If nothing else, next month's special election for the Missouri Senate District 8 seat has captured people's interest.
Organizers for Wednesday's candidates forum at John Knox Village in Lee's Summit set up 100 chairs in the Ambassador Room, and at least that many people were standing around the filled seats to hear from a trio of candidates vying to fill the seat vacated by Will Kraus' appointment to the state tax commission.
Republican Mike Cierpiot, who is in his fourth term in the Missouri House and serves as majority leader, faces Democratic newcomer Hillary Shields and Jacob Turk, who has run unsuccessfully as a Republican several times for Congress and garnered just enough signatures to run as an independent. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and moderated by KCUR's Brian Ellison.
Senate District 8 includes all or parts of Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Greenwood, Independence, Lee's Summit, Lone Jack and Sibley.
Cierpiot, a retired Southwestern Bell executive, said he aims to keep Eastern Jackson County strengths going, with good communities and schools.
“A good job cures many failings,” he said, and good jobs come from a healthy business environment, he added in closing.
Shields said she got involved in politics after last year's election to be a voice for “regular people” and making them feel “they have that seat at the table” instead of big-money interests. She said she would provide a “fresh vision” compared to her opponents.
Turk appealed to voters' knowledge of him from previous elections and said he would be a voice of small business owners, having been one himself. He also questioned if Cierpiot could be trusted, given his accusations of Turk teaming with the Democratic Party to get on the ballot. Cierpiot had called Turk a “plant by liberal interests” to divide the conservative-leaning vote after the executive director of the Jackson County Democratic Party helped gather some of Turk's signatures.
On Right to Work, Cierpiot said it can help economic development and hasn't necessarily hurt union membership in states that already have it. The key is to have unions that are liked by their membership. Turk said it can ultimately help business owners and unions, but less regulation can be more effective than legislation to create a better business environment. Shields said Right to Work is wrong and that the state could spur economic development through more support of education and infrastructure.
Infrastructure investment, Shields said, is a basic responsibility and the current leadership “hasn't been willing to step up to the challenge.” Turk said he believes Missourians would prefer a gas tax approach to increase funding for highways, as opposed to the previously attempted sales tax, provided such funds would be locked for just that purpose.
Cierpiot said Interstate 70 needs to be expanded and some road decks need replacing, but overall roads aren't bad and the state does a good job caring for them, he said.
“I don't think most Missourians are convinced it's that big of a problem,” Cierpiot said. A tax to further fund roads could be in the future, he added, “But we're not there yet.”
Neither Cierpiot nor Turk would be in favor of tax increases to deal with perceived revenue shortcomings. Cierpiot said the state needs to make do with what it has, and Turk would look more at reducing tax breaks. Shields said the problems in education, roads and health care make it obvious there is revenue shortage, and she would favor a revised tax code that “works for working families.”
On the subject of raising the minimum wage, Cierpiot said that should be a statewide matter, as letting municipalities decide could cause great complications in metro areas. Turk said a big minimum wage raise would have a ripple effect that destroys small businesses.
Shields favors a city decision if citizens so desire, saying that it's “immoral that there are people who work full-time and live in poverty.”
One issue where all three candidates shared some agreement was to allow some use of medical marijuana. Shields said she has seen how it can help, and Cierpiot said a limited series of specific uses could be feasible. Turk said he would let the voters decide if they're given all the facts, adding that there are various methods to deliver to marijuana's medically helpful components. All three were against allowing recreational use.