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Columbia-area House, Senate candidates present their priority issues

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | 6:04 p.m. CDT; updated 3:04 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 6, 2012

COLUMBIA — Candidates running for local state House and Senate seats have weighed in on a series of issues during their campaigns. Although every candidate has cited funding for education and job growth as issues high on their list of goals, each has additional priorities they hope to address if they make it to Jefferson City.

Next Tuesday, voters will go to the polls to select which candidates will represent their parties in the Nov. 6 general election. Here's what area candidates had to say about their individual priorities if elected.

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Senate District 19

Incumbent Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R): Bond issues

Schaefer said he would like to see a bond issue to pay for capital improvement projects at public colleges and universities. He noted, as he did when calling for a bond issue to fund improvements to Interstate 70, that the state should take advantage of its AAA bond rating and borrow while it's relatively inexpensive to do so.

A bond issue for higher education funding almost passed the legislature in 2009. A $700 million bond issue passed the House before fiscal conservatives in the Senate stalled the measure. Had the bill passed the Senate, it would have been sent to the voters for approval.

Rep. Mary Still (D): Women's rights

Still said one of her main issues is standing up for women's rights, including making sure women have access to birth control, child care and health care. She said she has "wide support among women" and "these are issues that I understand."

During the 2012 legislative session, Republican lawmakers introduced multiple pieces of legislation aimed at stopping implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While some of the bills dealt with blocking a health insurance exchange or other parts of the law, others focused on prohibiting a requirement that employers or health insurance providers cover abortions, contraception or sterilization if it violated their religious beliefs.

The bill sparked extensive discussion in the House. Democrats said it would make it more difficult for women to acquire contraception; Republicans said it would protect religious freedom. The legislation passed the House and Senate, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it.

House District 44

Ken Jacob (D): Change legislative rules

Jacob wants to change the rules of the Missouri House to "create a better atmosphere to work on the state's problems." He said that every member has the right to be heard on an issue and that changing the rules would "force compromise and create consensus."

House rules currently allow members to speak only when recognized by the speaker of the House or the presiding member. There have been numerous instances in which speakers from either party have failed to recognize members of the minority so that they could speak on certain issues. The majority party in the House also frequently moves to shut off debate, ending discussion on legislation.

Caleb Rowden (R): Help the farming community

Rowden said an immediate priority is to help Missouri farmers deal with the recent and persistent heat wave. While Rowden normally opposes government intervention, he said it might be a good idea to use state money to help farmers.

"The farming community is really in trouble ... I think they all pretty much need it."

The excessive heat has forced farmers to consider how to deal with their herds and crops, including selling some animals to reduce costs and preserve food supplies.

Earlier this month Nixon declared a state of emergency, allowing state agencies to better respond to problems caused by the drought. Nixon added $5 million on July 26 for an emergency water assistance program aimed at helping farmers deal with the heat.

Mike Becker (R): Affordable education

Becker said his top local priority is to create a system through which high schools can offer night classes for junior college credit.

Under Becker's plan, high schools would form partnerships with universities, whose professors could tape lectures for a course. Participating high schools could access the course files through an Internet database. He said that would allow students to access college-level education without going into debt.

"They would get a college course for a tenth or hundredth of what it would actually cost to go to college," he said.

Chris Dwyer (R): Small government

Dwyer said one of his priorities is to make sure he is "fighting for the people's rights and freedoms." Whether it's farmers, the UM System Board of Curators or any Missouri resident, he said, local officials and residents tend to know how to take care of themselves and their community better than the state government does. Dwyer added that "our economy is a symptom of a lack of freedoms" and less regulation would help spur job growth. 

Dennis Smith (R): Get back on track

Smith said all his issues are centered around education, transportation and economic development. Smith said the legislature has shifted its focus away from those priorities. "They have gotten way off the track on the importance of these key issues."

House District 45

Incumbent Rep. Chris Kelly (D): Corrections system reform

Kelly, a former Boone County associate circuit judge, said he wants to focus on making Missouri's corrections system more cost-effective. He said the current system is keeping offenders in prison longer and costing taxpayers more money, but  it "doesn't provide any benefit."

Nixon recently signed a bill that allows nonviolent offenders to shorten their sentences through good behavior. The bill emerged during the past legislative session after a state working group issued a report detailing several policy suggestions aimed at cutting costs in Missouri's corrections system.

If used, the report estimated its suggestions would reduce the state's prison population and save between $7.7 million and $16 million by fiscal 2017. However, financial estimates provided with the signed legislation stated the savings would most likely be less than $1 million over the next five years.

"We have a lot of work left to do on making our corrections system smarter," Kelly said.

House District 46

Incumbent Rep. Stephen Webber (D): Small modular nuclear reactor project

Webber said his priority would be to develop incentives to assist the development of the Ameren-Westinghouse small modular nuclear reactor project.

Webber said he would push for tax credits and tax rebates as well as coordinating with MU to help develop the project.

Recently, the state legislature has been paralyzed when trying to pass new tax incentives and to phase out existing programs. Webber thinks the climate has "changed substantially" and that new tax breaks are "certainly possible."

Fred Berry (R): Stand in the way of the federal government

Berry said one of his priorities is to "stand in the way of the federal government that puts mandates on states that can't afford it." He added that in order to create jobs and grow the economy, "the main thing is to protect taxpayers from unnecessary regulations" and laws.

"We need the state to be stronger, and that means we have to say no to the feds."

House District 47

Nancy Copenhaver (D): Make government better, fairer

While Copenhaver said a main priority is to make government better, adding that there are multiple ways to accomplish this goal. She said one of these is to reinstate Missouri's campaign contribution limits and work on ethics reform.

Missouri does not have limits on campaign contributions. Earlier this year the state Supreme Court struck down a 2010 ethics law that required candidates for legislative and statewide offices to report contributions of $500 or more within 48 hours during the legislative session. Democrats quickly introduced legislation to counteract the ruling and reinforce state ethics laws, but the legislation never received chamber floor time.

John Wright (D): Early childhood education

Wright said one of his priorities is to raise awareness and boost funding for early childhood education. He said it "is a big opportunity to improve student awareness at minimal cost." He added that he would promote preschool programming geared to reading and math if elected to the General Assembly.

One of Missouri's most notable and popular early childhood programs has had a rough few years with budget cuts. The Parents as Teachers program received $34 million in state funding three years ago. This year, the program will receive $14.8 million from the state.

Mitch Richards (R): Limit the impact of the federal government

Richards said one of his priorities is to limit the relationship between the federal and Missouri governments, especially in regard to the federal health care law. He said he would work to limit the impact of the law if Missouri participates in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Richards added that implementing parts of the law, such as an expansion of Missouri's Medicaid program, would "bankrupt the state."

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act after declaring the proposed insurance mandate constitutional under the taxing authority of Congress. While the high court upheld most of the law, it struck down a section that required states to expand their Medicaid rolls, allowing states instead to choose whether to do so. Missouri has yet to decide if it will opt-in to an expansion of its Medicaid program.

Richards also said lawmakers "must do all we can to support the higher education budget." Higher education institutions have received budget cuts over the past three years. The most recent cut was announced in June when the governor said he would withhold $8.8 million from all public universities.

House District 50

Incumbent Rep. Caleb Jones (R): Economic development

Jones said his biggest priority is to help grow economic development projects in mid-Missouri and "be on the forefront of bringing in new jobs to the area." Jones said all businesses have been hurt by the economy and a bad business environment, but Missouri could bring in new jobs by promoting its existing businesses and continuing to educate its workforce.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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