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State Senate candidates Schaefer, Still engage in spirited debate at MU

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 — four minutes, on average, and up to seven minutes for viewers from a particular referring website. 

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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.”

Draft 1

Supervising editor Jacob Kirn 

School spirit was not all that filled the room when Rep. Mary Still and Sen. Kurt Schaefer faced off in a forum hosted by Pi Sigma Alpha in MU’s Allen Auditorum Tuesday evening.

The two are running for Missouri’s 19th District Senate seat in one of the state’s most-watched campaigns of the season. Each frequently turned red or laughed silently onstage while the other levelled accusations and charges of incompetence and lobbyist pandering.

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

Philosophy of public service

The tone for the evening and a major current in their campaign was brought out by the first panelist question into whether each candidate would prioritize their party’s platform or the interests of the greatest number of their constituents. Still’s responses were as much about values and Shaefer’s were about his record.

“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 Senate. “Not special interests, not any party, and especially not the Tea Party.”

Schaefer highlighted his legislative accomplishments as evidence of his philosophy: getting 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 years, most with overwhelming bipartisan support.” He also underscored his position as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a seat of power he was chosen for after only two years on the job.

Higher education

Many questions from the student panelists focused on higher education, an area where much of the candidates’ rhetoric matches, yet a debate that nonetheless provided plenty of room for argument.

Both disagreed with Senate Bill 389, a legislative relic from before either candidate was elected to office, which transferred some powers from the University of Missouri 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 first.

Regarding the November ballot measure to raise the tobacco tax and dedicate the new revenues to fund public and higher education, Shaefer and Still also agree on their support, albeit for different reasons.

Still maintained Schaefer has only recently converted to supporting the tax increase, while she has spoken out for it for years. Echoing her support for a student university curator, she compared it to the song lyrics, “I was country before country was cool.”

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

Both also pledge 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.

Schaefer and Still had somewhat less to say about their plans to support science and math skills development in education, as their responses turned more toward the same refrains of education funding.

Still made the point that funding for higher education has been cut every year since Schaefer took his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, while tax credits have been elevated.

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

Some of her charges against Schaefer’s support of tax credits received applause from the audience.

I-70

A variety of solutions to funding repairs and development of Interstate 70 were mentioned by both candidates, including statewide conversations and the option of bonding.

“I believe pouring concrete is a very good way to stimulate the economoy,” Still said. She added that 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 since the trucking industry recently came out with support for that over a toll, he said. He also pointed out that 50 percent of the traffic on I-70 drives straight through the state, which prompts him to question the logic putting state dollars to work for vehicles that simply travel through.

Term limits

On term limits, both Schaefer and Still conceded there are complications from both limits and the lack thereof, and that it’s unlikely term limits would be repealed.

Schaefer said he thinks their problems have surfaced in a loss of collegiality at the Capitol, while Still blames term limits, in part, for lobbyist influence.

“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 is rare in its absence of caps on campaign contributions.

Voting records

The two bickered back-and-forth a tad when Still was questioned on her record of missing House votes. She cited health problems at the start of her tenure as the reason she missed some time in Jefferson City. Schaefer said he occasionally missed votes on the floor because he was busy with committee meetings and related work, but that he stood by his usefulness in that capacity.

Copenhaver-Wright controversy

Schaefer welcomed a the opportunity to deny 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 cited Copenhaver’s credentials as a former state representative and Moberly 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.”