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Criticism a focus of legislative candidates at forum

Criticism a focus of legislative candidates at forum

October 19th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Joyce Harkins, left, and Freda McKee turn off an alarm that was set for timekeeping Thursday at a candidate forum at Lincoln University. The pair volunteered to keep time at the forum, which featured candidates for the state Legislature as well as Cole County.

Photo by Jenna Kieser /News Tribune.

Answers from two of the three legislative candidates appearing at a forum at Lincoln University drew rebuttals from some audience members Thursday night.

Libertarian Steven Wilson was criticized sharply after he was asked if he favored "segregation," and said yes, following a question about what role the government should play in helping more minority-owned and women-owned businesses get a share in state contracts.

After listening to two people challenge that view, he apologized, saying he misheard the question and thought it was asking about "education."

"I do not promote segregation or white supremacy or anything like that," Wilson said. "But I still believe that mentoring is something that needs to be done — I do not believe that state government should play a role."

And Democrat Nicole Thompson drew complaints when she said she didn't know enough about the details of the annual traffic stop reports issued by the attorney general's office since 2000.

Those reports generally show African Americans and Hispanics are stopped at substantially higher rates in the state than their percentage of the total population.

Thompson agreed "that we still have a lot of issues in our community," and acknowledged she still is relearning and reshaping her beliefs after growing up in an all-white farming community in rural Johnson County, "thinking that we lived in a post-racial society. It's taken me time for my eyes to be opened and to see what the real issues are for the black community."

If elected to the state Senate, she said, "I do believe we need to address these issues and work as much as we can to improve things."

Thompson and Wilson both are running for the 6th District state Senate seat most recently held by now-Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

Republican Mike Bernskoetter is the third candidate on the ballot in that race. He did not attend Thursday night's forum.

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church and director of the statewide Faith Voices organization — one of the forum's co-sponsors — told the candidates: "We need elected officials that will, actually, hold each other accountable.

"We need elected officials that will be accountable to the least of these in our community — and elected officials that will not just be elected officials of white Missouri, white Jefferson City, but elected officials who are concerned about everybody in this city."

The other legislative candidate at the forum was Democrat Sara Michael, running for the 60th House District seat currently held by Republican Jay Barnes, who is term-limited and can't run again.

Republican Dave Griffith is Michael's opponent in the Nov. 6 election and didn't attend after being invited.

Most of the forum involved questions posed by the Rev. Adrian Hendricks, pastor of Jefferson City's Joshua House Church, with several questions posed by audience members at the end of the 75-minute forum.

Thompson and Michael agreed the Legislature was wrong to change Missouri's discrimination law so that an employee would have to prove it was the main factor in their being dismissed from a job, rather than the former law's "contributing factor" status.

Wilson agreed "discrimination is becoming more and more difficult to prove," but said his main position is "the state should play no role in how someone operates their business."

When asked what the state should do better in overseeing special taxing districts, like transportation development districts, and making sure they don't hurt public schools funding, Wilson said no more oversight is necessary because the special districts "should not exist at all."

Thompson said those districts should be required to "have a clear-purpose statement, so we can re-evaluate" them.

Michael said the districts help serve as an enticement for businesses to bring jobs and wages to a community, but they need to be ended "when no longer benefiting the community."

Thompson and Michael said state employee wages, retirement benefits and health care need to be improved. Wilson is promoting the privatization of public employees' jobs "as much as possible."

When asked about Medicaid expansion, which was proposed by the Obama administration as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, but left to each state to accept, Wilson said he preferred a "charity model" for health care instead of government funding — although he agreed Medicaid expansion would keep rural hospitals from closing.

Thompson and Michael both agreed the Legislature was wrong in rejecting the proposal.

In addition to Medicaid, Thompson said, lawmakers "need to explore every option that we have" to improve health care for all Missourians.

Michael called the decision to skip the expansion plan "is one of biggest failures" of the Legislature and "denied us access to what is considered as common sense" in most of the rest of the developed world.

One man in the audience made a point of asking Griffith and Bernskoetter if they would support another effort to pass a right-to-work law in the state, after voters rejected it in August — then noted they weren't present.

Michael, Thompson and Wilson all opposed the idea.

In addition to Jefferson City Faith Voices, Thursday night's forum was sponsored by CAPS (Citizens Accountability Partners), Capital Area National Organization of Women and Empower Missouri.