Voters in eastern Jackson County will choose among three candidates on Tuesday to represent them in the Missouri Senate.
Republican Mike Cierpiot, 64, is a four-term state representative and a retired operator for Southwestern Bell.
Democrat Hillary Shields, 33, is a paralegal and co-founder of the group Indivisible Kansas City who has never before sought public office.
Independent Jacob Turk, 61, is a veteran and business owner who ran unsuccessfully for Congress six times as a Republican against Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
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All three live in Lee’s Summit and are vying for the Senate seat left vacant when Republican Sen. Will Kraus resigned earlier this year to take a job on the state tax commission. The district has been a Republican stronghold for years, but Turk’s entrance into the race has put the seat up for grabs.
Here’s where the three candidates stand on a variety of issues:
Cierpiot said his goal is to pass legislation that doesn’t alarm “successful suburban school districts, but gives hope to kids in districts that are not doing well.” Specifically, he is concerned with poor performing schools in St. Louis and Kansas City.
He supports the expansion of charter schools because “in some cases they are the only educational opportunity a lot of these students might have.”
Turk said he supports putting education decisions in the hands of parents and allowing them to send their children to public schools, charter schools, religious or secular private schools, or educate them at home. He supports charter expansion, education savings accounts, and tuition vouchers to attend private schools.
“Parents realize what’s best for their child,” he said.
Shields vehemently opposes charter expansion or any use of public funds for private schools. She said the focus must be on fully funding the state’s public education system.
“We’ve got to invest in our kids,” she said. “They are the future of our state, and they aren’t getting the resources that they need.”
Shields said state lawmakers must make it a priority to restore cuts they made earlier this year to prescription drug assistance for low-income seniors and to in-home care for the disabled. She also supports expansion of Medicaid eligibility, which she says would provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income Missourians while injecting millions of federal dollars into the state’s economy.
Currently, to be eligible for Medicaid in Missouri, a non-elderly adult must have a dependent child and can earn no more than 19 percent of the poverty level, or roughly $3,800 for a single mother with two children.
Both Cierpiot and Turk oppose Medicaid expansion.
Turk said the focus should be on providing “the best health care, rather than just providing an insurance card that isn’t actually providing them with health care.” He suggests allowing small businesses and individuals to pool together to buy private insurance.
Cierpiot said growing Medicaid spending in Missouri is having a detrimental impact on every other aspect of the state budget. But state lawmakers’ hands are largely tied, he said, because Medicaid is a federal program.
“Health care in this country is so federally controlled that it’s difficult for us to make substantial changes without Washington getting something done,” he said.
Turk said Missouri voters made it clear they wanted to reduce money’s influence on state politics last year when they overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment enacting campaign contribution limits. He said he supports those limits and wants to see tougher rules to enforce transparency in the system, such as a mandate that large donors to political nonprofits be disclosed.
He also favors a complete ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
“All this money flows in, and the people providing all that money have a loud voice in the ear of our legislature,” he said. “The voice of the rest of us, the majority, gets really, really tiny in their ears. We lose our ability to influence our legislators.”
Shields also supports mandating disclosure of large donors to political nonprofits and eliminating lobbyist gifts.
“We’re naive if we think all this money isn’t going to impact the way legislators act,” Shields said.
Cierpiot has raised and spent far more money than either of his opponents. He says contribution limits have adversely impacted transparency in the campaign finance system. He said he supports a ban on lawmakers accepting gifts from lobbyists because there is a public perception that gifts are impacting policy.
“We have to clean that up,” he said.
Roads and bridges
For years, state transportation officials publicly worried that funding to repair thousands of miles of run-down highways and bridges is falling short.
Cierpiot said the state has done a great job maintaining transportation infrastructure. In the short term, he said, state bonds about to be paid off could free up money to help road and bridge funding. In the long term, he said, voters will have to be convinced that the gasoline tax should be increased, something he doesn’t think will happen any time soon.
Shields said putting more money into the state’s infrastructure must be prioritized before it’s too late. Crumbling roads hurt the economy and working families who rely on the roads every day. It’s an investment in the state, she said, that will pay off in the long run.
Turk said the gas tax must be increased, but it can’t be until lawmakers ensure the money will only be spent on roads and bridges, not things like mass transit or bike trails. Citizens want high-quality roads, he said, and they’ll be willing to pay for them if they trust government to spend the money as promised.