Former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth said it pretty well last month.
Speaking of the GOP primary election for governor, the Republican noted that candidates these days are skirting a whole series of big issues and instead are focusing on concerns that matter mostly to a far-right sliver of the electorate.
That means a heavy dose of abortion, guns and terrorism, he told Tony Messenger at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Building roads, improving education, creating jobs,” Danforth said. “That’s all so much piffle.”
Well, let’s make sure the general-election race to succeed Gov. Jay Nixon doesn’t fall into the same trap. Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens must address the big, meaty, complex issues that confront this state these days.
What follows is “The Big Six,” a handy-dandy list of six big concerns. Come November, you owe it to yourself to make sure that Greitens and Koster have addressed each.
1. Infrastructure and the rebuilding of Interstate 70. The state needs new bridges. It needs to maintain its roads and state buildings. The rebuilding of I-70 is overdue. It’s a multi-billion proposition with all manner of high-tech options. Think “self-healing” concrete that produces bacteria that fills in roadway cracks. Tolls? Kansas has been there for decades with great success, and Missouri should consider them.
There’s so much to consider here. Lawmakers this year rejected a 6-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax boost for highways. Greitens and Koster need to tell us if that was a good idea.
Meantime, Auditor Nicole Galloway just identified a maintenance backlog of nearly $600 million in state facilities.
The candidates should tell us where that money is going to come from and whether General Assembly-passed tax cuts still make sense in light of all this need.
2. Education funding. Koster and Gov. Jay Nixon have sparred of late over education funding, with Nixon insisting that Missouri is spending record amounts on its schools. And he’s right. What he’s not saying is that record funding still falls short of what’s called for in the state school funding formula.
Nixon’s budget last year recommended an $85 million increase in funding for the formula. That still would have left the formula underfunded by $424 million. Are Koster and Greitens committed to filling that gap?
3. Race relations. Events in Ferguson and across the nation in recent months suggest so much work yet to be done. Greitens and Koster are trading jabs over Ferguson and who was where when. That won’t cut it. What steps would each man take to improve race relations, especially in the two big metro areas?
4. The Missouri Ethics Commission. Each man is talking about improving the “wild, wild West” image the state has so richly earned for its wide open campaign laws. One aspect of this not getting much attention is the extra investigators and authority the state’s Ethics Commission needs to safeguard Missouri politics. The General Assembly fears that a commission with power might actually go after some of its wayward members. But that’s a threat that would keep lawmakers in line.
5. The number of murders in St. Louis and Kansas City is out of control. Kansas City, for example, stood at 73 murders for the year earlier this week compared with 55 last year. What’s your plan, Mr. Koster and Mr. Greitens?
And while you’re at it, a related concern: jobs in the inner cities. How would each of you stimulate job growth in the parts of our state where so many business owners are hesitant to go?
6. Public defender funding. Nixon recently embarrassed the state public defender system chief when he won a stare-down over whether he should be required to take a case himself. But no one can deny that the system still faces enormous funding challenges despite Nixon’s attempts to stabilize the system. Is that a priority for Koster and Greitens?
There are other issues. But let’s not let this election go by without a serious debate over these six.
None of this is piffle.