Candidates agree Missouri's mental health care needs more attention

Thursday, October 16, 2008 | 11:18 p.m. CDT; updated 11:42 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009

COLUMBIA – Inadequate funding for mental health care proved a more salient issue than heavyweight topics such as the economy and tax policy at a voter forum Thursday night.

Education also came up frequently throughout the evening's sparring, highlighting a number of shared values by candidates who differed greatly in how they'd pursue those values.

The Columbia League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women hosted seven candidates from three different Boone County races at the Columbia Public Library.

The candidates for Boone County administrator spoke first. Residents heard their prepared marks and put them on the spot about issues that mattered to them.

John Sullivan is the Republican running for an office where many see practicality as more important than partisanship. He noted that whoever becomes the county administrator will be responsible for nearly 400 residents who are unable to take care of themselves.

"This race is about life and death," Sullivan said. "It's about where children get placed after their parents died unexpectedly."

Both Sullivan and his Democratic opponent, Cathy Richards, touted their education and past professional positions in order to gain support.

Richards pointed out that most of those taken care of by the county administrator suffer from mental illness, something she has worked with in her pursuit of a master's degree in counseling. Both candidates expressed a personal devotion to the cause of their campaign.

"It's a complex job, and I do take it seriously," Richards said. "I do because I like and love people."

Sullivan was the first of the evening to point out Missouri's failure to provide adequate mental health care.

"The greatest challenge to this job is the very fact that as a society we have not completely and adequately funded the needs of those who are mentally ill," Sullivan said. "The services that we need for the mentally ill are fragmented ... it's not a comprehensive program."

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, and his Democratic opponent, former legislator Chris Kelly, exchanged subtle chidings over each other's policies but agreed on mental health care issues.

Kelly thinks that adequate attention and funding for Missouri mental health has lost out to excessive and rigid earmarks to state conservation, among other state programs. "Think about, for a moment, that we have the best birds and bunnies but the worst mental health in America," Kelly said.

"The well-reasoned people in the appropriations process make the decisions on the states' greatest need ... rather than make a decision on the basis of who has the prettier mascot," Kelly said.

Robb agreed with Kelly on the inefficiency of earmarking funds for programs rather than assessing spending needs item by item. He also mentioned that funding for mental health has increased over the past few years, though not by as much as people would like.

"We're in the process of adding money" to mental health programs, Robb said. "But if we want to put more money into higher education or K-12, there's only so many dollars and it's a matter, then, of higher priorities."

Education funding did take priority at the forum, particularly on the issue of whether the state should supply tax-credit tuition scholarships to students from failing public schools.

Kurt Schaefer, the Republican challenger to Democratic state Sen. Chuck Graham, said he'd leave nothing off the table when it comes to fixing Missouri's failing public schools.

"When you go to St. Louis or Kansas City and you look at a 10-year-old girl or boy and you say, 'You are being held in a failing system, but sorry, there's nothing we can do about' ... that is unacceptable," Schaefer said.

"There has to be some mechanism for those families to have some form of choice."

Libertarian candidate Christopher Dwyer agreed, in part, with Schaefer.

"I am for vouchers, but I'm not for tax credits," Schaefer said. "I want to do away with the income tax and replace it with a consumption or a fair tax."

Graham was clear about his position.

I am "opposed to tuition tax credits," Graham said. "You don't make the public schools better by starving them."

Graham also called into question the motives of Rex Sinquefield, the St. Louis businessman who has been funding candidates who support such tuition tax credits. Sinquefield, through his various political action committees, has given more than $25,000 to Robb's campaign.

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Charles Dudley Jr October 17, 2008 | 5:10 a.m.

Great coverage of this story and thanks.

(Report Comment)
mark mitchum October 17, 2008 | 9:45 a.m.

Schaeffer is FairTax. This is the minimum requirement for electing any candidate from here on out. ALWAYS ask candidates where they stand on this critical issue in the future. Vote for Schaeffer.

(Report Comment)
elaine trani October 17, 2008 | 11:04 a.m.

There is an ethicist named Peter Singer who sets up a paradigm for ethics: you see a pool of drowning children. Do you save them? Most of us would say yes. What if the cost is ruining a pair of brand-new shoes? Most of us would still say yes. What if you could only save a few, not all? I think still, most of us would say yes, I would try to save as many children as I could.

If Sen Graham himself answers the same on those questions, then his ethics agree with those of Sinquefield, who is forgoing a pair of sneakers for the potential to save lives.

(Report Comment)
Amy Bremer October 17, 2008 | 8:52 p.m.

What isn't mentioned in this article is my question regarding "Right to Work". Mr. Graham stated in his interview with Inside Columbia Magazine that wanting Missouri to be a "Right to Work" state was akin to blaming union employees for the economy (paraphrasing). Mr. Graham stated he supported unions so people can get a fair wage. Perhaps he has been swayed by the contribution of special interest groups - labor unions. Unions lobby for wage controls because they favor their membership and eliminate competition driving prices up. I worked for GM in St. Louis and saw first hand how the UAW (union workers called it Generous Motors)adds cost and kills productivity. Workers are paid the same whether they work hard or sleep on the job (saw it happen).

My other question spurned his comment about childhood obesity. We have Physical Education classes, so taking money from the core curriculum of reading and math to give to the football team is not the way to fix our educational system. If our legislators go against the grain and quit handing out money to schools in Jefferson City, the School Boards will be forced to consider where to spend their money to benefit the most students.

Oh, and how could I forget the fact that he isn't for legalizing marijuana, but alcohol kills more Americans that marijuana. Especially drunk drivers, but if you don't take a breathalizer I guess you can't prove anything...

Vote Kurt Shaefer

(Report Comment)
danny feits October 18, 2008 | 11:53 p.m.

It seems to me that we are not "starving" the public school system as Sen. Graham asserts. We are, however, starving our children of the education they deserve.
The United States, including Missouri, spends more money on public education than any other country, yet many of our schools are failing our children. Many successful private schools in both Saint Louis and Kansas City operate with a smaller budget than the public schools and manage to give their students an excellent education.
Show Me where the money is going in Saint Louis public schools? They have been given YEARS to get their act together. We don't HAVE years. Our children deserve a better solution.
I believe tax credits are a small step toward the kind of change we need in this state.
And one last thing: Why does everyone bring up Rex Sinquefield as though he is some villain in a bad B-movie. He is not Dr. Evil, though picturing him in an Austin Powers flick is funny. Politicians LOVE to bring up his name and point out the candidate that took his money as if it some sort of mortal sin. As far as I can see, Sinquefield is completely transparent about all of the money he gives, which is probably why it is brought up so much. So my point is: Who Cares?
A generous man gave money to someone's campaign because he believes in him/her. The guy has also given money to provide scholarships for children to attend private schools here in Saint Louis. And my neighbor's kid is flourising now that he is out of Saint Louis public and able to attend a school his mom wasn't able to afford on her own with Sinquefield's money. How is that "starving" anyone?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 19, 2008 | 5:13 a.m.

Why are people here making this out about drunk driving this is about Missouri's mental health care needs more attention.

That is the important issue in all of this matter. It is quite sad when people cannot stick to the main subject or be willing to understand the many issue they resort to personal attacks to take away from the main issue.

Now if you attacked the candidate on his views on the issue and their lack or representation on the issue that is a totally different story.

The issue here is Missouri's mental health care needs more attention so how do you feel about this main issue and how the candidates stand and support it?

(Report Comment)

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