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6th District Senate Democrat candidates talk key issues

6th District Senate Democrat candidates talk key issues

July 1st, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Missouri's primary elections are just over five weeks away.

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In seven Mid-Missouri counties, the 6th Senate District seat will be filled by a newcomer, since Mike Kehoe — now the lieutenant governor — was term-limited and couldn't run for another term even before new Gov. Mike Parson named him last month to the vacant No. 2 spot in state government.

The district includes Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Miller, Maries, Osage and Gasconade counties.

State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, is the only Republican to file for the seat, so he's unopposed in the Aug. 7 primary and will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Likewise, Libertarian Steven Wilson, of Jefferson City, also is unopposed in the primary and will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Because Bernskoetter and Wilson are unopposed next month, their positions won't be featured until closer to the general election.

But Democrat voters on Aug. 7 must choose one of the three candidates seeking to represent the party in the November general election — Bryan Struebig, of Eldon; Nicole Thompson, of Jefferson City; and Mollie Kristen Freebairn, of Jefferson City.

All three answered a series of questions in a story that was published in the June 17 News Tribune.

For this article, they were asked to be more specific on several questions. Some of their answers have been edited for clarity.

If elected to the 6th District Senate seat, what would be your primary responsibility to constituents?

Struebig: "The primary responsibility of any elected official is to represent his or her constituents, and work to better their well being.

"For the last eight years, our state senator (Kehoe) only listened to those in his party, corporate interests and lobbyists.

"It is time for that to end. It is time for the working families of the 6th District to have their voices heard and be represented in state government."

Thompson: "I believe that the primary responsibility of elected representatives is to be responsive to the needs of their constituents.

"I know that I won't always have the same ideas as those I represent on how to fix issues of concern, but I believe that as Missourians, we all have the same ultimate goals: to take care of ourselves, our families and our neighbors.

"I promise that as a state senator I will listen to the issues that concern you, and that together we will find solutions that work."

Freebairn: "All elected officials and state workers are public servants, paid for with our tax dollars. Their primary responsibility is inscribed over the main entrance to the Missouri State Capitol — 'Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto' — 'The well-being of the people is the supreme law.'

"Well-being consists of the happiness, comfort and security of the people. My primary responsibility would therefore be addressing the issues affecting peoples' quality of life. Making sure we make the world a better place. Above all, that we leave a livable world for our children and future generations."

What are the two biggest issues you think the state currently is facing, and how would you propose to resolve those issues?

Struebig: "The two biggest issues we currently are facing in our state are increased budget shortfalls and crumbling infrastructure, or the lack of infrastructure.

"The first problem of budget shortfalls must be corrected first.

"To begin, Missouri should not have passed the tax cut bill. The last few years, our state government has had to slash services and not give raises to state employees who rank 50th nationwide in state pay.

"This is a direct result of the phasing out of the corporate franchise tax."

(Editor's note — In 2011, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 19, which capped corporate franchise taxes and phased them out over a five-year period.)

"This last year, we have had to maneuver around a $240 million deficit. We did nothing to rectify this matter.

"Instead, the state Legislature threw a party for corporations by lowering tax rates from 6.25 percent to 3.5 percent.

"This plays directly into the hands of corporations already reaping the benefits of the Federal tax break. The estimated loss from this tax break is $218 million. That puts us on par for another round of cuts, to the tune of $458 million.

"The burden will fall squarely on the shoulders of the working families and retirees struggling to get by in Missouri in the form of higher sales and property taxes, as well as cuts to services, roads and schools.

"Both of these disastrous tax bills should be repealed and put in front of voters via the Hancock amendment.

"Additionally new revenue could be brought about by taxing sports betting, collection of sales tax from online purchases and allowing recreational marijuana to be taxed."

Thompson: "Broadly speaking, the two areas that I would like to focus on are economic opportunity and quality of life.

"Economic opportunity includes ensuring fair wages, a strong sense of entrepreneurship, and having the proper infrastructure in place to support current and future businesses in our state.

"Quality of life issues that I believe need attention are stabilizing our health care system and ensuring it is affordable and maintaining access to public education.

"I believe that by building a more open, honest and responsive legislative system we can tackle all of these issues and reach our common goals.

"While the Missouri system to require voter approval for increasing taxes and bonds seems like a good system on the surface, it actually makes it difficult for our government to have the flexibility it needs to run efficiently and support the programs that we require."

(Editor's note — In 1980, voters approved what's known as the Hancock Amendment to Missouri's Constitution. Among its provisions is a requirement that voters approve all tax increases. In 1996, that provision was modified to allow lawmakers to increase taxes by a limited amount, without needing voter approval.)

"I would propose doing away with initial voter approvals and replacing them with a system for automatic repeal or voter withdrawal if funding bills do not meet their intended purpose.

"I don't believe Missourians are specifically against increased taxes so much as they want to feel that the government is spending their money wisely."

Freebairn: "The current Legislature is on the wrong side of virtually every issue — lacking support for a healthy economy, good jobs, education, human rights, and health care. Thus we see the cost of living is steadily increasing, while wages and benefits — salaries, health care and pensions — are decreasing.

"Cutting state pensions — Missouri State Treasurer Eric Schmitt says Missouri is not producing as much as other states. Economic growth is lagging behind. The solution he is calling for is changes to the state's pension fund, with an eye on cuts to the Missouri State Employee Retirement System (MOSERS).

"Elimination of the state Merit System — on the last day of the legislative session in May, Sen. Kehoe led passage of a bill eliminating the Merit System for most state employees. This gives managers free rein in hiring and firing state workers, who are the lowest paid in the nation.

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"A top priority of the next legislative session should be to rescind this bill with the haste with which it was passed.

"Since the turn of the millennium we have been witnessing the greatest transfer of wealth in history. Much of this has been in the form of tax cuts to the wealthy, at both the state and federal level. This is severely limiting our government's ability to fund the state agencies providing essential services to agriculture, transportation, education, health, among others.

"While the ongoing tax cuts are a significant benefit only to the wealthy, they blow a gigantic hole in the budget for all of us.

"The solution is to restore recently enacted cuts, and stop the hemorrhaging from further cuts."