Candidates offer views in State Senate race
Two of the candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the 29th District State Senator squared off in the first local candidate forum in Mt. Vernon on Monday. David Sater, of Cassville, the current state representative for the 68th District, and Taney County Assessor James Strahan answered questions before the area chapter of Leaders Lead Locally at the Mt. Vernon Arts and Recreation Center (the Marc).
The format of the forum offered a series of questions to each candidate, two opportunities for the candidates to question each other, several questions from the audience and closing statements. Jeff Meredith, the new Monett Chamber of Commerce executive director, served as moderator.
Jim Strafuss, the third Republican candidate, accepted the invitation but did not appear, due to a scheduling conflict.
The candidates were asked to describe the difficult issues in the district. Sater, who won the coin toss and the right to begin, said the Supreme Court ruling taking away local sales tax on vehicle purchases has emerged as a major issue with considerable cost to Barry County. Good roads and not raising individual income taxes to balance the state budget, reducing government regulations and fully funding the state Foundation Formula for public education were other main concerns, according to Sater.
Strahan said his main interest was keeping jobs in the district, despite government interference. Passing legislation to ensure respect for veterans and supporting education, such as vocational training available in Taney County through Ozarks Technical College, were his priorities.
Strahan considered funding education to be crucial. He disagreed with the approach that reduces funding to schools, thus taking money away from children, as a way of punishing teachers who perform poorly.
Sater said the Missouri General Assembly passed 100 bills this year, out of which around 15 dealt with appropriations. Two of his four bills passed and are expected to be signed by Governor Jay Nixon.
Sater hoped to reintroduce a bill that would keep medical volunteers from being sued except for willful misconduct as a way to help clinics in under-served areas. He also wanted to tie the tourism advertising budget to the tobacco settlement money. Lawmakers in the current session battled to get funding back to last year's $13 million level, which is down from the $30 million level Sater saw in his freshman year in the House.
Strahan questioned the limits of Sater's proposal that would keep government from telling pharmacies which products to sell. Strahan expressed concern the bill would overrule local counties restricting the sale of products used in making methamphetamine.
Sater said his bill was a pro-life bill aimed at the ramifications of the federal healthcare legislation. He did not want to see pharmacies forced to sell birth control drugs that the pharmacist found objectionable, such as Plan B. Sater said refusing to sell a product and being forced to sell one were different issues.
Sater asked how Strahan would correct the inequities in school funding. Strahan responded the system was broken because federal standards were extreme and took control away from teachers. He blamed the state's reduction in funds to county assessors for the reduction in school revenues.
Asked what could be done to create jobs, Sater said 90 percent of jobs are created by small businesses. To help the process, the state has given tax incentives to keep Missouri equal with neighboring states. He cautioned against the influence of outside lobbyists, such as those who pushed for the Proposition B regulations of animal breeders, funded by out-of-state interests.
Strahan voiced oppositions to tax increment financing (TIFs) and community improvement districts (CIDs) as government interference. He said use of these financing tools unfairly helped districts on the outside of towns develop, to the detriment of downtowns.
Strahan strongly opposed the way the proposed racetrack in Taney County was stopped. He criticized the Missouri Department of Transportation for placing the burden for building supporting roads on the developer when such roads should have been built by the state over the preceding decade.
The candidates were asked for their views on fixing education funding, where the expense has tripled and student performance has declined.
"Our public school system is the best in the world," Sater said.
Improvement can come from schools concentrating on less frivolous things, such as the size of the football stadium, Sater said. One change he supported was paying teachers more for better performance. Sater backed legislation that would allow schools forced to reduce staff to use performance and not longevity as a standard.
Strahan said successful schools should be the model to follow, not government standards. If elected, Strahan said he would find a way to equalize state funding of around $5,000 per student to rural schools and $15,000 to Kansas City and St. Louis schools.
Sater said the Foundation Formula had not been fully funded because of a lack of money. To meet the constitutional mandate of a balanced budget, legislators previously cut funding to Medicaid, which the new federal healthcare law will not allow. Consequently, funding was cut to higher education by 5 percent to find a balance. The imbalance between rural and urban school funding, he said, was a result of competing urban and rural interests in the state.
Sater asked Strahan how to fix the second injury fund, which was created to help injured World War II veterans find equity in the workplace. Strahan said efforts bankrupting the fund sounded to him like lobbyists for insurance companies pushing their responsibility to pay back on the government.
In conclusion, Sater said in his eight years in the House, he had good relations with the party leadership and had served as a committee chairman for seven years. His experience in business and in the legislature would enable him to get things done for the 29th District.
Strahan said his participation in the Missouri Association of Counties for 11 years showed he could craft legislation with a bi-partisan body.
"I'm in it for the people," Strahan said.