Incumbent Republican Mike Cierpiot, Democrat Hillary Shields and Republican Leonard Hughes IV shared their stances on various issues Thursday night at John Knox Village.
The panel, hosted by League of Women Voters, asked the Senate District 8 candidates about several topics, including a right-to-work measure, campaign finances, and school funding.
Cierpiot defeated Shields last year in a special election to fill an empty seat in District 8, which includes Blue Springs, Grain Valley and much of Lee’s Summit. On Aug. 7, Cierpiot faces Hughes in the Republican primary. The winner faces Shields on Nov. 6. Senators serve terms of four years.
Regarding right to work, a ballot issue next month to reduce the role of unions, Cierpiot expressed support, while Hughes and Shields vowed to vote “no.” Cierpiot praised the policy as driving “competitiveness,” citing it as potential motivation for businesses to relocate to the area.
Shields countered, saying it “would hurt families” and highlighted the story of a local citizen: a Blue Springs union autoworker. This became a common theme for Shields, known for her grassroots and door-to-door campaigning.
Hughes also diverged from his fellow Republican, labeling right to work “union-busting” and calling on his own upbringing in a “union household.” Many of his talking points centered on his view of an “American way of life,” which includes unions, families and a commitment to innovation.
The panel also brought up the suggested increased gas tax increase on the ballot in November, an anti-discrimination law for LGBT individuals and the Clean Missouri initiative, aiming to measure how candidates would vote.
Shields and Hughes both championed the idea of a gas tax and mentioned its potential to bring jobs, with Cierpiot disagreeing. While Hughes and Shields called bridges unsafe and noted an abundance of potholes, Cierpiot rebutted these claims and affirmed confidence in the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals also drew debate. Currently, it is legal to fire, evict or refuse to serve someone in Missouri based on their sexual orientation.
In the past, Cierpiot has voted against the anti-discrimination bill that seeks to change this. He stood behind this position, saying the law “would be a burden to employers.” On the other hand, Shields called the state’s lack of legal protections “disgusting” and declared she’d be one of the law’s first sponsors if elected. Hughes was somewhere in the middle, and said a public servant’s job is not to judge or act as a moral guide, despite personal opinion. He noted that “all discrimination is a step back.”
Discussion of the nonpartisan Clean Missouri initiative, which strives to increase transparency in campaign finance, saw the forum’s first mention of controversial former Governor Eric Greitens. Notably, Shields challenged Cierpiot’s past decision to not call on Greitens to resign, stating, “Public servants need to stand up for things that are wrong, even when it’s hard, even when it’s in their own party.” She expressed support for Clean Missouri and the idea of getting corporations out of politics.
Cierpiot defended his decision, responding, “The people of Missouri deserved the chance to see the full legal process.” He elaborated on Clean Missouri as “an awful mess.”
Hughes saw Clean Missouri and the Greitens case as a major sign of what needs to change in politics, namely “huge corporate gifts” and rampant “mudslinging on both sides.”
Another major disagreement arose about public school funding. Cierpiot, who emphasized his Senate experience and the challenges of balancing government budget throughout the panel, said schools have been fairly funded.
Hughes brought up the need for more school funding, specifically in technology and updated textbooks. More pointedly, Shields pleaded with the audience to consider what “fully funded” really means, asking if schools are truly fully funded while teachers are paying for school supplies out of pocket.
Overall, Cierpiot expressed a desire to “keep things the way they are,” criticizing both Hughes and Shields for wanting to implement policies he said would drastically raise taxes.
Hughes stressed innovation and a need for change, frequently alluding to his own shift in political ideology from Democrat to Republican. He summed it up as “leading by showing [his] own willingness to change.”
Shields positioned herself as against “career politicians,” a term both Cierpiot and Hughes took issue with, and superdonors who she says “drown out voters’ voices.”