State House and Senate candidates wrestled with how to encourage environment-friendly growth in Columbia at a forum sponsored by the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition on Wednesday night at the Boone County Government Center.
Five candidates for state representative in the 23rd, 24th and 25th district races and Chuck Graham, Democratic candidate in the 19th District state Senate race, took questions from audience members and moderator Keith Brekhus, a Smart Growth Coalition representative.
One issue that brought a variety of responses from the candidates was how to support small farms in the state.
Travis Ballenger, Democratic candidate in the 24th District, endorsed a plan to let farmers reuse seed from one year to the next. “This could save farmers $61 million annually,” Ballenger said.
Dan Fischbach, a Republican running in the 23rd District, stressed the individual consumer’s role in supporting small farmers.
“U.S. consumers have a big responsibility, too,” he said. “You can make a big difference by watching what you buy in the store.”
Candidates also addressed urban sprawl, with all candidates supporting growth downtown.
State Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, the incumbent in the 23rd District, touted his work on the Downtown Economic Stimulus Act, which he said makes Columbia eligible for $1.5 million in grants for downtown development.
Most candidates supported financial incentives for businesses to reuse land downtown instead of building in undeveloped areas.
Judy Baker, state representative candidate in the 25th District, said she would support making fuel efficiency standards tougher and giving tax benefits to consumers of hybrid vehicles.
“We need to break our addiction to fossil fuels,” Baker said.
Early in the forum, the crowd applauded the two Republican candidates, Bob Northup, running for state representative in the 25th District, and Fischbach, for attending. “I want everyone to know that conservatives are also concerned about the environment,” Fischbach said.
Absent from the forum were Republicans Mike Ditmore, running in the 19th District state Senate race and Ed Robb, in the 24th District.
Brekhus, the moderator, said the forum helped raise issues that aren’t typically addressed during election campaigns.
“Education questions and questions about health care come up a lot, but we don’t often hear candidates’ positions on environment, energy, growth and public infrastructure,” Brekhus said.