Candidates for the state House of Representatives District 60 seat, as one might expect, differ greatly on numerous issues, such as abortion, Amendment 3 and how to curb violent crime in Missouri's largest cities.
The News Tribune sponsored a candidate forum featuring views from the incumbent, Rep. Dave Griffith, a Republican, and his challenger, Joshua Dunne, a Democrat.
Griffith won the seat two years ago. The district includes most of Jefferson City, with the exception of the southeast-most part of the city.
The men began by fielding a question from Cristina Todea, who asked — in light of the Black Lives Matter movement — what kind of legislation or policies each of the men might support regarding institutionalized racism and law enforcement.
Griffith responded that the 100th General Assembly made strides in justice reform, but the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 session.
"As far as Jefferson City goes, we're very blessed with the community we live in," Griffith. "The police department does a very good job."
Training has helped.
"Driving while black" numbers have gone down, he said, referring to the state's annual vehicle stops report.
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"We're opening up a communication between the community and the police department," Griffith continued.
He said community policing, in which officers receive their own beats and build relationships, would help both sides be involved in meaningful conversations.
"This is such an important issue," Dunne responded. "I, like many of you, watched the — roughly — nine-minute video of George Floyd being murdered. It struck me to the core."
The video brought to the forefront so many issues that white males like Dunne take for granted, he said.
The Black Lives Matter activists want the same respect and dignity that white people take for granted.
Both candidates talked about how important it is for officers to receive de-escalation training, for when they encounter people in crises.
"Right now, our system seems to be overpolicing," Dunne said. "Which has been proven not to stop violent crime."
It may encourage more systematic racism and injustice, he said.
The state legislature and Gov. Mike Parson "continue to use prejudicial statements, and sometimes racist dogwhistles to foster an us versus them mentality between the minority population and rural white America, rural white Missouri," Dunne said.
The community has to change its language, he said.
Another submitted question, this one from Patsy Johnson, asked whether lawmakers should have the right to make decisions in women's health, specifically, whether they should have the right to choose to have an abortion.
Dunne said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision has been that a woman has the right to choose.
"I as a white male cannot begin to understand the magnitude of a decision like that," he said. "Therefore, I should not be trying to legislate that."
"I am a pro-life candidate," Griffith countered. "I believe that life begins at conception. I believe that we have got to take care of the baby."
Griffith said he's the voice for an unborn child.
He said the state has to provide alternative options for women who want to have a baby. Many people are looking to adopt, he said.
Dunne rebutted, saying Griffith's party isn't pro-life, but is pro-birth. If someone is pro-life, they have to continue to support that baby even after it is born, through tools like Medicaid expansion.
Asked about the legislation that put Amendment 3 on the November ballot (to modify part of Clean Missouri), Griffith pointed out that he voted twice against the legislation because more than 60 percent of his constituents had voted in favor of Clean Missouri.
However, he said Amendment 3 is a good thing.
"When we get into the inner city, in St. Louis and Kansas City, if we look at redistricting — if we want to redistrict those areas — the black community is going to be disenfranchised," Griffith said. "They're going to lose their representation."
He warned that redistricting would create "spaghetti districts," and one might run along a thin line from St. Louis to Columbia.
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Dunne called Amendment 3 "Dirty Missouri." He said the amendment is an effort by the supermajority to prevent it from losing power in Jefferson City.
"Amendment 3 will lead to the worst gerrymandering the United States has seen since the Jim Crow era," Dunne said. "It's allowing the state Legislature, elected officials, to choose their voters, instead of letting voters choose them."
The candidates said it's embarrassing Missouri's state employees are the lowest-paid in the nation. Griffith pointed out that lawmakers were able during his first session to create a 3 percent raise for state employees but said it was a "drop in the bucket" toward what state employees need.
He warned that voters' passage of Medicaid expansion created an unfunded mandate. That mandate, along with economic cuts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, may cause revenue shortages down the road.
"One of the first places they cut is state employees," Griffith said. "We have to have a certain number of employees to run the state of Missouri. Getting them the compensation they deserve is going to be a challenge."
Balancing the budget is also a challenge, he said.
Dunne said Missouri state employee pay has been the lowest in the nation for almost a decade.
"I disagree with him on this key point," Dunne said. "Medicaid expansion is actually a starting point, to where we can get money to fund state worker pay."
Every state that has expanded Medicaid has seen an increase in their budget revenue or a 'net zero,' he said.
That money can be used to increase worker pay, he said.
Griffith argued one need only look to Arkansas to see a state that is having second thoughts about having expanded Medicaid.