Missouri House primary candidates debate I-70, health care at public forum

Thursday, July 12, 2012 | 10:47 p.m. CDT; updated 11:44 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — State House primary election candidates debated Missouri's role in the federal health care ruling and the future of Interstate 70 at the League of Women Voters Forum Thursday evening at the Columbia Public Library. 

The Republicans vying for the 44th House District — Caleb Rowden, Mike Becker, Chris Dwyer and Dennis Smith — were joined at the forum by Democrats John Wright and Nancy Copenhaver, who are in a primary for the 47th House District. 

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group, and was moderated by conservative radio personality Renee Hulshof of KFRU.

All the candidates called for more jobs and economic growth, but the issues of what to do with Missouri's aging I-70 and the federal health care law led the discussion.

Implementation of the federal health care law

All four candidates for the 44th District said they opposed the Supreme Court's ruling on President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

  • Retired UPS truck driver Mike Becker said the law would "cost a lot of people a lot more money."
  • Farmer and landlord Chris Dwyer said it was a bad law that would "cost Missouri jobs." 
  • Former state Sen. Dennis Smith criticized the law's penalty for not purchasing health insurance and said Missourians "don't need more taxes or more mandates." 
  • Musician and social networking company founder Caleb Rowden pointed to the potential increased Medicaid costs to the states as his reason to oppose to the law.

John Wright, a small business owner, and former state Rep. Nancy Copenhaver, seeking the Democratic nomination in the 47th District, both said the health care debate was now settled by the Supreme Court's ruling and that further changes to the law needed to occur at the federal level. 

  • Wright said his opinion "doesn't much matter" because of the Supreme Court ruling.
  • Copenhaver said it did not make sense for Missouri to reject money from the federal government to implement the health care law.

Last year, the Republican-controlled legislature rejected a $50 million grant to upgrade the state's Medicaid computer system out of concerns the money would be used to implement a health exchange, as mandated by the federal health care law. 

Missouri also faces a decision of whether to accept billions of dollars from the federal government to expand the state's Medicaid program. The federal government would pay for the expanded program for the first three years and then Missouri would have to start contributing. 

Future of Interstate 70

Despite disagreeing on how the state should deal with the federal health care law, all of the candidates sided similarly on how to approach one of Missouri's major transportation routes: Interstate 70.

The candidates in both races said the state should explore options other than the implementation of toll roads. The Missouri Department of Transportation suggested such an option to lawmakers during this past legislative session.

  • Saying there was "no magic bullet" for improving the infrastructure of the highway, Dwyer said toll roads would be a "bad idea" and that the state's gasoline tax should be increased instead.
  • Smith said Missouri was the "crossroads of commerce" for the nation and that a combination of funding initiatives would have to be examined.
  • Rowden also said multiple options had to be looked at, including a private-public partnership or a sales tax increase.
  • Becker was the only Republican not to suggest a tax increase of some kind and said the solution instead lies in "getting the big trucks off the road" and using railroad lines for commercial transportation.
  • Copenhaver said other forms of transportation, such as high-speed rail and utilizing Missouri's river systems, could help uphold the structure of I-70.
  • Wright said additional forms of producing revenue, such as an Internet sales tax or an increased gasoline tax, would help provide funds for improving I-70.

Even though the state Senate held numerous hearings about the implementation of a toll road system, lawmakers could not come to a  consensus during the 2012 legislative session. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said he would not support a toll road unless approved by Missouri voters.

Campaign finance and ethics

The six candidates also discussed proposals for campaign finance and ethics legislation. The candidates for the 47th District called for limits on individual campaign contributions while the Republicans competing for the 44th District nomination all called for more transparency and disclosure in the current system.

Missouri currently does not have limits on campaign contributions, and this year the state Supreme Court tossed out a 2010 ethics bill that increased contribution disclosure requirements.

Missouri primary

The winner of the 44th District Republican primary will face former Democratic state Sen. Ken Jacob, who is running unopposed in the primary. The winner of the 47th District Democratic primary will face Republican Mitch Richards, who is also unopposed for his party's nomination.

The Missouri primary is Aug. 7.

Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.

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