master’s degree in elementary administration, a specialist’s degree in school finance and law, and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy Analysis. She was able to complete her education while never borrowing money or receiving any loans, she said. 


A Background in education

For 35 years, Eslinger and husband Dave have lived on the Wasola farm where David’s parents farmed. She has worked as a teacher and principal, and she became the first female superintendent in the Ava school district. She later was hired as superintendent of the West Plains school district. After serving in superintendent roles for a decade, Eslinger was hired as the assistant commissioner of the Missouri Department of Education, where she worked to streamline educational systems. Eslinger then served as the senior education analyst for Applied Engineering Management, which analyzes data and provides insights and data management for educational programs and departments. 

“I believe we need to maintain strong local control of our schools and focus more resource for the classroom and less for the bureaucracy,” Eslinger said. 

Eslinger ran for House Representative in the 2018 election, beating out Thornfield resident Mike Lind and Bradleyville resident Jack Clemans. 

According to the press release, as representative, Eslinger voted to pass an innovative jobs plan that helps companies increase the number of people they hire. She also supports a workforce development plan that combines various efforts to train and retrain workers in high-demand industries, promotes plans that encourage more Missourians to go back and finish their college degree and puts a bigger emphasis on technical schools. Eslinger says she also voted to pass the state’s strongest pro-life bill and is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights.

In the news release, Eslinger says she plans to file a constitutional amendment that would prohibit illegal immigrants from voting in Missouri elections.

“Currently nothing keeps illegals from voting and influencing our elections,” she said. 

Other priorities include mandatory reviews of all current government programs and requiring sunset provisions on any new programs passed by the legislature, protecting a farmer’s freedom to farm including repealing burdensome regulations, stronger property rights and working to see that our region has affordable access to high-speed internet. 

“Karla will fight to improve access to healthcare, address rising health insurance deductibles, and take on ‘Big Pharma,’ who she believes shouldn’t be subsidizing medicine overseas while charging our families and seniors exorbitant costs at home,” the announcement says.


Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423