Gubernatorial candidates debate at Missouri Press Association event

Friday, September 21, 2012 | 1:09 p.m. CDT; updated 6:52 a.m. CDT, Monday, September 24, 2012
Missouri gubernatorial candidates Dave Spence, left, a Republican, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, and Jim Higgins, a Libertarian, shake hands after debating Friday morning at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Three gubernatorial candidates offered different visions of the economy, health care reform and education Friday at the Missouri Press Association debate in Columbia.

Responding to a question about the economy, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said the jobs bill he passed soon after taking office in 2009 was responsible for Missouri's lower-than-average unemployment rate. He also mentioned the investments Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. have made in Missouri during his time in office.

Republican candidate Dave Spence argued that many of the new jobs Nixon was taking credit for were in the public sector.

"We need private sector jobs," Spence said.

Spence said that he would improve the economy by implementing workers' compensation reform and tort reform, and by fighting the influence of contractors in what he called a "pay-to-play" system.

Libertarian candidate Jim Higgins said he would boost the economy by making government "get out of the way."

When asked whether he would expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, Nixon didn't offer a clear answer. He said he had "serious problems" with the act but that he and the legislature would work to "get the best fit for Missouri" now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheldthe act.

Spence also did not directly answer the question, but he made clear his opposition to the act, which he said would add to the federal and state debt and would "dictate" Missouri's healthcare policy. Spence said he would lower health care costs by battling fraud and frivolous lawsuits.

"The best thing we can do for health care in this state is to go from the Sue-Me State to the Show-Me State," Spence said.

Higgins said he would not expand Medicaid.

All three candidates said they would oppose an increase on the tobacco tax to fund higher education. Spence criticized Nixon for the cuts in higher education funding that he said Nixon had signed for each of the past three years. Nixon argued that he has helped make Missouri's tuition increases the lowest in the nation, and that he has expanded scholarship programs.

Both Nixon and Spence said they would save money by shrinking the Missouri Department of Transportation. Neither of the three candidates offered clear support for a high-speed rail.

All three candidates expressed their support for protecting Second Amendment gun rights.

The candidates were asked if they believed that newspapers were covering their campaigns fairly.

Nixon praised Missouri's press as "strong," "independent" and "diverse," while Higgins said he wasn't being covered enough.

Spence said he was impressed with small-town papers, but that coverage by papers in major cities was "spotty."

"There's probably a reason they're getting smaller," Spence said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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