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60th District candidates divided over election integrity

by Joe Gamm | October 23, 2022 at 4:03 a.m.
Dave Griffith, right, answers a question on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, at City Hall, in Jefferson City. (Kate Cassady/News Tribune)

Candidates for the Missouri House of Representatives District 60 seat butted heads over election integrity during a forum Wednesday night.

That was one of several issues the News Tribune was unable to cover in immediate reporting. This follow-up coverage will include several issues that came up during the forum. The candidates clashed over multiple issues, such as Medicaid expansion, gun control and abortion.

The newspaper has already reported Rep. Dave Griffith, the Republican incumbent, and his Democratic challenger, J. Don Salcedo, discussed spending on mental health services, changes to Missouri's initiative process, the state's infrastructure challenges, veterans' mental health and education spending during the event.

Election integrity

Griffith said voter integrity is something that has been on the minds of a lot of people since the 2020 election.

But Missouri can take a lot of pride in how it has protected elections, he continued.

The voter ID bill passed in the last Legislative session requires a person to have a government-issued photo ID to vote, or cast a provisional ballot on election day. Those who cast provisional ballots must return later that day with an approved ID for their vote to count. Voting rights advocates sued the state in August, saying the new law was unconstitutional. Cole County Presiding Circuit Judge Jon Beetem dismissed the lawsuit about a week ago.

The provisional ballot would be counted only if the voter returns later that day with a photo ID or if election officials can verify their signature based on voter records.

Democrats have argued the new law is going to disenfranchise a lot of voters, Griffith said Wednesday.

"I think Secretary (of State Jay) Ashcroft made it clear that those voter IDs can be made very simply," Griffith said. "If you have a passport or a drivers license or a non-drivers license, those can be used to vote."

If you don't have one, you can cast a provisional ballot, he said.

Missouri has set up its voting process for success, Griffith added.

"I feel confident in our voting system," he said, "testing machines before and after the election, making sure they're functioning properly."

Salcedo said he agrees local election officials are doing very well. However, even though Ashcroft has said the Missouri election was secure and fair, Salcedo said Republicans passed a voter-suppression bill.

"That just shows, what they're trying to do is restrict the votes," he said. "They don't want some people to vote. The voter suppression bill disenfranchised about 250,000 Missourians."

Many don't have the ability to drive a car, he continued. Some are in nursing homes. There are a lot of instances that prevent people from voting, and there is no need for it, he said.

"Voting ought to be easy," he said. "It is a Republican solution to a problem that doesn't even exist."

Asked directly whether he acknowledges that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and is the duly elected president, Griffith replied that Biden is sitting in the office.

"What I believe or whether I don't believe as to whether the election was stolen, as many Republicans are saying, I believe the voters and the count was in there. The vote was certified in the state of Missouri," Griffith said. "But I can talk about what's going on in the state of Missouri. I know what the results of that election were in the state of Missouri, and what the results were in the 60th District."

National politics

As a legislator, Griffith said he must remain concerned about his district and the people he represents and their concerns.

"That's something that I take to heart. But, getting involved in national politics, that's not something that as legislators we're called to do," he said. "What our job as legislators is to do is to represent those people that elected us."

At that point, Salcedo attacked Griffith's statement that he stays out of other states' decisions.

"He does interject his opinions to other states," Salcedo said. "I've got a copy of a letter he signed where he objects to elections in five other states."

Griffith said he'd like to see the letter. He said he couldn't recall the letter Wednesday night. He then said he had no comment on it.

Salcedo pointed out Griffith was among more than 50 Republican representatives who signed a Dec. 9, 2020, letter from Rep. Justin Hill, R-St. Charles County, to the Speaker of the Missouri House Elijah Haahr, a Republican from Springfield. (Salcedo incorrectly said the letter went to U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.) The letter demanded that other states "secure" their elections through the use of voter ID and paper ballots. It demanded that Missouri somehow hold other states "accountable and expose the truth about this election."

The letter also stated a House Resolution would be filed the next day declaring the Missouri House had "no confidence" in the presidential election results. It demanded that Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin each go into special sessions to investigate their elections, disregarding that each has its own statutes surrounding how to conduct election reviews.

Griffith called the News Tribune on Thursday morning (the day after the forum) and said he later remembered signing the letter. But he said he had second thoughts about the letter after signing it. Griffith said that a resolution was filed, but it never went to the House floor.

Solar panels

Another issue a reader brought up in a question was the possibility of the state installing solar panels in all state-owned buildings to help reduce costs and eliminate emissions.

Salcedo said he had lived and worked in six states throughout the country. He said it is a good thing to put solar panels on structures.

Anytime the state has opportunities to use alternative power sources, it should strongly consider them, Griffith said.

But everything seems to come back to finances, he said. You have to look at the cost versus the value it will provide. If the return on investment is going to pay for itself by 2050, it should be considered.

Education challenges

Asked how they might improve public education outside funding, the candidates came at the answer from different scopes.

Salcedo said improvements should come at the state level. Griffith said he would be more inclined to look at the issue from a local level.

About 20 years ago, as a member of the National Education Alliance, Salcedo said he championed an education reform bill in another state that included education reforms to improve the state's quality of education.

It made sure school boards were "operating properly." Three unexcused absences for a board member during meetings meant the member lost the seat.

"Put a real citizen on there that's concerned about it that's going to make every single meeting," he said. "Or at least have an excuse for missing one."

School districts should have better management over local budgets, he said. Years ago, a Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education study, he said, showed more than 500 school districts in the state together had a $3 billion surplus.

"Those are education tax dollars that are not being used for education," Salcedo said. "There ought to be an education reform bill to tell school boards what they have to do in order to meet the needs of education. Don't hold excessive amounts of taxpayers' dollars in fund balances."

Griffith said he doesn't know what's going on in other states. What he's concerned about is what happens in the 60th District and Jefferson City.

Districts need to look at Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) schools and magnet schools (offering special instructions to attract a more diverse student body) and trade schools, he said.

"There's a big need for that in the state of Missouri," Griffith said. "When I was in high school, and I'm sure when Don was in school, they had shop classes. Shop class was one of the classes that was fun. So many of our schools now don't have that."

Magnet schools in economically challenged areas of Columbia are stimulating growth in the areas, he said. Look at best practices to see what works locally.

In the 60th District, leaders are trying to address those challenges.

"We can see that not every child is meant to go to college," Griffith said. "Many children can go to State Tech. Nichols Career Center has got some great programs over there."

Second Amendment

Both candidates aligned with their parties' views on the Second Amendment and gun rights.

Griffith said writers of the U.S. Constitution set in stone Americans' rights to bear arms.

"For us to try and look at ways that we can try to take guns away from our citizens ... is wrong at every level," he said.

He said Republicans passed the Second Amendment Preservation Act two years ago because they feared the federal government was going to come into homes and remove firearms.

"We needed to be able to protect those," Griffith continued. "It's not the weapons that are killing people. It's the person behind that that's doing that."

He added that mental health issues may be behind much of the violence facing the nation.

Most people have respect for the Second Amendment, Salcedo offered.

"But with those rights come responsibilities," he said. "Most people that I know that hunt ... they make sure they are responsible gun owners, and they follow gun-safety laws."

There should be some rules and regulations in place, he said. It should be a privilege to own a gun.

"And you should be responsible to make sure you protect that gun. Have it locked up and secured," Salcedo said. "There are just too many shootings going on right now, and we've got to lessen the access to guns."

He suggested the state should have some common-sense gun-safety laws, such as requiring background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of people who may harm themselves or others.

"I don't see the Second Amendment is so sacred that you're going to say, 'Well, the Second Amendment is more valuable than the lives of those children in Uvalde, or more important than the lives of people in a supermarket or post office.' Now, a lot of people are afraid," Salcedo said. "They tell me they don't feel comfortable."

There should be rules, he continued. People have to have a license when they drive a car. It should be the same way for guns, he said.

Abortion laws

Salcedo said it should be written into law that every woman should have the right to consult with their doctor and make her own health care decisions.

"Get rid of all those laws ... that are preventing women from getting the health care that they need," he said. "It is a health care issue."

He said a recent story about a Missouri woman who was 18 weeks pregnant illustrated the challenge in having strict abortion laws. The woman's water broke and she had vaginal bleeding. Doctors said if the baby were delivered, it would have a zero percent chance at survival. If they tried to delay delivery, chances were similar. They recommended termination.

Under new Missouri laws, the woman was forced to get an abortion across state lines. The patient's medical records show that doctors indicated Missouri law superseded their medical judgment in the case and they couldn't intervene in the pregnancy.

"Because of the way the laws were written by the Missouri Legislature, the doctors were afraid to give her the medical care that she needed to either save her life or the baby's, or both," Salcedo said.

According to the Associated Press, Missouri's law outlaws abortion except in medical emergencies or to save the life of the mother, although it's unclear what medical issues qualify under the exemption.

Protecting the unborn is something Griffith takes very seriously, he said.

The state of Missouri has almost the strongest abortion laws in the nation, he said.

"It's incumbent upon us, and especially incumbent upon me ... to protect the life of the unborn," Griffith said. "I'll continue to do that as long as I'm elected."

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