Three newcomers are vying to become the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives District 60 seat held by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.
Voters got to meet Jane Beetem, Pat Rowe Kerr and Dave Griffith face-to-face during a forum Thursday at Jefferson City Hall.
Term limits prevent Barnes from running for a third four-year term.
On Aug. 7, voters will decide which of the candidates will face off with a Democratic challenger during November's general election.
The News Tribune sponsored the forum, and Managing Editor Gary Castor posed the questions.
Griffith said he and his wife have lived in Jefferson City for more than 30 years. For six years, he was executive director of American Red Cross of Central Missouri. He reminded viewers he was twice elected to City Council. He said his time spent in the military, specifically in Special Forces helped shape him.
Beetem has been in Jefferson City 35 years. She is married to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. She has a variety of experiences dealing with budgets and state agencies.
"I hope you believe me when I say I want to see Jefferson City thrive and grow," she told about 60 listeners.
Kerr said she and her husband have been married 29 years and have a combined family. She has lived in the city 39 years and is the former Missouri Veterans Commission ombudsman.
"I am conservative and pro-life," she told listeners. "I value my Christian background."
Guns and background checks
All three candidates said they oppose expanded background checks for gun purchases and changes to the minimum age for purchasing firearms.
"I'm a very strong strong advocate for the Second Amendment," Griffith said. "The gun is really not the problem."
He said more people are murdered in London than in New York City every year. But with gun restrictions, the homicides in London are done with knives, he said. He also said he is in favor of arming specially trained educators in school districts that make their own decisions on whether to arm a staff member.
Beetem agreed local school districts should decide if they want armed personnel.
"Teachers say to me that they don't want to be armed," Kerr said. "Put more dollars in to schools to hire more marshals."
She said, over the years, the state has gutted the Department of Mental Health. It is time to rebuild that agency's budget, she added.
Obstacles to job creation
All three agreed the state needs more students in technical fields. They said not all students are cut out for college.
Beetem added, under the American Recovery Act, educators developed courses to train people on alternative energies.
"Those types of cooperative efforts need to be made," she said. She added affordable housing is a hurdle to job creation. She explained lower-income housing has moved out of the city "past the fairgrounds" because developers wanted to move outside city control.
The candidates were split on state intervention in city ordinances. When St. Louis and Kansas City passed increased local minimum wage ordinances, the General Assembly passed a law preventing local communities from having a minimum wage higher than the state's. The state also passed a law overriding Columbia's plastic bag prohibition. Gov. Mike Parson recently brought city leaders to the Capitol to discuss the interactions between local governments and the state.
Griffith and Beetem said they stood behind the General Assembly's action.
"I think what the governor did was a step in the right direction — bringing mayors into the Capitol," Griffith said. "For the government to override and tell local governments how to do it, I'm not sure I'm in favor of that."
However, he later said local governments cannot usurp what's being done at the state level.
"The cities only have powers that are not reserved for the state," Beetem said. "There are some programs that are appropriate. Smoking may be an area where cities have decided where restaurants and bars can be smoke free. I'm in favor of that."
"At the end of the day, I am in favor of local control," she said. "Each community has a higher cost of living or a lower cost of living. We also have to look at needs in those communities."
While Kerr and Griffith said they were in favor of school vouchers to promote education choices, Griffith added he also is in favor of charter schools as alternatives. Beetem said results for charter schools are mixed, and she'd prefer to leave education money for public schools.
The candidates agreed Missouri needs to find ways to increase employee pay.
This article was updated Friday, July 20, 2018, to clarify that all three candidates said they do not favor expanding background checks for gun purchases and to correct the number of years Pat Rowe Kerr has been married.