Labor and professional groups are divided in their support for the two Democrats running for the 19th District seat in the Missouri Senate.
While 24th District State Rep. Chuck Graham’s work on several issues important to labor groups has resulted in 12 endorsements, former 23rd District State Rep. Tim Harlan’s focus on health-care concerns garnered the support of four such organizations.
Graham and Harlan are competing for their party’s nomination in the Aug. 3 primary. Republican Mike Ditmore, who has won the endorsements of a medical group and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, is unopposed in the primary.
Union members said labor concerns will play a big role as the Missouri General Assembly wrestles with decisions on transportation, affordable health care and education funding.
“Our members want their kids to go to college, have safe working conditions and know that they can retire,” said Brian Treece, director of government relations for the Teamsters union in Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas. “We need a senator as tough as the challenges we face.”
Treece said the Teamsters endorsed Graham based on his record in the House, especially on transportation. In 2002, Graham supported a proposal to put a $650 million statewide tax increase for transportation on the ballot.
“We have professional drivers that travel the highways daily, and we want to make sure they are safe and protected,” Treece said.
The United Auto Workers also endorsed Graham, citing his efforts to keep Hazelwood’s Ford plant open when it threatened to close last year. Stan Morgan, president of the Missouri UAW Community Action Program Council, said Graham was “right there, giving pointers and making suggestions” as Gov. Bob Holden and others assembled a package of incentives to persuade Ford to keep the plant open and preserve 2,600 jobs.
Graham’s support of the prevailing-wage law, which Republicans sought to repeal, was one of the reasons the Sheetmetal Workers Local 36 endorsed him.
“Chuck was one of the members of the House that fought to keep the law in place,” apprentice coordinator Russ Unger said.
The sheetmetal workers also endorsed Graham because he supported construction of MU’s new basketball arena and its Life Sciences Building, projects that created jobs.
Graham believes labor supports him because he has fought efforts to end laws and agreements that protect workers. “I’m tough enough to stand up to those fights and stop bad legislation from being passed,” he said.
Graham pledged that, if elected, he will fight for more MU projects, including construction of the Health Sciences Research Center and the Center for the Performing Arts, and the renovation of the Engineering East building. He said such projects build the economy by creating jobs and technological spin-off opportunities.
Harlan, meanwhile, has the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union. While the union serves all types of laborers, it describes itself as a “leading voice” for health-care reform. Harlan worked extensively on that issue while in the House.
“They have a lot of members who work in nursing homes,” Harlan said. “I worked with them on nursing-home legislation, and they know I’m familiar with that issue.”
In 1999, Harlan was the House handler for the first successful reform in nursing-home regulation in 20 years. The bill expanded the”Aging in Place” program options, which reduces the need to relocate seniors as their needs change.
“Health-care issues are important to our members, and Tim Harlan’s always been a strong proponent of health care,” said Lenny Jones, director of the SEIU state council.
Jones said the union’s workers are pushing for a law requiring a minimum ratio of staff to patients in nursing homes. “As it is, employees are overworked and can’t give the quality of care residents need,” he said.
Harlan said he would also like to push for new regulations to ensure improvement in nursing-home care.
Another issue Harlan would like to explore is the regulation of insurance companies. He sponsored the 1997 Missouri Patients’ Bill of Rights, which requires that health-maintenance organizations provide direct access to professionals. “But we still have situations in which physicians are not able to take care of their patients appropriately because of interference from insurance companies,” Harlan said.
Harlan also sponsored The Prompt Pay Act, which penalizes insurers who fail to promptly pay health-care providers, and was House handler of the Mental Health Care Parity Act, which requires insurers to cover mental health treatment.
Harlan said one of his goals in the Senate would be to help small-business owners obtain affordable health insurance for their employees. He sponsored a similar bill that passed twice in the House but was rejected by the Senate. Harlan attributes the bills’ failure in the Senate to big business lobbyists.
“We’ve created a system that allows for insurance for big business and government workers. For small business employees, obtaining insurance is always tenuous. I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Harlan said.
Republican candidate Mike Ditmore, who has the endorsements of the Missouri State Medical Association and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, would also like to help small businesses obtain insurance. He wants Missouri to allow small businesses to form coalitions to buy insurance. He also wants to pass tort reform that he says would prevent the loss of health-care professionals and lower the cost of prescription drugs by weeding out abuse and fraud in Medicaid.
Ditmore is a retired neurosurgeon who,until March,worked as a clinical assistant professor at MU.
MSMA President Ed Cabbabe said he thinks Ditmore is the most qualified candidate. “We are confident that he will take his real-world know-how to Jefferson City and be an outstanding advocate for quality health care,” Cabbabe said in a news release.
Ditmore said his other priorities are education funding and transportation. He said the state needs to regain credibility and accountability and develop a consistent plan before more money is allocated for infrastructure.
“I’m going to look at solutions, not worry about the next office,” Ditmore said. “I think we need a change. My opponents are more of the same of what we’ve had.”
Labor, professional and business groups are divided in their support for candidates in the 19th District state Senate race. Here’s a look at who backs whom.
Endorsing Chuck Graham: Teamsters; United Auto Workers; Sheetmetal Workers Local 96; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the Central Missouri Labor Club; Columbia Building Trades; the Missouri Federation of Teachers; Missouri Laborers; the Missouri State Council of Firefighters; the Missouri State Teachers Association; Northeast Building Trades; and the United Transportation Union.
Endorsing Tim Harlan: Service Employees International Union; the Missouri Nurses Association, Missouri Correction Officers Association; and Missouri National Education Association.
Endorsing Mike Ditmore: The Missouri State Medical Association;and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.