BOWLING GREEN—Four of the candidates running for the 40th District state representative position, were on hand to answer questions from the media and the audience during the first of a set of forums Wednesday.
Speaking were candidates Chad Perkins, Heather Dodd, Woodrow Polston and Ron Staggs. A fifth candidate, Tommy Schultz, was unable to make this forum.
The forum was held in the third floor courtroom inside the Pike County Courthouse.
After brief introductions, moderator Brent Engle, asked the questions, giving 2 minutes for each candidate to respond. The candidates were instructed not to respond to or interrupt the other speakers during the forum.
The candidates were asked if they thought the reopening of Missouri was premature, and what, if anything, they would have done differently.
All of the candidates said they did not think the state was opened too soon. One thought the reopening because of the impact from COVID-19 was not a moment too soon.
Dodd said she had seen the impact on families because of everything being shutdown. “I don’t know who said if first, but you cannot allow the solution to become the bigger problem than the issue.” She also noted that the virus is very real and is not going to go away, “but we still have to function and we still have to feed our families.”
Staggs, as a county commissioner, said the commissioners are charged with public safety. What he found was an unfair treatment between what was deemed essential or non-essential businesses when the state mandated closures. He said he thought there was too much government regulation in this area.
Polston said he understood the caution taken when the state was closed, but as time went on, he realized things were not as bad as thought here in Missouri, so believed the state could have opened sooner then planned.
Perkins noted that Missouri is a large and complex state, and what might work in one part, say the large cities, might not work in other areas, such as the smaller rural towns.
“When the governor decided to open the state up, I had no objections,” he said, adding that it should be up to the local jurisdictions to decide on how much they should open up.
The next question had to do with state economic incentives for smaller businesses.
Staggs said the state should give incentives to the agricultural community and slaughter plants. The incentives, he believes, help create jobs at the local level.
Polston was also in favor of incentives. His town of Louisiana has an abundance of opportunities for businesses to grow, he said, but was falling flat because of the lack of incentives and lower taxes.
Perkins said he believes that the tax cuts that benefit every person and business would be fine with him.
Dodd said she would need more information on the types of incentives and would want to know whom those incentives benefit, along with feedback from local farmers.
The next question dealt with the recent bill on violent crime signed into law by the governor. Supporters of the bill say it provides needed protection, although opponents say it goes too far. Polston said he agreed with the language of the bill.
Perkins, who has been in law enforcement for 20 years, said that although he doesn’t think the bill goes to far, he would like to see the governor address the parole and mental health issues that are affecting how many people are incarcerated in Missouri prisons.
Dodd said she knows that Parson is former law enforcement and would support his bill at this time, even though she has not read the bill, word for word. She said she trusts the governor’s decision making.
Staggs said he had read the bill, but believes the basic interest of all people must be addressed, and he says that starts with good education, good housing and good health care. Having people with good moral standards would go a long way to reduce violent crime. Bills, such as the one the governor passed, he said do little to address the causes of crime.
As a state lawmaker, Engel asked, how would the candidates respond to riots in Missouri?
Perkins said such a response would fall under the purview of the executive branch of the state government.
Dodd said that the legislators should take a look at what is going on with the rioting, as it affects the destruction of property and history. She believes it’s OK for people to protest to talk about the issues, but it’s not appropriate to destroy property as part of that protest.
Staggs said he believes in the right of the people to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. “But when you start to break the law and destroy government and public property, we cannot tolerate that,” he added.
Polston said he is a man of action. And although he understands that the legislature doesn’t have the authority to take action when it comes to riots, he would “bloody his knuckles” banging on the right doors to get something done.
One of the members of the audience wanted to know if the candidates were for or against the right to work issue.
Dodd said, she does not agree with the bill 100 percent, as it is written. “I understand why it did not pass.”
Staggs said he doesn’t believe an employee should have to pay dues to a union that goes against what he or she believes.
Polston said he’s worked at factories and corporations and has seen the best and worst of both sides.
“In order to get a good paying job, you shouldn’t have to necessarily join a union,” he added.
Perkins pointed to the great seal of Missouri and read the Latin motto: “The will of the people shall be the supreme law.’” He noted that two years ago, the people of Missouri and the 6th District voted down the initiative by a wide margin, and as a representative of the people, he would abide by their will.
The next issue had to do with the non-discrimination act, which covers LGBTQ residents. Engle asked for the candidates’ view on the act.
Staggs didn’t like the fact that the bill opens up Christians or other religious people to lawsuits because they made a business choice not serve someone with a different lifestyle.
“If it’s against your religious conscience, you should not have to cater to them,” he said.
Polston said he believes the bill infringes on the people’s First Amendment right in regards to religious freedom.
Perkins said he believes that being LGBTQ is not a choice, but added that a business should have the right to choose with whom it does business.
Dodd noted compared this issue to a time in history when some people said it was their religious beliefs that didn’t allow them to do business with “people of color or with women.” She said she would hope that everyone had learned from that history not to discriminate regardless of our backgrounds.
Because COVID-19 hit the state fairly hard, Engle asked the candidates what they would do to raise additional revenue, be it through taxes or other means.
Polston said he did not favor raising taxes, instead looked toward the proper allocation of resources currently available. It’s all about budgeting, and spending the money the state collects properly.
Perkins did not think taking on extra sales tax would help most Missourians, because the people who are at the lowest end of the income scale would be shouldering most of the burden by paying this type of tax.
Dodd she was unsure about what it would take for the state to recover from COVID-19, but she would consult with the experts to find out what might work best for the people.
Staggs said he believes the state tends to over regulate businesses. By cutting back on some of those regulations, he added, it would help to reduce the costs to consumers.
A few of the candidates, when reached after the forum, said they thought it was well moderated and gave them ample time to air their platforms for the voters who came to listen. About 35 people showed up to listen the candidates. Two more forums were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday this week.