COLUMBIA — Republicans and Democrats often agreed at a candidate forum Tuesday night at the Second Baptist Church.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hosted the forum of 18 candidates for a variety of elected positions at the county and state level.
Candidates for Boone County treasurer, public administrator and associate commissioner spent the first half of the forum explaining to the audience what they do in their positions. Candidates for the state legislature along with Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Jonathan Dine addressed questions about their stances on women's issues, minority communities and voter ID laws, among others.
Mary Ratliff, president of the state and local chapter of the NAACP, said forums like this give her an opportunity to put faces on the candidates.
"It helps me decide how I'm going to vote," Ratliff said. "I can see how they answer questions or try and evade them; their body language can say a lot."
Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, told the audience he was a speaker at the National Organization for Women's march at the state Capitol in Jefferson City earlier this year. Jacob said NOW named him as one person who significantly advanced the cause of women in the 21st century. "I will continue to fight for the advancement of women and all people," Jacob said.
Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said fair pay and abortion are key women's issues. "I'm a pro-life individual. Life is precious and it should be treated as such," Rowden said.
Fred Berry, R-Columbia, said he supports women by promoting business opportunities for them. “My grandmother, born in 1907, was an entrepreneur, and my mother was, too,” Berry said. “I lived in that environment where you have strong businesswomen, and I want to empower them to achieve the American Dream.”
Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said his support of women is evident in his stance on abortion. “For my part, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to get between a woman and her doctor.”
Mitch Richards, R-Columbia, said he is pro-life but does not support outlawing abortion. Richards also said he thinks the government has no right to ask taxpayers to fund services people have moral or religious objections against.
John Wright, D-Columbia, said he "strongly believes that women's health decisions are ones that should be made in consult with her doctor and family, not politicians."
Jonathan Dine, L-Kansas City, also discussed abortion, saying he was pro-choice.
“Prohibition doesn’t solve anything,” Dine said. “If we prohibited it, we would just have black-market abortion clinics and other things like that. I’m not about to say we need to decriminalize anything.”
Efforts to support the African-American community
Jacob said he has worked to create more fair housing and economic opportunities, "but it's something we haven't done enough of, and the fight continues."
Rowden said political and social issues shouldn't be black versus white or rich versus poor, but something that people should work on together.
Webber said his top priority for helping African-Americans would be providing them with education and training to increase employment. “One thing that is incredibly frustrating to me is that there are jobs out there, and we have not provided the educational and job training opportunities for both groups to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that exist.”
Berry said he sees the African-American community facing the same issues as every other community. Regardless of race, Berry said, “I see people, and I see people who need jobs. I see people, like Mr. Webber said, who need education.”
Richards said the Republican Party can do a better job at reaching out to minority communities. "When I look at the Republican Party, I'm forward-looking," Richards said. "We need to do all we can for minority communities by also being strong on property rights."
Wright said one of the biggest issues concerning African-American and other minority communities is their disproportionately high rate of unemployment."The government's support toward these communities needs to remain a top priority in the state and nation," Wright said.
Dine said his party’s strongest support of the African-American community is shown in its stance on decriminalizing drug possession. “We have more people behind bars in America than every other country combined. And it’s disproportionately African-American individuals who get caught with minor, small possessions of drugs.”
Rowden didn't specify whether he supported a voter ID law. "We need to look at the issue and keep elections as pure as possible and make sure every person has access and the ability to go vote," he said.
Jacob said the voter ID debate is just an attempt by the Republican Party to disenfranchise voters. Jacob said he's "seen no proof of voter fraud" and hopes it is something that comes to an end soon.
Webber said concerns about voter fraud are unjustified. “Nobody’s in jail right now, so either you don’t have evidence of voter fraud, or your prosecutors around the state are not doing their job.”
Berry said that when he worked with voter registration, “there were many instances where we had people come through with a crumpled-up utility bill. We never really felt like we knew for sure” the individual was who they said they were.
Richards said he wasn't a "huge fan" of requiring government-issued voter IDs, but could get behind it if there are protections for the elderly and others who may not have easy access to acquiring the IDs.
Wright said he has consistently opposed voter ID laws. "It may not seem like a big deal to folks," Wright said. "But it's a measure that would disenfranchise thousands of Missouri voters."
Dine said he opposed ID laws and that the lack of attention third-party candidates receive is another obstacle to the democratic process.
“Anything that makes it harder for people to go out and vote, I’m completely against,” Dine said. “But I truly believe that real voter fraud is being perpetuated in debates and other types of things where the choices for people in Missouri are being limited, and it’s happening from the Republican and Democratic politicians.”