The three candidates seeking election to the Missouri Senate's 6th District explained numerous positions during an hour-long forum Tuesday night at Jefferson City's City Hall.
As they appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, the candidates are Republican Mike Bernskoetter, Democrat Nicole Thompson and Libertarian Steven Wilson.
The seven county district includes Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Miller, Maries, Osage and Gasconade counties.
Thompson and Wilson live in Jefferson City. Bernskoetter lives in Cole County just outside Jefferson City's limits.
In his opening statement, Bernskoetter noted his eight years experience in the state House and reminded voters of his personal background.
"I've lived here in Cole County my whole life," he said. "I've been married to my beautiful wife, Jeanette, for 38 years.
"We own Art's Pest Control together."
The couple has four adult children and six grandchildren.
Thompson said she's "running on a platform for more open, honest and responsive government."
After earning a degree in Occupational Safety and Health from the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, Thompson "married my high school sweetheart" and moved to Jefferson City, where she worked for state government for nine years before starting her own consulting business.
"Doing that work for the state really led me to wanting to run," Thompson said, "and seeing what more I could try to do to improve the lives of rural Missourians."
Wilson said politics "is a market for solutions," and his campaign "is about common-sense solutions to the problems that are going to affect Missouri and America in the coming years."
His main issues, he said, are promoting a "made in Missouri" business model for industrial hemp, "full cannabis reform," education reform and tax reform.
"Just for those of you who have not gotten the message," Wilson said, "taxation is theft."
Fuel tax increase
Wilson opposed to Proposition D, the proposal to raise Missouri's fuels tax by 10-cents a gallon over a four-year period.
"In the state of Missouri, we already pay 17 cents per gallon in taxation, and we also pay 18 cents (for gasoline) and 24 cents (for diesel) to the federal government," he said.
"Instead of raising the (fuel) taxes, I would suggest that, if the people of Missouri want to make an investment in the infrastructure, I would like to see Interstate 70 and Interstate 44 become tollways," with three lanes in each direction and a speed-rail in the middle of I-70 connecting St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City for more reliable transportation among those cities.
Bernskoetter and Thompson both support Proposition D.
Bernskoetter voted in the Legislature to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"I think that the 10 cents will go a long way when fully implemented, to helping our roads and bridge system," he said, "but we won't know until it's fully implemented if it will be enough."
Thompson said it took her awhile to decide to support the proposal, since some of the tax increase will pay for Highway Patrol operations.
"A lot of that funding already is coming from MoDOT's budget," she said. "The roads are certainly a concern, but we're going to need to find more sources of revenue for other infrastructure projects."
With more and more vehicles using alternatives to gasoline or diesel fuels, Thompson thinks the state will have to shift to "mileage based fees systems" on all vehicles.
Right to work
All three said lawmakers should accept voters' Aug. 7 rejection of making Missouri a right-to-work state — which opponents said would hurt the state's economy more than help it.
Bernskoetter said: "I think (right to work) is good public policy, and I will look for other opportunities to expand business in Missouri, since that failed."
Thompson said: "We need to support our unions in this state and help keep our wages in a good place."
Wilson added: "The people of Missouri made their voice clear."
And, he said: "The people should not be voting on how I build my business structure.
Clean Missouri reforms
Missourians will be voting next month on the proposed Clean Missouri constitutional amendment — on the ballot as Amendment 1 — which would make a number of changes affecting lobbyists and their gifts to lawmakers, campaign finances and how the state redraws its legislative districts.
Thompson is the only one of the three candidates who supports the proposal.
"I think those types of ethics reforms are strongly needed in the state of Missouri," she said. "This is a voter-supported ballot measure and I would say it is specifically about ethics reform in our Legislature and making it a clear, more honest process."
Bernskoetter said: "Amendment 1 is a terrible idea.
"There's a lot of different issues in the amendment."
He's most opposed to the redistricting proposal, which he said now must be done in a bipartisan manner or the task is assigned to appeals court judges.
"Now they're turning it into a completely partisan issue," he said.
Wilson also agreed the proposal to have a state demographer — "an angel (and) we're going to pretend this person doesn't have an agenda" — oversee redrawing legislative district lines is not a good idea.
He added: "This kind of legislation is basically a 'Hail Mary' pass by the voter — they're basically indicating to the body politic that the quality of their candidates is not where they expect them to be and they can't actually trust them."
All agreed the Missouri Corrections Department is facing some tough times and employment issues.
Bernskoetter said: "The rising population is a huge problem.
"It's bankrupting our budget. If we don't do something soon, we will have to build two new prisons that will probably cost somewhere in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars."
Thompson said the biggest problem with Corrections is the salaries paid to its employees.
"We do not have the wages we need in the state in order to keep Corrections officers, and therefore, they are understaffed and are working excessive overtimes," she explained.
She agreed the state also must limit the number of people being sent to prison and must improve mental health and drug treatment services for those who need them in society in general.
Wilson said: "We need to decriminalize non-violent acts.
"The individuals who are in a corrections facility need to be people who have committed crimes that the people need to be defended from."
Bernskoetter and Thompson support finding ways to increase state employees' pay.
Wilson prefers to see the state privatize much of the work its employees now do.
If elected, Wilson said, his first bill would be change the industrial hemp law passed this year, replacing it with a measure to speed up the state's support for that industry.
Bernskoetter said he already works across party lines to get things done and expects to push for more economic development and tort reform bills.
Thompson said her priority would be to improve the state's revenue, after lawmakers in recent years have passed tax cuts that also have reduced the money coming in for state operations.
Use the player below to view a replay of the candidate forum, or access the replay via the City of Jefferson's YouTube channel through this link.