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State Senate candidates engage in spirited debate

Candidates for one of the state’s most-watched Senate races square off in a forum hosted at the University of Missouri. This article was notable in the publication’s website analytics for the amount of time people were spending on the page the day of publication — four minutes, on average, and up to seven minutes for viewers from a particular referring website. 

752 words / The Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA, MO — Rep. Mary Still and Sen. Kurt Schaefer leveled heated accusations at each other Tuesday when they faced off in a forum hosted by Pi Sigma Alpha and the MU Political Science Club in MU’s Allen Auditorium.

Still hopes to unseat Schaefer as Missouri’s 19th District state senator in one of the state’s most-watched campaigns this season.

“They definitely went at it a little bit,” said Trey Sprick, president of the student organization Tigers Against Partisan Politics.

Philosophy of public service

The tone for the evening and a major current in the campaign surfaced when a student panelist asked whether the candidates would prioritize his or her parties’ platform or the interests of their constituents.

Still emphasized her values.

“I will be there to represent you, the values we share, and to fight for working families. It’s working families that are getting squeezed,” Still said. She promised to prioritize constituents over special interests if elected to the Missouri Senate. “Not special interests, not any party, and especially not the Tea Party.”

Schaefer emphasized his legislative record as evidence that he can get things done.

“I would work with Republicans, Democrats, anyone who has an idea and wants to work to make this a better state,” he said. “I have sponsored and passed over 50 bills, most with overwhelming bipartisan support.” He also underscored his powerful position as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he was chosen for after two years on the job.

Higher education

Many questions from the student panelists focused on higher education.

Both candidates disagreed with Senate Bill 389, passed before either was elected. It transferred some powers from the UM System Board of Curators to the General Assembly. And both agreed that the board should include student membership, although Still claimed to have taken that stance before her opponent.

Schaefer and Still support the November ballot measure to raise the tobacco tax for different reasons. If passed, new revenues from the tax would fund K-12 and higher education.

Still maintained Schaefer has only recently converted to supporting the tax increase, while she has spoken out for it for years. She compared it to the song lyrics, “I was country before country was cool.”

Schaefer said he supports it as a way to discourage smoking because the state spends so much money on health-related complications from smoking because of Medicaid and Medicare obligations.

Both candidates pledged to ensure that any new revenues for education raised through a tobacco tax hike would not be offset by reduced funding from the state’s general revenues.

Still said that funding for higher education has been cut every year since Schaefer became chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, while the state has promised more money in tax credits to corporations for economic development.

“That’s better invested in the university,” Still said.

Interstate 70

The candidates mentioned several possible solutions for funding I-70 repairs and upkeep, including the option of bonding.

“I believe pouring concrete is a very good way to stimulate the economy,” Still said. She said she is not fond of toll roads, and confessed that she recently got a bill from the state of Illinois for some tolls she apparently missed on a recent road trip.

Schaefer suggested the option of an increased diesel tax, especially because the trucking industry recently said they would rather pay that than a toll, he said. He also said that 50 percent of the traffic on I-70 drives straight through the state, which makes him question the logic of putting state dollars to work for out-of-state drivers.

Term limits

Schaefer and Still agreed that it’s unlikely term limits would be repealed.

Schaefer said he thinks complications from term limits have caused a loss of collegiality at the Capitol, while Still blames term limits, in part, for greater influence from lobbyists.

“We probably can’t get rid of term limits, but that makes it all the more important to have campaign contribution limits,” Still said.

Missouri campaign finance law includes no caps on campaign contributions.

Copenhaver-Wright controversy

Still denied that she had any involvement in an alleged payoff offer received by Nancy Copenhaver in exchange for dropping out of her primary race against John Wright for the 47th District House seat.

Schaefer responded by distancing himself from the allegations, but also cited Copenhaver’s credentials as a former state representative andMoberly city councilwoman.

“Is she lying?” Schaefer asked Still, without looking at her. He pointed out that paying someone to get out of a political race has “criminal implications.”

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