The Examiner sent a questionnaire to each of the three candidates in next Tuesday’s special election in District 8 of the Missouri Senate.
The candidates are Republican Mike Cierpiot, Democrat Hillary Shields and independent Jacob Turk, all of Lee’s Summit.
The district includes Blue Springs, Grain Valley and much of Lee’s Summit. Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican from Lee’s Summit, held the seat for six and a half years, and then resigned at the end of July to take a seat on the State Tax Commission. The winner next Tuesday will serve the final year of Kraus’ term.
Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Shields is a paralegal at the Polsinelli law firm in Kansas City. She is a cofounder of Indivisible KC, which has addressed issues such as health care, education and economic fairness.
Cierpiot, a retired AT&T network engineer, is in his fourth term in the Missouri House of Representatives. He is the House majority floor leader.
Turk, a former Marine, started and ran a software business and then worked for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners as a programmer and analyst. He has run several times as a Republican against Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, most recently in 2016.
The Examiner posed five questions and asked candidates to hold their answers to 100 or fewer words. By and large, they did. The questionnaire:
1. How can the General Assembly best address the creation of more good-paying jobs and raise Missouri's median wage?
Cierpiot: I fought to give Missourians their first income tax cut in 100 years because I believe Missourians should be able to keep more of what they earn. Investing in our working families will grow our economy and create more jobs.
Shields: We need to invest in our infrastructure and our people if we want to attract businesses and create good-paying jobs. It’s time to bring high-speed Internet to our rural Missouri communities like the one where I grew up. It’s time to fix our crumbling roads and bridges. And it’s time to fully fund our public schools, both at the K-12 and college/university level. This is what our businesses, large and small, really need to succeed: high-quality infrastructure and an educated workforce.
Turk: Most jobs in our state economy come from small businesses. Freeing our job creators, the mom-and-pop small businesses, from state government regulatory burdens would boost their ability to expand and hire more people. I know this from personally speaking to over 1,600 individual small business owners in the last two years. Their complaints were less about legislation and more with dealing with folks in the state bureaucracy who did not understand their struggles. I will serve them by being an advocate for small business so they can create more good-paying jobs our family, friends and neighbors need.
2. Missouri has dozens of tax credits to promote a wide variety of causes and has a wide variety of special-interest tax breaks. Should the General Assembly comprehensively review those with an eye toward reducing at least some of them?
Cierpiot: Yes! I have supported numerous reforms to ensure that the investment of tax dollars into incentive efforts has generated a return on investment for taxpayers.
Shields: Lack of leadership in Jefferson City has left our state in a budget crisis. Seniors are facing cuts to prescription-drug coverage and in-home care. Many public schools are going four days a week because they can’t afford to go five. We must eliminate loopholes that benefit millionaires at the expense of working families. One example is the timely-filing discount, which allows companies like Wal-Mart to keep part of the sales tax they collect if they pay it to the state on time. Regular families don’t get a bonus for paying their taxes on time. Why should Wal-Mart?
Turk: Yes. Those tax credits need to be reviewed. I will listen to and represent the folks in this district to get their input on which tax credits are important to them. Some credits are special-interest driven, others are broader and have appeal to most folks. It is the people's money being used, so I believe their say trumps special interests every time.
3. Would you support going to the voters with a comprehensive plan to address and pay for upgrades to Missouri's roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure?
Cierpiot: Government must do more with less. A tax increase is not the answer. I support realigning our priorities to ensure that we are making investments in our roads.
Shields: The state of our roads and bridges in Missouri is shameful. Short-sighted policies by irresponsible politicians in Jefferson City have our infrastructure crumbling. It’s time to work together to find real, long-term solutions to these issues. But nothing will change if we keep sending the same people to the legislature who have failed for years to address these issues.
Turk: Yes, but for roads and bridges only. Surprisingly, incumbent Representative Cierpiot said he thinks Missouri roads are fine. When establishment politicians siphoned off casino money from education, the establishment showed we cannot trust them to spend our money as promised. Folks have told me they will vote for a gasoline tax increase IF – and only if – that money will only be used to fix roads and bridges. I support letting the people of the state say how they want to pay to keep their roads and bridges safe and drivable for those they love.
4. Now that Obamacare appears to be in place for the long term, should the General Assembly in 2018 consider expanding Medicaid? Why or why not?
Cierpiot: Expanding Obamacare in Missouri is not the answer. We need to re-establish free-market principles to create competition, drive down cost, increase choice, and expand interstate health-care opportunities.
Shields: Republicans in Jefferson City need to stop playing politics with people’s lives and livelihoods and do the right thing by finally expanding Medicaid. It’s time to bring Missouri taxpayer dollars back to Missouri, where they will create thousands of good-paying jobs, strengthen our rural hospitals and expand access to care for hardworking people. It’s a win-win for our state.
Turk: No, because we need a system where Missourians get health care they can afford to use instead of just an insurance card to carry. Many physicians dropped out of Medicaid, so many sick people are not able to get the care they need. The thousands of Missourians I have personally visited with favor the “no turndowns/no rate-ups” aspect of Obamacare and having a sliding scale assistance for those who can't afford full premiums, but not the rest of the ACA. Let's start by addressing those two pressing issues.
5. What steps should the General Assembly take to raise the standards for K-12 schools and better prepare students for coping in the world economy?
Cierpiot: I am proud to have led the fight to fully fund our K-12 schools for the first time in Missouri’s history. I'll continue to work to give our schools the resources they need and support reforms to ensure our tax dollars are being spent wisely and our children are getting the education they deserve.
Shields: We need to invest in our public schools. I’m proud to be the product of Missouri public schools and to have the endorsement of the Missouri National Education Association. I want kids today to have the same opportunities I did. Unlike my Republican opponents, I don’t think that privatizing our public education system is the solution. I oppose charter schools and private-school vouchers, which will drain resources from our traditional public schools.
Turk: Education includes all of our children, whether they are schooled at home, in public or private schools. Parents know what educational path is best for their child, and I support each parent's right to make that choice. Literacy is the biggest factor in a person's future opportunities, so in K-12 I'd like to see more emphasis on reading and writing. Secondly, critical decision-making is a key factor in making wise choices as adults. Many schools teach for specific workforce outcomes and shaping culture rather than educating children to maximize their potential to choose their path according to interest, gifting and calling.