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Missouri House and Senate candidates take questions from the public

Published the night of a public forum, this article summarizes the positions of eight candidates for state General Assembly seats on three of the topics discussed.   

998 words / The Columbia Missourian 

By Hilary Niles and Raymond Howze 

COLUMBIA, MO — Thirteen questions, eight candidates, four districts and about 100 people added up to a revealing night at the Columbia Public Library on Thursday when the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum.

Six candidates for three seats in the Missouri House sat side by side at the front of the room. They answered questions, most of which came from the audience. The two candidates vying to represent the Senate’s 19th District took questions separately.

Bonnie Friehling said she reads about the candidates in the papers but likes seeing them face to face. Watching the candidates exchange dialogue in person gives her a better sense of why certain candidates appeal to different people.

“I’ve never seen Mary Still and Kurt Schaefer go head-to-head,” she said. “I saw quite a bit of distinction between their outlooks, what kind of people they are and how they approach things.”

Problems and priorities 

House District 44

Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said economic vitality, including jobs, is the most important issue facing the state, but partisan bickering is hindering progress. Until we overcome that, he said, our economy will struggle.

Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, agreed that politics have become more polarized and that jobs and the economy are the most important part of this election. He said he wants to expand entrepreneurship locally and statewide.

House District 46

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said industries such as health care and engineering are “desperate” for jobs, but Missouri doesn’t have enough trained professionals to fill them.

Fred Berry, R-Columbia, said the biggest challenge in the state is jobs. “We need small business start-ups back, and we need to make a positive business climate to get investors to come into the state.”

House District 47

John Wright, D-Columbia, said the city has done well at creating jobs, citing its 5 percent unemployment rate. “We understand something here in mid-Missouri.”

Mitch Richards, R-Columbia, said jobs are a priority in this year’s election, but Missouri residents are overtaxed and micromanaged. “We need to be talking about the fact government doesn’t create jobs, people do.”

Senate District 19  

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said her priority would be to implement the Affordable Care Act. “If we don’t take the money that the federal government is going to give to our hospitals, we’re giving it up to other states.”

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said his biggest priority would be to pass a bonding bill to fund education, mental health programs and roads, including Interstate 70.

Federal health care regulations 

House District 44

Jacob said the benefit of setting up a Missouri health care exchange is so obvious that debating about it is irrational.

Rowden said he is concerned that funding the Affordable Care Act will take money away from education. “As much as we’d like to say we’re entitled to (affordable health care) and government should give it to us, it simply isn’t possible.”

House District 46

Webber said if a health insurance exchange isn’t done through the Affordable Care Act, Missouri should create one itself. “This fight is about whether should we have a website where people can shop around.”

Berry said $50 million does not need to be spent on an insurance plan comparison website. “The federal government doesn’t provide it, the taxpayers of America provide it.”

House District 47

Wright said he has to purchase health care for his employees as a small business owner, but the insurance costs are already high, and they keep rising. “I look forward to the opportunity to look at one site where they have to compete to for my business.”

Richards said he has met many small business owners who say the Affordable Care Act will bankrupt them. “If we expand Medicaid, which is very much the implementation of Obamacare, we’re going to cost this state a lot of money.”

Senate District 19 

Still said Missouri should set up its own health care exchange rather than have a federal exchange imposed upon the state. She sees the offer of funding for Medicaid expansion as an economic development tool that Boone County should be clambering to get.

Schaefer said he would prefer a block grant from the federal government for states to administer as they wish. He is concerned about related regulations that haven’t been set yet by the federal government and doesn’t want to fund an expanded Medicaid at the expense of education.


House District 44

Jacob said this community’s economic well-being is inextricably linked to MU. He said higher education funding and capital construction at MU have declined since he left office in 2004.

Rowden said being attractive for business starts with an education system that produces a high-quality workforce.

House District 46

Webber said higher education programs such as the nursing program at MU are limited by the number of students they can accept. “There are industries like health care and engineering where people are desperate to hire qualified individuals.”

Berry said education is one of the pillars needed for a “rock-solid” state. “Missouri can be on top again through right-to-work, tax reform and smart planning in the legislature.”

House District 47

Wright said that Missouri’s lack of education investment puts pressure on many of the state’s school districts. “We have fallen to 46th in the country in state investments in education.”

Richards said the election is “absolutely about jobs,” but disagreed with the assertion that job creation falls on education funding. “The fact is we need to not look at spending more money but how we’re spending that money.”

Senate District 19

Still supports the fall ballot’s cigarette tax to help fund education. She added it’s important to have a local person appointed to the MU Board of Curators and criticized Schaefer for not making that happen.

Schaefer takes credit for restoring Gov. Nixon’s $106-million cut to the university in the last budget and providing increased funding to public schools. “Education must be our No. 1 priority after public debt.”

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