Beverage company executive Brian Gelner, left, faces state Rep. Curtis Trent in the Aug. 2 primary race for the Republican nomination for 20th Senate District. The winner will run unopposed in November.

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A Springfield beverage company owner and first-time candidate for public office is challenging a state House member seeking to move up in the race for the 20th Senate District.

Brian Gelner, an owner and executive of Heart of America beverage distributor, and Curtis Trent, incumbent representative of Missouri’s 133rd House District, are going head to head in the Aug. 2 Republican primary, which will ultimately decide the 20th District’s next senator, as there is no Democratic candidate. 

Incumbent Sen. Eric Burlison chose to run for the Republican nomination for the 7th District seat in the U.S. House.

District 20 saw a significant change during the redistricting process in Missouri’s most recent legislative session. Formerly consisting of all of Christian County and most of the Greene County area outside of Springfield, the newly shaped district saw some slight changes in Greene County, omitted Christian County, and added Dade, Barton and Webster counties.

Businessman Brian Gelner seeks to bring his experiences to Jefferson City as senator for the 20th District. (Photo by Jack McGee)

Gelner was born in Cape Girardeau, and was raised in Springfield. After getting a degree in accounting, he moved away for several years to work as an auditor before being brought back to help out with the family business. Gelner now owns and operates Heart of America Beverage, which merged with his family company, Premium Beverage, in 2016. He also is owner of Crown Distributing. Together, the companies specialize in distribution of soft drinks and alcohol.

“Ultimately, you get to a point with the weight of the employees and your families, because they’re counting on you not only today, but in the future to be successful so they can reach their dreams,” Gelner said. “For me, that’s how I look at what we’re missing in Jefferson City. I’m a dad, I have that experience, I’m going to come at these problems with a dad perspective, I’m a business owner, I’m going to come with these deals, and I’ve lived in this community my whole life for the most part.”

State Rep. Curtis Trent, of Missouri’s 133rd District, seeks a switch to the Senate. (Photo by Jack McGee)

Trent was born in Springfield, and was raised in nearby Ava, Missouri. He received a bachelor’s degree at Missouri State University and a law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law. He passed the Missouri bar exam before being hired as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Billy Long’s office. He later became a private practice attorney specializing in Social Security disability law. When Burlison termed out of the Missouri House after eight years, Trent returned to politics and was elected representative for the 133rd District in 2016. He was reelected in 2018 and 2020.

Trent said he decided to run for the upper chamber of Missouri’s General Assembly because of the impact he stands to make in their ability to establish policies.

“The reason why I got involved in running for elected office is because I feel that our state and our country are going in the wrong direction for a long period of time,” Trent said. “There are a lot of low-hanging policy areas that Missouri needs to improve on if we’re going to have a good education system and a strong economy … and if we’re going to protect the basic freedoms and liberties that our ancestors intended for us to enjoy and provided for us in our foundational documents. That’s what I’ve been doing in the House for the last six years, and that’s what I want to continue to do in the Senate.”


While without political experience, Gelner became familiar with legislative processes in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., as an industry advocate and also experiencing the alcohol regulatory process.

Gelner thinks his experience as a successful businessman will lend itself into being a successful senator, especially when it comes to attracting new businesses and energizing the local economy. He compared the area’s potential to the affluence that Northwest Arkansas has achieved in recent years, and doesn’t see why we can’t experience those same successes.

He is also concerned about inflation, teacher shortages, mental health and more rural-specific issues that are relevant to his constituents such as health care, broadband access, and child care.

“I think there's a lack of relationships in Jefferson City, I have the ability to bring those,” Gelner said. “I just keep going back to common sense, pragmatic, less tribalism. I’m doing this for the right reasons. … I feel I have a skillset that’s not abundant in Jefferson City, I think that I can make a difference.”

Trent is campaigning on his record as a representative, and the continued need for accountability in government. Similarly to Gelner, Trent is concerned about inflation, and thinks Missouri should focus on tort reform and civil litigation reform — to reduce the ability of plaintiffs seeking damages for negligence, malpractice, etc. — and to encourage new business.

Trent would focus on ideas to resolve the teacher shortage, supports increased enforcement to handle crime and drug trafficking, and seeks tax relief for Missourians.

“We must restore government to its intended purpose of serving the people,” Trent says on his campaign website. “I will fight for a state government that is accountable to you.”

Watch for additional Hauxeda coverage of the race for District 20, as we dig deeper into the issues that Missourians are concerned about, and what the candidates plan on doing in the Senate to address those issues. 

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Hauxeda. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee