About 85 people came to the NAACP’s candidates forum, held Tuesday night, which lasted about three hours and included representatives and candidates from 10 different campaigns.
NAACP President Mary Ratliff said there was simply not enough time to break up the forum into separate meetings. Instead, she said, it was important that members were as informed about as many candidates’ positions as possible.
Health care dominated the debate, and nearly every legislative candidate, as well as Kelvin Simmons, a representative from gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Jay Nixon’s campaign, addressed it.
Audience members also asked about the candidates’ views on Tasers and the death penalty, two issues that Columbia citizens have organized forums on recently.
The audience posed their questions on index cards, a method that did not require question-askers to reveal themselves. Ratliff said the screening process for questions was not as thorough as she would have liked for it to be. Even though the method might have allowed campaigns to push their own questions forward, she was not concerned.
She said it brought up issues that other people might not have been familiar with.
“That’s helpful to other people also,” she said.
Candidates emphasized their relationships with the NAACP and the black community, a tactic that one NAACP member said he found salesman-like.
“I heard a lot of rhetoric tonight,” member Bill Thompson said. He said even though he found the forum helpful, he would need to do more research on the candidates before making his decision.
However, he said plenty of people missed out on learning about candidates for county positions.
“Some of the people that left early missed some important aspects of our local governing bodies,” he said.
One couple, Sheila and Al Plummer, said the forum was helpful in letting them know which candidates they needed to take a closer look at and which ones they should continue supporting. But they learned even more from the candidates who weren’t there.
“I understand candidates’ time constraints and the number of forums there are,” Sheila Plummer said. “But to not show up or not send a representative speaks very loudly to me.”
“It’s a statement that goes to those politicians that you only see when you’re asking for your vote and you don’t see them in between,” Al Plummer added.
Sheila Plummer was especially annoyed at the attacks between candidates.
“One of my strongest turnoffs in the last couple of elections: I do not want to hear what’s wrong with your opponent,” she said. “I want to hear what’s right with you.”
However, Thompson said he found the clash between several candidates — notably, State Rep. Judy Baker and former State Sen. Ken Jacob — helpful.
Another attendee, the Rev. Mickey Havener, said she was able to come to a decision tonight on the Ninth District congressional race. She even got up and shouted a question to State Rep. Judy Baker about what she would do in the area of prisoner health care.
“I came with an open mind tonight,” she said. “I like Ken Jacob. He seems to have a lot of backbone and is willing to stand up for what is right even if it’s not popular.”
NAACP member Wanda Cason said she was impressed with the concerns candidates seemed to have for regular people this year. She said they seemed more concerned and sincere than in previous elections.
Those who attended include a representative from gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon’s campaign; Judy Baker, Steve Gaw and Ken Jacob, candidates for the Ninth District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; Andrea Simckes, candidate for state treasurer; Kelly Schultz, candidate for 21st District state representative; Stephen Webber and Cande Iveson, candidates for 23rd District state representative; Sean Spence, Mary Still and Bob Pund, candidates for 25th district state representative; Tom Schauwecker and Barbara Bishop, candidates for Boone County assessor; Karen Miller and Sid Sullivan, candidates for Boone County Southern District commissioner; Carol Richards and Dan Dunham, candidates for Boone County public administrator.
Although 17 candidates were present, no Republican candidates appeared despite an open invite.
“Republicans never seem to listen or think we exist,” Cason said. “That goes back to why black folks always vote Democratic.”