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GOP House 60th District candidates: Qualified workforce is key issue

GOP House 60th District candidates: Qualified workforce is key issue

July 8th, 2018 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Republican candidates for the Missouri House of Representatives District 60 seat have been knocking on doors — a lot of doors.

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Thousands of doors.

The race for the Republican nomination features Jane Beetem, Pat Rowe Kerr and Dave Griffith. 

"I have supporters who are working hard on the campaign. We have people in every precinct, as have other candidates," Kerr said.

Kerr, the founder and former chief executive officer of Associated Court Reporters Inc., former state of Missouri veterans ombudsman and a former state employee, said she and her opponents each have people working hard on their campaigns. She said all the campaigns are out there, but they may not have hit the same doors.

Using an application developed by the Missouri Republican Party, Griffith as of Thursday had tracked efforts that reached more than 3,000 homes. In addition to tracking where to reach voters, the app helps collect data on what's important to voters, he said.

Kerr's supporters have placed hundreds of signs in yards, she said.

"We have met people who have been very informative in what they think needs to be done," she said.

Beetem said experience working on her husband's campaigns for Cole County circuit judge has been helpful.

"There's a whole art to the sign business," she said. "I like to put them out just before the election."

Griffith had no signs in yards Thursday, he said. His plan was to distribute signs to supporters this weekend.

"My signs are going to go up this weekend or the first part of next week," he said. "I'm hoping for shock and awe: One day they aren't there, the next day they are."

Beetem said putting her signs out late has several advantages. People don't have to mow around them as much, and the signs don't have to be maintained as long.

"The more time you spend doing that, the less you have for other things," Beetem said.

Despite his wave of signs, Griffith said he's not convinced signs win elections.

"Going to doors and groups is how you get your message out," Griffith said.

Kerr said her volunteers are targeting voters during their door-knocking and with flyers she's sending out.

The candidates must consider different strategies in terms of door-knocking, Beetem said. Do they scatter their efforts, or do they saturate an area before moving on?

Candidates are finding different ways of meeting people than simply knocking on doors, Beetem said. They go to church suppers, picnics, events and Fourth of July celebrations.

With the primary election now about a month away — on Aug. 7 — the three are competing to see who will run against the Democratic nominee — either Sara Michael or Kevin Nelson.

They are seeking the seat vacated when state Rep. Jay Barnes completed his second term. Because of term limits, he could not run again.

All three Republican candidates answered a series of questions in an article published in the June 17 edition of the News Tribune.

For this article, they were asked to be more specific on several questions. Answers are listed in the order the candidates appear on the ballot. Responses may have been edited for length.

If elected to the House 60th District seat, what would be your primary responsibility to constituents?

Beetem: If elected as state representative, I will work to protect the interests of our residents and of our community, and to promote Jefferson City. I will work for common sense government, support for state employees and education for children of all abilities. State employees are important to Jefferson City, as they buy houses, cars, food, clothes and more from local businesses. Should employees be contracted out to a private company that decides to relocate elsewhere in the state, that could have a negative impact on Jefferson City's economy. I will work to stay on top of and communicate activities of the House to the community, and I will take the time to listen to your concerns. Often, what people need help with is figuring out who in state government can help them with their problem. With my experience from 25 years in state government, I can help identify the right people to address my constituents' issues.

Kerr: My primary responsibility will be to serve as a voice for local voters. That will require listening to their opinions and ensuring my actions are consistent with them. I know this community well, I share the same values, and I am confident that I can be a strong voice for the people of the 60th District. I believe strongly in giving back to the community that I've called home for 39 years, and I have volunteered with numerous civic organizations including the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, March of Dimes, Samaritan Center, various church activities, and many veterans' organizations.

I will work hard to support common sense, conservative legislation to get government out of the way of small businesses and ensure the state meets its obligations to provide fundamental services like transportation infrastructure and funding for schools. As a former state employee, I have seen firsthand the growth of state government, and it is now involved in so many aspects of our lives that it is unable to fulfill basic needs. Large welfare programs have taken more than 40 percent of Missouri's budget, leaving little funding to maintain our highway system, fund workforce training, or even allow state employee pay to be raised to keep up with inflation. My knowledge base has provided an introspect of gaps in health care, education, public safety, social needs, job creation, finding both professional and skilled labor and preparing the next generation to be ready to meet those needs.

As a state employee for close to 20 years, I have a strong sense of respect for and responsibility to stand up for the needs of state employees. My professional and personal experiences have allowed me to understand the policies and programs of almost all state agencies and their divisions. That is critical to budget development and understanding the impact legislation has not just globally but its trickle down effect.

Griffith: My responsibility first and foremost is to be an advocate for the people of the 60th District. I will work hard every day to be our community's voice in the Missouri House. I will always be available to listen and hear your concerns. It would be an honor to serve as our state representative.

What are the two biggest issues you think the state is currently facing? How would you solve those problems you highlight, and how would you pay for the solutions you propose?

Beetem: The budget is likely going to continue to be a difficult issue. Only around a third of the budget is general revenue, from individual and corporate income tax. It will take work to balance the budget in light of the recent individual and corporate tax cuts. The idea is that reinvestment of these funds that don't have to be used for taxes next year by businesses and individuals will improve our economy. But such reinvestment takes time — to develop an expansion plan, to hire contractors or employees — so the state may not see the full benefit of any reinvestment for a year or two. Spending on non-discretionary programs will continue to grow faster than the economy, placing stress on other programs, such as education at all levels, so that tough choices will have to be made.

To compensate for the reduction in tax income, Missouri will have to find ways to spend less. One possibility is if the proposed increase in the gas tax passes in November, additional funding would be available for the Missouri Highway Patrol. This funding could replace $33.9 million in general revenue currently in the Patrol's budget, based on the fiscal note for the proposed tax change.

Another possibility would be to address possible waste and fraud in the program formerly known as "food stamps." Adding photographs to SNAP/EBT cards would make it more difficult for people to steal and use or to sell these cards. Other states have taken this approach, with provisions for caregivers to use someone else's card, among others. A recent auditor's report indicated a significant number of people appear to be using Missouri SNAP/EBT cards solely in other states. Whether they have relocated, applied for the card with an invalid address or shop just across the state line, this issue should be investigated and those using the card inappropriately be stopped.

A qualified workforce is needed in Missouri, with unemployment at its lowest level in decades. Businesses are having difficulty filling positions with people who are willing to work and can pass a drug test. The state can encourage greater use of workforce development programs and provide encouragement for people to work full time. In talking with people, I've heard stories about workers who started full-time work but requested fewer hours after learning their state assistance would be eliminated. The state needs to figure out a transition period, where assistance like child care is gradually phased out rather than eliminated. Under the (former Gov. Jay) Nixon administration, a pilot program was approved but appropriations were never approved. We need to help people on state assistance transition to full-time work. Young mothers who are trying to take good care of their kids while working to be self-sustaining will benefit from such a program.

There are at least five state agencies offering assistance for workers. We need to streamline workforce development programs, eliminating duplication to make more money available, to help hardworking Missourians find good-paying jobs in high-demand fields.

Kerr: Job creation and economic development are the two biggest issues the state faces.

Lowering taxes, reducing regulations and getting government out of the way of our economy can help Missouri businesses grow and attract new jobs, all while costing taxpayers less money. In talking with business owners throughout the community, many have spoken about the inability to attract qualified workers, and that is why I strongly support increased vocational training opportunities.

On the flip side, we have young adults spending so much money on higher education and then concerned about how they are going to pay off those loans. Companies could partner with our high schools, identifying those with a particular skill set or interest — such as an interest in cybersecurity — and much like we do in sports, enter in to an agreement wherein the student receives "x" amount of dollars to attend a school at the cost of the company with a commitment to returning to that company as an employee for a period of time.

Just like Jefferson City for years has had a successful trade school with Nichols, companies looking for skilled labor could begin educating students in their junior years of high school about the requirements those companies have for their employees.

Griffith: (Missouri has) an uneducated workforce statewide and under-compensated workforce in our community that are stifling our economy. When businesses look to move to a state, they often first evaluate their workforce needs. In this category, Missouri often comes up short. We must work to prioritize workforce development programs that will help our state create the dedicated and educated workforce we need to attract new businesses and therefore new jobs. Locally, we have a different issue, our state employees are the largest workforce in our community and are sadly some of the lowest paid in the country. We must work to gain them the fair compensation they rightfully deserve. I will work to increase pay without raising taxes or cutting specific programs. Laying off state employees is not the answer, however through making this a budget priority and with the help of retirement and attrition, we can increase pay. Those additional dollars in the pockets of Mid-Missouri families would be a boost to our entire local economy and would help create additional jobs for our community.

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(We also have) a crumbling infrastructure whose problems only will get worse the longer Missourians fail to act. This November, Missourians have the opportunity to vote on a proposed public safety gas tax increase. If passed, these dollars will help free up revenue that can be dedicated to rebuilding Missouri's crumbling infrastructure. This proposal alone will not solve all of our infrastructure problems, but it would be a considerable first step. Then it will once again be up to Missouri voters whether they would support a dedicated sales tax, an additional gas tax, toll roads or another idea not yet presented. Our infrastructure needs represent a problem that is not going away and one that we must, as a state, work together to resolve.