The Missourian asked candidates for state representatives in our region to answer a series of questions, and we're presenting their answers, as they wrote them, in a series of articles.

Today's question: Many rural communities face increasing challenges, from health care to broadband service. What would you do for Missouri?

Cheri Toalson Reisch, Republican, District 44

Both at the Federal and State level, we need to expand broadband to rural areas. This is vital to businesses. We need to encourage doctors to practice in rural areas and to help keep rural hospitals and clinics open.

Maren Bell Jones, Democrat, District 44

I want to see more small business development and diversification in our rural areas because the job prospects are limited. I would like to see the Missouri Small Business Development Center expanded to have more in person training seminars in the rural areas of the state. I am also a huge supporter of local sustainable agriculture and would like to incentivize the production of locally and humanely raised animal agriculture products like meat, milk, eggs, and fiber to be sold right here in Missouri and in our region.

Cathy Richards, Republican, District 46

I would work with the State Legislature in finding answers. For example, congresswoman, Vicky Hartzler, introduced bill H.R. 5213 and it passed, which will expand broadband for rural communities allowing rural America to catch up with the digital age. In addition, we now have a rural Governor in office, and I believe rural issues will have the governor’s ear. I do know Farm Bureau is working tirelessly with Legislators and lobbyists on subjects such as transportation funding, rural broadband, herbicide technologies and opioids in rural Missouri. My life experiences and education will help in these issues as these discussions materialize.

Martha Stevens, Democrat, District 46

Prior to being elected in 2016, I was a social worker and community organizer. In these roles, I met with Missourians who were impacted by the lack of health care options, especially in rural areas. One solution to supporting a more robust healthcare infrastructure would be expanding Medicaid in Missouri. Our state could have adopted this policy in 2013, which would have supported existing and potential health care infrastructure in rural Missouri. Sadly, several hospitals have closed in rural areas and thousands of rural Missourians continue to go without health insurance. When a hospital closes in a rural community, jobs are lost, quality of life decreases, and people have to travel further and further for care, which is especially detrimental in cases of an emergency. Missouri can still expand Medicaid, but we need more elected officials in Jefferson City willing to fight for healthcare for low-income Missourians.

William Hastings, Green, District 46

Most of the problems for rural Missouri are similar for the urban areas: Poor health care, poverty, inadequate educational opportunities, insecurity. I would focus on the problem and not assume the solution will be different for rural Missouri than for St. Louis. Unemployment insurance, food assistance, and health care should be available to all who need it. However, Missouri farm communities have special difficulties with the uncertainty of their livelihood and the depopulation of their small town support.

Adrian Plank, Democrat, District 47

Our small towns are dying because our small farmers are losing out to big multinational farming corporations. We need to create new markets, like hemp and medical marijuana, so that our small farmers can compete and make a living.

Chuck Basye, Republican, District 47

Basye did not submit a response.

Sara Walsh, Republican, District 50

We accomplished several things in the Missouri legislature this year for rural Missourians, including: 1) Rural Broadband Development - we established a program to award grants to applicants who seek to expand access to broadband in unserved and underserved areas of the state; 2) Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program - we expanded the state’s virtual school offerings to all K-12 students, allowing students to take advanced courses not currently offered by their local school districts; and 3) Working Family Tax Relief - we passed a tax cut that will provide Missourians with the largest single-year income tax cut in the state’s history (reducing the individual income tax rate from 5.9 percent to 5.5 percent), with revenue growth triggers that will eventually lower the rate to 5.1 percent.

Michela Skelton, Democrat, District 50

We need state and local government partnerships to invest in the infrastructure needs of our rural communities. Most of our rural communities struggle to attract employers or grow small businesses because there is no broadband internet access which also negatively impacts the ability of our children to get the same quality of education as their suburban peers. They are also facing aging water systems without a sufficient local tax base to make the upgrades needed to keep drinking water safe. We also need to expand Medicaid to save our remaining rural hospitals and provide opportunities for doctors to open small family practices in rural communities.

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