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story.lead_photo.caption Members of the community listen as candidates discuss issues during a candidates forum Thursday evening at the Missouri Farm Bureau. The event was hosted by the Cole County chapter of the Missouri Farm Bureau. Photo by Mark Wilson / News Tribune.

Candidates for local, county and statewide offices on Thursday were asked about public education and the prospects of economic vitality for rural communities during a forum at the Missouri Farm Bureau's Jefferson City headquarters.

Missouri voters will decide in the Aug. 7 primary election which candidates will make it on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general election.

Four of the six candidates who seek to succeed state Rep. Mike Bernskoetter in the 59th House District — which covers a large portion of Cole County outside of Jefferson City, a small portion of eastern Jefferson City and a section of northern Miller County — were present at the forum. They included Republicans Karen Leydens, of Jefferson City; Rudy L. Veit, of Wardsville; and Rik Combs, of Lohman; along with unopposed Democratic candidate Linda Ellen Greeson, of Eldon.

The other two Republicans seeking Bernskoetter's seat, who were not present Thursday, are Kendra Lane, of Jefferson City, and Randy Dinwiddie, of Olean. Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, is term limited in the House and is seeking the 6th District state Senate seat that was held by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

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The 59th House District candidates present were asked about how charter schools affect traditional public school funding.

Greeson said: "Each legislative session, we have bills introduced that have something to do with wanting to siphon off money from public education funds for vouchers and for charters," and she urged the about 50 people in the audience to do their research and come to their own conclusions about whether those programs and institutions are effective.

Greeson answered the audience question by explaining charters draw from the same pool of money that supports traditional public schools. "If you're satisifed with that (local) public school, then you need to continue to fund it fully," she said.

Leydens and Combs declined to answer.

Veit said, in reference to voucher programs, "I sent my kids to Helias, but that was something I chose to do. I don't expect the public to pay for my kids to go to a private school.

"Remember, our school boards are the directors of our schools. If your district isn't performing, then go to your school board. As 
somebody in the Legislature, I cannot tell you whether you should have guns in your classroom or not. Those are local issues," he said, adding charter schools take away enrollment — and the funding provided through that — from traditional public schools.

"The test is 'does it hurt our public school system?' If a charter system is out there that can help us and help educate the kids in our district, that's fine, but if it's going to drain our public schools so that the kids going to public schools are second-class students, then I'm not for it," he added.

Another topic of conversation Thursday was how to bring back economic vitality to small towns and rural communities in the area.

Incumbent 50th House District Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, and Democrat Michela Skelton, of Columbia, tackled the issue.

The two will face off in the November general election for Walsh's seat, which serves parts of Moniteau, Cole, Cooper and Boone counties. Skelton lost the seat to Walsh in a special election last August.

Skelton said she'd get "big money" out of politics and encourage strong investments in public schools, farming communities with low or no-interest loans, and higher education for people from small towns and rural areas by making all forms of college free or affordable to release burdens of student debt.

Walsh focused her response on infrastructure and workforce development, adding corporate outsourcing has also hurt local economies. She supported work by Gov. Mike Parson and Kehoe to collaborate with educational institutions to "work with K-12 as well as higher ed to be able to help kids be trained in these different trades, and be able to work to bring jobs here to Missouri, bring companies here to Missouri so that people can have employment."

No questions were asked of candidates for Associate Circuit Judge Division 3, Cole County collector, Cole County prosecuting attorney, Cole County recorder of deeds or the state 60th House District, which serves most of Jefferson City.

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