UPDATE: Candidates debate at Muleskinners’ 25th House District forum

Saturday, June 14, 2008 | 6:38 p.m. CDT; updated 1:58 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Muleskinners, a local Democratic Party club, held their weekly lunch Friday in Stamper Commons at Stephens College, where the room was packed with about 70 people — a hefty turnout thanks to Stephens’ location in Missouri’s 25th House District.

The Democratic primary candidates for Missouri’s 25th House District seat— Bob Pund, Sean Spence and Mary Still— all sat with fellow Democrats, eating lunch and talking about their district’s three main issues: health care, education and the economy.

Gregg Suhler, a resident of the 25th district, said he usually only makes it to about half of the Muleskinners meetings, but he made it to this one because the candidates are running in his district. He said he liked seeing candidates field a wide assortment of questions in a general forum.

“It takes a little while to learn what folks are about and what they think,” he said. “At this kind of forum, you get questions from all kinds of people and all kinds of channels. I think it’s important to see how people think on their feet.”

Jordan Stein, an MU student who lives in the 25th district and works for Steve Gaw’s congressional campaign, said she came not only because Gaw wanted a presence at the event, but also because of her own curiosity. Although she had seen the candidates before, she said the forum was educational for her as a voter in the district.

“I didn’t know very much about Bob Pund,” she said. “I had met him once at the Twilight Festival, but I didn’t know very much about his story, so I got to learn about him.”

Almost every seat in the room was taken, and as lunch ended and the candidates made their opening statements, attendees had no shortage of questions.

The candidates each took turns responding to audience questions on topics ranging from the death penalty to delegating more control to county government.

During the 35-minute forum, the candidates were in virtual agreement on every issue, with one exception. In contrast to her opponents, Still said she was not ready to abolish the death penalty. However, she said she supported a moratorium until Missouri’s system of public defenders is more adequately funded and staffed.

“I know my perspective on that is a little different from the people in this room,” Still said. “I’ve been exposed to the perspectives of victims, and while I think that we’ve got a problem in our state, we’ve got to fund our public defender system. I’m just not ready at this point to put the death penalty aside. But our public defenders are overworked and under-funded, and until we can do a better job there, I will support a moratorium.”

All the candidates said they support restoring the Medicaid cuts, which each said has hurt the state economically. Pund, who was paralyzed in an accident 19 years ago, is particularly concerned about the cuts.

“This is why I originally started running,” he said. “It hurt me personally. It hurt scores of my friends. I’ve known people who’ve left the state because of this. We should not be living in a state where you have to leave just to get health care.”

One question asked how each candidate would help Boone County more effectively enforce regulations. Each candidate said he or she would advocate for the district, but Spence made a specific proposal.

“Let’s make the argument for dealing with these issues statewide and building a statewide coalition,” Spence said. “And in this case, it’s about finding a bunch of people who understand and want more local control. If I’m elected, I’m going to go out and build a coalition of people who understand local control and get 82 votes from people who think that.”

The Muleskinners meet every Friday at noon for lunch in Stamper Commons at Stephens College. The June 20 meeting will feature a forum for candidates running for the office of Boone County commissioner.

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