COLUMBIA — Few seats remained in a packed room at the Columbia Public Library on Thursday as residents gathered to find out how the people vying to represent them felt on issues ranging from the Iraq War to Taser use by local police.
The League of Women Voters sponsored a candidate forum for the August 5 Democratic Primary at the library for the 23rd and the 25th Missouri Legislative Districts, which encompass most of Columbia.
The general forum attracted dozens of residents, who were invited to ask questions of the candidates. The moderator also asked questions from the league, and candidates took turns responding.
The 23rd District candidates, Cande Iveson and Stephen Webber, were questioned first. Candidates opened with a short statement on their backgrounds and goals for the legislature.
Iveson spoke about her experience in Jefferson City as a policy advocate for non-profit organizations and her hope to build consensus among voters and politicians. Webber spoke about his experience growing up in Columbia and his two tours in Iraq, despite his disagreement with the conflict.
“It was a difficult situation for me, aside from the obvious difficulties of being in a war,” Webber said. “It was a war that I had strongly disagreed with from the beginning. I remember back in 2000, when Bush and Gore were running. People said it doesn’t matter who wins, there’s no difference. Every single person knows there is a difference about who’s in charge in Jefferson City.”
Questions ranging from the recent nuclear forum to pharmacists refusing to provide prescription drugs because of moral concerns were addressed, with little difference in either candidate’s positions.
One attendee asked about Congress’s high priority on compromise and whether the candidates would stand up for Democratic ideals.
“The question I’m most often asked when I go door-to-door is will you stand up for what you believe in,” Iveson said. “I have unequivocally answered yes to that. Yes, it is a consensus-building process, but there are times when consensus is not possible.”
Although a variety of questions was brought up, Webber and Iveson mostly agreed even while offering slightly different solutions and policy examples.
Some of the questions raised at the forum were:
- Teaching creationism in school
- Public education funding in Columbia and how the state could help
- Same-sex marriage
- Student curator vote
- Health insurance coverage
- Issue of expanding state revenue in order to offer more services
Linda Hayes, a resident of the 25th District who was also present for the 23rd District discussion, said she likes to know what candidates in districts other than her own were thinking. A registered nurse for 30 years, she said health care is the big issue for her in the election.
“I have to agree with the last candidate (Iveson) about the system being broken,” she said.
The 25th District Candidates, Bob Pund, Sean Spence and Mary Still, spoke next. In opening statements, they too espoused their own experiences and backgrounds. Pund spoke about the importance of being a citizen legislator and not a professional politician. Spence talked about the importance of getting direction as a legislator from the bottom up. Still addressed her experience dealing with tough issues as communications director for Attorney General Jay Nixon and jumped right into policy platforms and solutions in her opening remarks.
A big issue discussed by the 25th district candidates was energy policy, with questions about Missouri’s ethanol mandate, the proposed energy initiative for the November ballot and what Missouri could do in terms of wind power projects in the state.
All candidates agreed that this had to be “the alternative energy age” and needed to be a state as well as a federal priority.
Candidates tended to agree on most issues, with little difference in policy proposals.
Issues discussed included:
- Taser use by Columbia police
- How each candidate would make sure the laws passed were interpreted and enforced properly
- Instituting conflict resolution classes in prison
- How state legislators can affect the nation’s Iraq policy
- Public/private partnerships
- The public’s right to receive information from government agencies
So many questions were asked that there was still a line for the microphone as the moderator announced time was up. Alice Turner didn’t get to ask her question, which was about public transportation, an issue she said is not addressed enough.
“Families are choosing between driving to work and feeding their kids,” she said.
Carolyn Mathews was actually a member of the 24th District, which is not a contested primary, but she said she likes to attend public forums and find out what candidates think.
“They’re representing Columbia,” she said. “I think they want citizens’ views.”
The League of Women Voters will play host to a forum at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the Columbia Public Library for candidates vying for several Boone County offices.