The Republican candidates for Missouri House District 62 include a man who grew up in the auto industry, Chris Beyer; a veteran, former mayor and retired funeral director, Bruce Sassmann; and a business owner, Tom Reed.
The candidates are vying for the seat held by Tom Hurst, R-Meta, who is prevented from running again because of term limits. The winner of the Aug. 4 Republican primary will face Nancy J. Ragan, a Vienna Democrat, in the November general election.
Because of its rural makeup, District 62 is geographically among the largest districts in Central Missouri, touching on seven counties. It takes up the southeastern corner of Cole County, southern Osage and Gasconade counties, the northeastern corner of Miller County, all of Maries County, and the extreme northwestern corners of Phelps and Crawford counties.
Reed, of Owensville, said he found the state response to the COVID-19 pandemic to be confusing. Reed would not have asked small businesses to close when Walmart and other big box stores stayed open, he said. And he believes it was unfair to give people receiving unemployment $600 when people who continued to work did not receive that money.
He described the steps as "the dumbest thing I've ever seen" and said a business owner should never have to face a situation like that.
Beyer, a Linn resident, said Gov. Mike Parson has done a commendable job of navigating the state through the pandemic.
The state did well by allowing local governments to determine their own actions, he said. And Beyer believes it is the responsibility of individuals to make wise decisions and take precautions.
State closures and government overreach during early months of the COVID-19 pandemic hurt businesses across Missouri, said Sassmann, of Bland.
"I'm glad the governor reopened the state," Sassmann said. "We can practice safety without the side effect of economic ruin."
On Aug. 4, voters will be asked to decide on Amendment 2, which would expand Medicaid in Missouri to about 230,000 adults who earn less than 138 percent of the poverty level. As an incentive to states, the federal government is paying 90 percent of the cost of people added to Medicaid.
Supporters of the measure said it would create jobs, make the state healthier and save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Opponents said it would add able-bodied adults to MO HealthNet (Missouri's Medicaid program) and cost about $200 million annually.
Sassmann said although the Legislature won't have any say in what voters decide on Medicaid, he is concerned about the outcome.
"I am always hesitant at any effort to make government bigger," Sassmann said.
Money spent on expansion is money that otherwise would go toward education or workforce development, Reed said. Nothing is free, he said. And he's afraid people would be less inclined to work if they had free health care.
Beyer said he's concerned the federal government will discontinue its support of Medicaid. And if the U.S. government discontinues funding, the state will be left holding the bag, he said.
"Missourians will be saddled with $300 million or more, which is going to impact funding for our schools and roads, unless we raise taxes," Beyer said. "I am firmly against raising taxes and signed a pledge to prove it."
Another issue that has arisen ahead of the primary election is civil unrest across the nation that came about after the deaths of several Black people at the hands of law enforcement officers.
The Legislature should arrange a way, Reed said, to make it known that it sides with the executive branch of the state to pursue wrongdoers and "prosecute if you block highways, tear down statues, burn buildings and destroy personal property," he said. He added he would "propose new laws that would make this a felony."
The United States is a nation built on laws, not "mob rule," Sassmann said. "While I can sympathize with the frustrations that stem from specific cases of injustice, that doesn't mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. Ideas like defunding our police would create more victims, not less," he continued.
Missouri has not been an exception to the nationwide unrest, Beyer said. But it certainly manifested itself differently in Linn than in St. Louis, he continued.
"The tricky part with a lot of these matters is they need to be handled at a local level," Beyer said. "I'm from Linn. I don't know everything St. Louis needs to fix, and they certainly don't know what Linn needs."
If the state were to step in, it should strengthen penalties for rioting, looting and destruction of property, Beyer said. And it should support local law enforcement agencies and provide them with training and resources.