FAYETTE – Soon after he was introduced at a candidate forum in the basement of the Commercial Trust Co. building, state Rep. Wes Shoemyer leapt out of his chair and looked toward the back of the crowd.
“Can everyone hear me fine?” he asked.
A member of the crowd told the incumbent state representative for the 9th District that he would have to speak loudly for people in the back row to hear. Shoemyer decided to remain standing, a move that Republican challenger Jeff Hedberg emulated.
It was Hedberg and Shoemyer’s first face-to-face forum since they ran against each other in 2002. The two clashed on a number of issues in a discussion sponsored by the Fayette/Armstrong Area Betterment.
Hedberg said the state needs to remove barriers in front of businesses to encourage job creation. He said Columbia-based MFA Oil had a $1 million rise in worker’s compensation premium last year.
“If they’re taking shots like that, we know that’s a big barrier,” Hedberg said.
However, Shoemyer said that to make the state more business-friendly, legislators in Jefferson City needed to do a better job at addressing K-12 and higher education.
“The No. 1 thing those businesses tell us is we need an educated work force,” Shoe-myer said.
The candidates also disagreed on Amendment 3, a ballot initiative that would use state funds to improve highways. Shoemyer said the amendment would distract the general assembly from its funding priorities.
“It’s going to put real pressure on schools, on health care, on anybody else who relies on general revenue,” Shoemyer said.
But Hedberg said he favored the amendment.
“Will it fix them all? No, it won’t,” he said. “But just like the gaming boats and tax money, it’s not a fix-all either. It’s a tough decision that needs to be made.”
Both candidates agreed that education spending needed to be raised in next year’s budget. Hedberg said 81.5 percent of citizens in Howard County completed a high school education.
“I didn’t know there were 19 percent that didn’t have a high school education, and that is kind of alarming,” Hedberg said.
He said more of education spending had to go into the classrooms, not into admini-stration.
“Like I said, as an individual with three students in the education process, I have a vested interest to make sure we do the right thing,” Hedberg said. “And I don’t see how anybody can tell me any different, just because I happen to be a Republican. I will do the right thing with your tax dollars in public education.”
Shoemyer said the legislature could have done a better job in education spending last year.
“I’m willing to keep doing that, and keep fighting for our commitment for education because I know it will pay off in the long run,” Shoemyer said. “If we invest in them early, we won’t have to give them free health care and three squares in a prison cell later on.”
The two agreed it was inevitable that the foundation formula that outlines how schools will be funded would be changed. Shoemyer said the process needs to proceed cautiously.
“I think we will reformulate that. I would prefer for that to happen before the courts get involved, and I definitely want to be a part of that, and look forward to it,” Shoe-myer said.
Hedberg said the formula needed a radical reconstruction.
“It’s going to have to be radically changed to make sure we get the proper funding for rural Missouri,” Hedberg said. “And it won’t be a battle between Republican and Democrat; it’ll actually be a battle of rural and urban.”
Hedberg said he was impressed that people showed up to hear the two candidates’ visions for the 9th District.
“You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink, and so the people who showed are very interested in their politics and want to make a positive impression on what’s going on,” Hedberg said. “I’m tickled that they’re here.”
Shoemyer said the forum was a great opportunity to be out with the people.
“Generally debates focus on big issues, giant issues, massive pieces of legislation,” Shoemyer said. “But what I’ve found in this job is it’s not always about big sweeping issues. You get those phone calls. I had a couple that said, ‘Rep. Shoemyer, can you help with this?’ Small things, things you can help intervene, make some phone calls and be an advocate for that person.”