When people ask Jeff Hedberg why he decided to get into politics, he gives them three reasons: Rachael, Greg and Suzanne.
“Those are my children,” said Hedberg, who is the Republican candidate for 9th District state representative. He is also managing editor of the Centralia Fireside Guard newspaper. “I want to make Missouri a better place to raise our children, our grandchildren and our families.”
Wes Shoemyer, a farmer who was first elected to represent the state’s 9th District as a Democrat in 2000, said he became interested in the legislative process while working with agricultural interest groups.
“I farmed my whole life,” Shoemyer said. “Making tough decisions was nothing new to me.”
Hedberg and Shoemyer are once again competing for a seat in the General Assembly. The last time they campaigned against each other for the seat — in 2002 — Shoemyer won by 20 percentage points.
Shoemyer characterized the last campaign as issue-oriented and said the negativity that plagued other races was mostly absent. Still, the two candidates have divergent views on a number of issues.
Shoemyer was born in Hannibal and attended South Shelby High School. He went through one year of a two-year agriculture program at MU, then went to work at a farm near Madison. He still raises crops and cattle there.
“I didn’t like the way consolidation or vertical integration was going,” Shoemyer said, “so I decided to become one of the policy-makers.”
Shoemyer said he doesn’t agree with many of the decisions of the Republican majorities in Jefferson City.
“I think they came in on a mantra of ‘No new taxes no matter what,’ and I called that the big lie,” he said.
He said the House could have offset the need for tuition and local property-tax increases by closing corporate loopholes and increasing the state tax on boats.
“If you’re wealthy enough to own a boat that needs a bathroom on it, you can escape taxes,” Shoemyer said. “If you are one of the rural guys who can only afford a johnboat, you can’t escape taxes. I think that’s wrong. That’s just one of the many loopholes they refused to close.”
Shoemyer said he believes his greatest success was sponsoring a bill that expanded requirements for newborn screenings to include additional testing for treatable and manageable disorders. The bill was inspired by the death of a child in his district, he said.
“Getting it passed and getting it funded ensured that no parent or family would have to go through a loss like that needlessly,”
Shoemyer said. “Had that child
been tested, the family would have known that the only thing to do to save the child’s life was change her diet. I was proud to work across party lines with the House budget chair to secure funding to implement the program.”
Hedberg was also born in Hannibal. He joined the Guard Printing Co. after attending Moberly Area Community College for a year.
He said one of the major concerns among residents in his district is the rising cost of practicing medicine.
“We’re losing doctors in the state of Missouri at an alarming rate, and if we’re losing doctors, I can’t think of a more life-and-death issue to citizens,” Hedberg said.
He cited one surgeon in Audrain County who told him his medical malpractice insurance had jumped from $16,000 to $62,000 in one year.
“If a doctor had a $60,000-a-year malpractice premium and he worked 300 days a year as a surgeon — if you could operate that much, and I doubt that they can — that’s $200 a day before you even turn on the lights,” Hedberg said. “That’s what you have to overcome.”
He said he would vote to limit payments on pain-and-suffering damages if elected.
“That would do an awful lot to get it controlled,” he said. “There may be some insurance reform on that end, but we have to be able to cap these pain-and-suffering damages.”
Shoemyer said he believes the majority party is not convinced health care needs to be addressed.
“We’re the wealthiest country in the world, and we have so many people without access to health insurance,” he said.
He said House Bill 1566, which passed in the House but has not been voted on in the Senate, would cut health-care access for more than 64,000 Missourians and take access to health insurance away from more than 800 disabled children.
“To look at balancing the state budget on the backs of school kids and the most vulnerable is just wrong, wrong, wrong,” Shoemyer said. “You can’t take people off the rolls, and they’re still there, they’re still part of your society.
“Whether Republicans like it, or whether I like it, we’re all in this together, and our society will be judged by how we are willing to take care of those least among us. The morals that I was raised on extend way after the umbilical cord is cut.”
Hedberg said the appointment of former 19th District state Sen. Ken Jacob as chairman of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission has voters riled up. Jacob accepted the job after losing in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. The job carries a salary of $94,000 and boosted Jacob’s annual pension by nearly $20,000.
Hedberg said that at “every fourth door” he’s knocked on, he’s heard a complaint from a constituent.
“And of those people who complained, many of them actually liked what Ken Jacob did as senator prior to him receiving that added bonus in his salary that every taxpayer is going to pay,” Hedberg said.
Although he doesn’t oppose Jacob’s appointment, Hedberg said he doesn’t believe taxpayers should pay the higher pension to a person who’s been on the job such a short time. Even if Jacob is replaced by the next governor, his higher pension will remain.
“We shouldn’t be paying a pension to somebody who’s worked for 14 days. You ask any independent businessman, you ask somebody who’s worked for a company: ‘How many people have you heard of who can work for 14 days and earn a pension?’” Hedberg said. “I don’t know of one in private industry that has that capability.”
Missouri Right to Life characterizes both candidates as opposed to abortion rights, but the organization endorsed Shoemyer.
“We always endorse the incumbent with a good, pro-life voting record,” Executive Director Patricia Skain said. “They are also usually of more value to our cause because of their experience with the legislative process.”
Both candidates said they are canvassing the district for votes.
“I never stop campaigning,” Shoemyer said. “You don’t get a break. You basically do a lot of door-to-door and show up at a lot of public functions and get a lot of that personal touch. I believe accessibility is very important, and the people need to know that they have access to their state representatives.”
Hedberg said he plans to meet as many people as he can across the entire district, from New Franklin in the west to Monroe City in the east. He said issues such as education, transportation and health care carry importance for everyone in the state.
“Those things out there are things we’ll have to face as Missourians, not Republicans or Democrats,” Hedberg said.