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The 137th District is one of Missouri's poorest legislative districts, and one of Springfield's oldest areas. This year, Democrat State Representative Charlie Norr is campaigning hard so he can continue his commitment to helping residents there. At his house, Norr recently took a break from his door-to-door campaigning to speak to KSMU's Benjamin Fry, who has our report.
The old grandfather clock is ticking and the aquarium humming in Charlie Norr's Victorian home in North Springfield.This 120-year-old house came with several historical perks, but Norr especially likes the clawfoot bathtub as well as the original flooring, woodwork and windows."It's just a great old house, it's a railroad house meaning the railroad built it, the Frisco Railroad, they needed a tailor," he said.But these days, Norr admits his home isn't in tip-top shape like it used to be.As the incumbent for Missouri's 137th District, he's been getting back into the swing of the campaign, and has a paper-cluttered table to show for it.During his first two years as State Representative, Norr says he's made other historic buildings and areas of this district a priority, and he uses Commercial Street as an example.He says the state legislature should work to help prevent districts like his from deterioration."Tax credits are real important to come back into the district, be it for streets, jobs, or revitalization," he said.Even before serving as representative, Norr says he was committed to the improvement of this part of town.Shortly after moving to Springfield from Willow Springs in south-central Missouri about 14 years ago, Norr became a community organizer and started up the Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association.But Norr says his service to others began much earlier than that."Since 17 going into the Navy, in one form or another, I've always been a public employee so to speak," he said.After getting out of the Navy, Norr worked at a steel mill and ship yard in Baltimore.He then got a job at the fire department there, starting out as one of the first paramedics in the country.That's where he witnessed humanity in its most basic form."And that's where you see, frontline so to speak, the hardship, the tragedy, the things that people suffer," he said.Norr says this experience helped motivate him to seek public office.After living in Springfield about eight years, Norr ran for State Representative in 2002.He lost, but says the door-to-door campaigning was good practice for a later census bureau job.Norr's victory in the 2006 election came just after a massive Medicaid cut. As the representative of one of the poorest districts in the state, he says affordable health care remains one of his biggest campaign issues. He hopes to reduce the up-front costs that working poor have to pay for medical care."Some people get disability social security; they might get $1200 a month total. Their income is total and these people are totally disabled. And they have to spend $600 to $700 of their own income before they get any medical benefits at all. That's just too much money and it's not right," he said.Another issue Norr feels strongly about is ethanol.He says he's against using state tax subsidies toward the production of the biofuel because he says it takes money from those who couldn't afford it even at a reduced price.This time around, Norr says doing constituent work prevents him from campaigning as much as he did in '06, but he still uses his spare time going door-to-door. He says with the stressful state of the nation, his constituents are more focused than ever on national issues."They just have a lot of decisions to make, and I try meeting door-to-door to make it easier for them to help at the state level," he said.Norr says going door-to-door is also important because his district has one of the lowest voter turnouts in Missouri.He's hoping come November 4th, citizens here can help him help them."You just need a little assistance, and I think that's where I'm trying to do a good job in Jeff City for people. A hand up, not a hand down," he said.For KSMU news, I'm Benjamin Fry