Republican candidates for Missouri House of Representatives District 124 offer a wide range of backgrounds — a legislative assistant, physician, restaurant manager, Air Force retiree and a retired psychiatrist.
Luke Hagedorn, of Osage Beach, is a restaurant manager; Duell Wayne Lauderdale, of Lake Ozark, is a legislative assistant; Bernie Mowinski, of Sunrise Beach, is a retiree from the U.S. Air Force; Benny Earl Thomas, of Four Seasons, is a physician; and Lisa Ann Thomas, of Four Seasons, is a retired psychiatrist.
The candidates look to take the seat currently filled by state Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark. Miller is completing his eighth year as a representative. Term limits prevent him from running for the office again. The winner of the Aug. 4 Republican primary election will run unopposed in November.
District 124 takes in Camden County, most of Miller County and the southern half of Morgan County.
As he campaigns, Hagedorn said, he has learned voters are very concerned for business. Voters wish to assure the Lake of the Ozarks area is well represented in Jefferson City as an economic engine for the state, he said. And they want lawmakers to avoid future lockdowns that may "cripple our economy," or legislation that puts roadblocks in the way of businesses.
A concern, Hagedorn said, is "providing an environment for our state to recover economically without adding undue tax burdens to our citizens."
Voters tell Lisa Thomas they support President Donald Trump. They want legislators who defend their gun rights and protect property rights, she said. And they want legislators who defend the unborn, she added.
Benny Earl Thomas did not respond to questions about abortion but weighed in on gun control. He said there should be "no regulation on law-abiding citizens."
Mowinski said he has served the government for 47 years. With his experience, he said, he can help stop fraud, waste and abuses.
"The COVID-19 pandemic leaves a mixed bag of opinions on whether to open back up or don't open," Mowinski said.
But, he said, we've got to be smart about being around other people.
"If you're out in public, wear a mask," he said. "Not only to protect you, but to protect others."
Lauderdale said people tell him they are concerned about the lack of civility and dialogue in the body politic, and they want politicians to be more accessible.
"I believe in an interpretation of the Second Amendment that grants a maximum freedom to those who want to own and carry firearms," Lauderdale said. "On the topic of bumpstocks, I'd actually like to push back on the now existing unilaterally imposed bumpstock ban, which was actually instituted by my own party's president."
He said he wouldn't support gun control measures just because other members of his party do.
The candidates weighed in on Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that Missouri voters will vote on in August. If passed, it would extend Medicaid coverage in the state to adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
"I do not think Medicaid should be expanded, and I do not support the ballot initiative to do so," Lauderdale said. "Time and time again the majority of Missourians have expressed a desire to repeal Obamacare."
Lauderdale said he has doubts about the federal government's commitment to pay 90 percent of costs for expanded Medicaid coverage.
Mowinski said he'd prefer to see a legislative change to MO HealthNet (Missouri's Medicaid system), but did not give specifics.
"This issue will be decided by the people's vote," Benny Earl Thomas said. "I will respect their decision."
He said if the amendment is passed and he is elected, his job will be to administer it equally and fairly.
"The problem with expanded Medicaid has continued to be funding," Hagedorn said. "Especially troubling would be Missouri taxpayers' responsibilities over a long period of time."
Hagedorn said he is aware there is a segment of the state's population that falls within a gap for coverage but doesn't see expanding MO HealthNet as the long-term solution.
It is important people have access to affordable health care, Lisa Thomas said.
"I believe there are better ways to accomplish this than to expand Medicaid, which would ultimately bankrupt us," she said. "In addition, it would negatively affect public school funding."
Lisa Thomas was referring to budget shortfalls. Estimates for the cost of expanded MO HealthNet, which would add about 230,000 adults to the state's Medicaid program, range wildly. Opponents to expansion said it will add $200 million annually to a program cost that is already at $12 billion. Supporters said it will save billions of dollars in the long run and create thousands of jobs every year.
Amendment 2, like several significant issues over the past few years, came about through the initiative process.
Candidates were divided on Missouri's initiative process. Three of them said they have concerns about the relative ease with which petitions are put on ballots.
"The voice of the people needs to be heard as a counterbalance to — rather than a supplanting of — legislation by duly elected officials," Lisa Thomas said. "Without some constraint on the ease of completing the initiative process, there is a risk of ever increasing numbers of petitions, which undermines the very nature of our form of government."
She said a step may be to require more signatures for a petition.
"It is too easy to change our laws and/or state Constitution," Hagedorn said.
The idea, he said, is for residents to have direct access to, and influence on, how Missouri is governed. But the initiative process gives influence to special interest groups. The process "needs reconsideration," he said.
The process is "just about right," Lauderdale said, "but I'd like to see the signature requirements boosted up to where all congressional districts must meet the current threshold of signatures. In this way, we make sure we get all regions of the state's input to put things to vote statewide."
Mowinski said voters have the right to express their interests, while Benny Earl Thomas said no change is necessary in the initiative process.
Regarding recent civil unrest, Hagedorn said defunding police is not the answer.
"Common sense measures must be implemented to address these issues," Hagedorn said. He said a proposed bill for the next legislative session would look at police reform and abuse of force.
"The Legislature should make sure law enforcement has the tools to protect businesses from destruction," Lauderdale said. "I'd also like to see the Legislature make moves for criminal justice reform that can cool tensions between the citizens and police."
Lisa Thomas said law and order should be paramount.
"Peaceful protest, productive discussion and respect for all parties involved are the way to strengthen common bonds and make changes that will be recognized and honored by all," she said.
Benny Earl Thomas said government should maintain order.