While they largely agree on a number of issues – at least from the questions posed Tuesday evening – the three Democratic candidates for the 21st District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives offer varying occupational backgrounds they say make them the best candidate for office.
Dan O'Neill, Holmes Osborne and Robert Sauls are vying for the seat held by Democrat Ira Anders, who is finishing his fourth and final term. With no Republican candidates, the winner of the Aug. 7 primary will succeed Anders and represent the district that includes much of Independence, from west of the Square, east to Susquehanna and south to almost Centerpoint Medical Center.
O'Neill is a longtime real estate broker, Osborne a financial analyst who twice ran for the Missouri House in District 53 and Sauls is a Jackson County prosecutor and Air Force veteran. They answered questions for a crowd of a couple dozen at Tuesday's candidates forum at the Mid-Continent Public Library North Independence Branch, sponsored by the Independence Chamber of Commerce. Jim Staley of MCPL moderated the event.
O'Neill said he's upset with the current polarization of politics and emphasized the need to be serving people instead of fussing and fighting. Through his Realtors association, he has gained good insight on legislation and the legislative process, he said.
“The key word here is civility,” O'Neill said about finding compromises in a Republican-controlled legislature. “I know I'm going to have to cooperate; I know I'm going to have to negotiate. That's what I do for my customers.”
O'Neill said he aims to model the plainspoken public service of Harry Truman.
“He was an ordinary fellow who did extraordinary things,” O'Neill said. “I want to be your public servant.”
Osborne lost in the primary election in 2010 and then lost to state Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer of Odessa in the 2012 general election. He said his intimate knowledge of financing and investment would be valuable in Jefferson City, as the state has been falling behind some its neighbors with development.
“We have to look at how management looks at things,” he said about attracting and growing businesses.
To help bring compromise, he said, voters need to be more educated on issues and candidates and lawmakers need to make fighting poverty a top priority.
“It should be…and it's not,” he said.
Sauls said he learned from his mother, a single parent, the importance of hard work and standing up for others. Treating the other political side more humanely, he said, can go a long away, and his knowledge of the law and negotiating skills are something lacking too much in the General Assembly.
“I'd like to be the voice of the community,” Sauls said. “Thinking of each other with respect is the starting point.”
“I have a love-hate relationship with politics. I love what it can become with helping others but hate what it is. If we actually work together there's nothing we can't accomplish.”
Among the issues all three candidates agree on: passing the Nondiscrimination Act for LGBT protection; pushing to have more non-violent drug offenders to drug court and rehabilitation rather than potential further harm in jail; establishing a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (like every other state); revisiting the use tax statewide; capping payday loan rates; opposing Proposition A (“Right to Work”) that will be on the August ballot; and accepting the federal money for Medicaid expansion.
Regarding medicinal and recreational marijuana, Osborne said Missouri is ready for the former but not the latter. O'Neill said constituents he's talked to favor allowing medicinal but not recreational.
“You do it to keep up with the times,” Osborne said.
Sauls said he favors medicinal marijuana, with proper licensing and keeping it away from children, but his current job leads him to shy away from speaking about recreational use.
Osborne said not passing the Nondiscrimination Act could eventually discourage business development in the state. With non-violent drug offenders, Sauls said Jackson County's drug court program has been one of the state's best because of testing frequency and he would like to implement something similar statewide. O'Neill said lack of education with the voting public led to recent local use taxes being voted down.
When asked about TIFs (tax increment financing plans), O'Neill and Sauls noted they can be helpful, but government bodies need to be careful with them to avoid potential budget pitfalls, while Osborne said he would be “very leery” because of entities that miss out on tax revenue and that the metro region should negotiate from a position of strength.
“There's people to spend money,” he said. “If retailers want to come here, they can pay for it.”
On the proposed gas tax hike for state highway funding, O'Neill said it's necessary to rebuild Interstate 70, which needs to be done soon. If not that, he would explore an increase in commercial license or driver's license fees.
“I hate taxes, but I know it's necessary for services,” he said. “People are worried about bridges, but it won't matter if you don't fix I-70.”
Sauls said a fuel tax would be too regressive, and he would prefer to consider a toll road between the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas. Thinking outside the box, he suggested the state could explore roads of recycled plastic material, something that is catching on overseas.
Osborne favors the gas tax to help make I-70 three lanes, but that would be just a temporary reprieve due to fuel efficiencies, he said. He would prefer entrance tolls at the borders, as a toll road would be hard on rural counties. In the future, Osborne said, he would like to see weight and frequency-based road fees emanating from the federal level.