The Kansas City Star is launching a solutions-focused conversation about some of the most urgent issues facing Missouri. During this election year, influential Missourians will help drive the discussion by offering their insights and policy prescriptions.

Meet the influencers here and read their responses to our first question:

“What is the single biggest challenge our leaders must confront to secure a better future for Missouri?”

Advocates

Scott Charton

Scott Charton

CEO of Charton Communications

The biggest single challenge is restoring faith in the truth that government can do, and indeed does do much good. With multiple undeniable state needs, ranging from critical education funding to transportation and infrastructure, trust in government is a key because Missouri requires voter approval for large tax increases and state constitutional changes.

Keys to restoring trust include total honesty with voters, laying out the unvarnished needs, responsible and sensible solutions, and rock-solid measures of results and accountability. So much flows from restoring trust, which is at an all-time low.

Woody Cozad

Woody Cozad

Founder of the Cozad Company, government relations and former chairman of the Missouri Republican Party

If we want Missouri to have a future, we must improve our schools. And this is no a plea for money. The quality of public education in our state runs the gamut from F to C. Oh, sure, there is a handful (literally, a handful, as in five) of A grades, but producing a couple-hundred well-prepared graduates a year won’t mean much.

To fix education, pre-K to 16, no matter the interest group, you have to flatten to get it done. Fix it or turn out the lights.

Jane Dueker

Jane Dueker

Lawyer, consultant and radio host

The ethical crisis plaguing Missouri is our state’s No. 1 challenge. Without adequate campaign finance reform - which includes cutting off untraceable dark money and Sunshine Law reform, which should include record retention mandates and extend to the legislature - the people of this state have no faith in our government. Only after faith is restored can our elected leaders begin to address the state’s education crisis and complete lack of a plan for transportation, infrastructure and energy.

Patrick A. Dujakovich

Patrick A. Dujakovich

President of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO

The single biggest challenge Missouri’s leaders face is having the ability to lead. Leadership is not about blocking and obstructing or running roughshod over anything previous administrations have done. It’s not about taking the easy way out or pushing the most extreme legislation on the other side. It’s not about blocking access to the government based on party, religion or political contributions.

Both sides have degraded the public trust with petty payback and childish behavior. Good people can’t get confirmed and judges that we’re appointed by previous governors are removed by Senate budget cuts.

Leadership is having a long-range plan that benefits the citizens and builds a better future. Leadership is tough, and leaders are forced to make the difficult decisions that will anger some of the people.

There has always been a distrust of government on some level, but this is a new low, and no one seems to want to offer a plan that actually accomplishes something positive. So that’s the challenge: Lead.

John Fierro

John Fierro

Board member for the Kansas City Missouri School District

The single biggest challenge our leaders face in Missouri is being able to come together around our young people to educate them effectively. Whether it is insufficient funding, lack of early childhood options or the public versus charter school debate — we are constantly having to fight in order to give our children what they need to achieve and succeed in life.

It is imperative that leaders come together around important issues like early childhood expansion and increased education funding. We also need to demand excellent schools in thriving school ecosystems for our students.

It is important that we face these issues head on, and work together toward what matters most: the positive outcomes of kids in Kansas City.

John Hancock

John Hancock

Consultant and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party

Economic growth is erupting all across America, and Missouri is enjoying some of the benefits of this growth. However, job opportunities and entrepreneurial expansion seems to be lacking. Unless Missouri takes advantage of our geographical and natural resource assets, we will miss the greater benefits of a growing economy.

Because St. Louis and Kansas City continue to spar against one another, our state’s urban economies continue to lag behind much of the country. If Missouri could identify a course that unites our two large urban centers in an effort to promote development and growth, we could be at the forefront of American economic stimulation.

When our state maximizes the economic engines of our urban communities working together, we can become a major and growing force in the American economic renewal.

Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael

Director of government accountability for The Show-Me Institute

The greatest challenge is public-private cronyism. That’s because most state and local tax incentives sit out ahead of every other taxpayer priority out there — health care, education, everything.

Think Missouri roads need to be improved? Historic preservation tax credits get paid out first. Want to better fund K-12 schools? Local tax incentives choke away revenue streams from districts. Tax incentive programs have cost state and local governments billions in recent years, and yet public officials can’t rein them in.

Even setting aside the dramatic practical impact these policies have on budgets, the fundamental structure of this system is disturbing on its own. The public is yoked into subsidizing private projects for a handful of private actors, and that may be fine for a politician at a tax-incentivized “ground breaking.” But that’s not so good for the taxpayer whose taxes are higher, roads are worse and education is poorer as a result. It’s time for reform.

CiCi Rojas

CiCi Rojas

Partner and president of Tico Productions LLC and Tico Sports

Although we have many challenges in front of us, I believe a lack of civil discourse is preventing us from solving many important issues. Without a solid middle ground as a foundation for tough discussions, we will waste precious time in solving the most impactful issues in a timely manner. Our leaders of the two political parties continue to be persauded by extreme views, which drive out the many voices of those who are truly committed to realistic policies for the majority of individuals.

We have many credible and successful civic and community leaders in our state, who need to be recruited, encouraged and supported to run for office, so we can begin the process of real consensus building to solve the challenges people across Missouri face.

Roy Temple

Roy Temple

Political strategist and former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party

The Missouri General Assembly is controlled by GOP supermajorities. Many of those legislators are in safe seats, and that leaves many legislators far too focused on the threat of primary challenges from within their party. This can result in misplaced focus on issues and concerns of interest to the base, and too little focus on the basic challenges facing Missouri families.

A continuous focus on divisive social causes makes problem solving related to performing the basic functions of government harder. Endless pursuit of tax cuts to appeal to donors and party elites, while leaving our school and universities underfunded and the problem of deteriorating road and bridges unaddressed, leaves Missouri families frustrated.

Historically, state governments have been able to continue to tackle basic functions while national dysfunction raged. The single biggest challenge leaders must confront to secure a better future for Missouri may very well be avoiding the agendas of narrow special interests and working for a better future for all.

Patrick Tuohey

Patrick Tuohey

Director of municipal policy at The Show-Me Institute

Missouri’s taxes are too numerous, too high and too unfair. That is not to say that all taxes are bad or that some shouldn’t be higher. But taxes, even in the best cases, distort the free market, increase costs and create unintended consequences.

Missouri has almost 1,400 different sales tax jurisdictions, including the state, cities, counties and all the various “alphabet districts” such as CIDs and TDDs. The result is that sales taxes sometimes exceed 12 percent. The Show-Me State and its cities even tax food. To make matters worse, Kansas City and St. Louis levy a flat 1 percent income tax on earnings alone that includes no exemption on low-income workers. Nothing is more regressive.

And what do we do with the money? Too often, city and state leaders hand it off to wealthy and well-connected developers in the form of credits and subsidies — diverting money away from much-needed basic services such as infrastructure and education.

Maurice A. Watson

Maurice A. Watson

Partner at Husch Blackwell LLP

Development, recruitment and retention of talent needed to provide strong, creative and innovative leadership in the future in government, business, education and the nonprofit sectors. Without such talent, the state will fall behind and fail to thrive.

Community voices

Gwendolyn  Grant

Gwendolyn Grant

President and CEO of The Urban League of Greater Kansas City

Disparities in income, education and social justice persist. Inner-city communities with the greatest need for economic development, jobs, good schools, affordable health care and quality housing are left behind. But the single most important challenge leaders must confront is poverty. Despite a burgeoning economy, the wealth gap has grown wider and wages have not kept pace with job growth.

According the National Urban League, the richest 1 percent of Americans have received 95 percent of the wealth created since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent have become poorer. Inner-city communities where poverty is most prevalent are plagued with high unemployment, crime and violence, low-performing schools, blight, poor health and hopelessness.

So what must leaders do? Provide pathways out of poverty by increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage and establishing creative avenues to homeownership for the working poor, expanding the middle class. Homeownership is a critical step toward upward mobility, financial security and neighborhood revitalization. Investment in people is the most effective remedy.

Deb Hermann

Deb Hermann

Chief executive officer of Northland Neighborhoods, Inc.

The biggest problem in Missouri, as it is nationally, is the widening gap between the haves and the have nots. Reductions in education, transportation, health and other segments have the greatest negative impact on those who have the least. Missouri ranks low in most major categories.

Unfortunately, many look to the counties or cities to provide services and programs the state has abandoned. Local governments have taken on responsibility for far too much and services at the local level suffer.

It will be very difficult for the state to address these or any needs until citizens regain some trust and respect for officeholders and the institutions they represent. This isn’t just a Missouri problem - but a problem it is.

Vernon Percy  Howard, Jr.

Vernon Percy Howard, Jr.

President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and senior pastor of The St. Mark’s Church

The most urgent and debilitating problem facing Kansas City is the chronic income inequality and disparity in access and opportunity to health, education and wealth, which exist mainly and generally along race, gender and geographical lines.

If a person is unfortunate enough to be born or brought up within certain categories of society, then he or she is less likely to realize the American promises of life, liberty, equity of education and equal protections under the law.

Some of the most afflicted and egregiously oppressed categories are along race, gender and geography: African Americans or people of color (particularly black males and black children) Women Inner city dwellers Rural dwellers

This economic fragmentation threatens long-term, sustainable economic prosperity and stunts social wellness. Our civic, corporate and government leaders ought to want to endear the gifts, talents and value of those afflicted and oppressed within this fabric of oppression, bringing greater peace, public safety and prosperity for themselves and all people.

Educators

Mark Bedell

Mark Bedell

Superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools

The single biggest challenge our leaders must confront is challenging the status quo in our schools and securing a better future for Missouri is ensuring that all children have access to a world-class public education. Our schools must teach our children to be high-achieving critical thinkers prepared to succeed in a constantly changing world, and to be engaged in the improvement of their community. That requires high quality teachers and school leaders, cutting-edge and responsive classroom tools and techniques, and innovative community/business partnerships.

Equity in public education means addressing the historic and systematic racism and discrimination that have left our communities without the resources and support they need to thrive. This means having honest, open conversations about the past, addressing disparities, and taking a collaborative, community-centered and long-term approach to public education.

Brenda Bethman

Brenda Bethman

Director of UMKC Women’s Center

The biggest challenge that needs to be confronted by our leaders is ensuring equality of opportunity for all of Missouri’s citizens, whether that means ensuring equal pay for women (Missouri currently ranks in the middle third among U.S. states for equal pay), ending racial profiling by police (every year the attorney general’s report on racial profiling shows little to no progress), or promoting basic equality for the state’s LGBTQ citizens (the Human Rights Campaign lists Missouri on their “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality” list).

As demographics change, states that don’t work to ensure equal opportunity for all its citizens will not flourish.

Luis M.  Cordoba

Luis M. Cordoba

Chief, student support services, Kansas City Public Schools

The single biggest challenge our leaders must confront to secure a better future for Missouri falls on the relationships we have with each other. In 2017, the NAACP issued the first-ever travel advisory for Missouri. Travel advisories usually come from countries that have civil unrest, such as drug cartels taking over entire states.

But this warning was not a surprise to me, given the recent national trends involving police shootings, immigration legislation in Texas and Arizona and the political rhetoric about people who are not authorized to be in this country, as well as those protected under DACA. In Missouri, we’ve seen racial slurs against black students at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the legislature passing a bill that will make it harder for workers to win discrimination lawsuits and the unrest in Ferguson.

Until we come together as a state to openly address the racial disparities, discrimination and bigoted attacks, we will stay divided as a nation. Change begins with me.

Thomas Curran

Thomas Curran

President of Rockhurst University

“Life is understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” This adage comes from Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, poet, theologian and the founder of existentialism. Serving 12 years as president of a Jesuit, Catholic university has instructed me about how we have lived on our campus, in our community and throughout our region and state. As for living forward, I suggest that we take our instruction from our students, our young, our newest companions.

Our students tell us that quality of life is what attracts them to a school, community and region. Salary opportunities and good jobs are important, but they lag behind a place where they feel they belong, they are welcomed and that they matter.

The future does not belong to our students and our young. Their time is now.

Our generation looks backwards to understand how we have lived. Generations X, Y and Z can show us how to live forward, if we are willing to learn.

Reza  Derakhshani

Reza Derakhshani

Associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at UMKC

Our biggest challenge is educating our citizens to prepare them for a quickly-changing job market because of rapid technological advances. With mobile technologies and advances in artificial intelligence, many jobs are are going away, while many other high-paying jobs are being created. These new jobs, however, require advanced technological skills. To secure the future of Missouri and Missourians, we need to heavily invest in STEM education now.

Dianne Lynch

Dianne Lynch

President of Stephens College

Stephens College just held our 2018 commencement - an annual ritual of unbridled optimism and familial joy. It’s easy to believe that the American Dream is alive and well.

But reality is less reassuring: Too many Missouri communities continue to struggle with endemic poverty, opioid addiction, lack of access to affordable health care, inadequate schools, racial conflict and gun violence. Too many of our children will never benefit from a college diploma.

Americans over the past two years have told Gallup that our greatest problem is that our government doesn’t work – at least not for them.

Leaders need to show us (we’re Missourians) that they are capable of governing - undistracted by the governor’s humiliations, the president’s latest tweet, or the media firestorm of the moment.

As Sen. Roy Blunt reminds us, “The government belongs to us. We need to act like it.” Reclaiming an effective “for the people” government is our greatest responsibility; delivering on it is our leaders’ greatest challenge.

Christopher G. Maples

Christopher G. Maples

Interim Chancellor of the Missouri University of Science and Technology

Securing a better future for Missouri starts with providing high-quality public education for Missourians. Research has shown that over their lifetimes, college graduates are more likely to earn more money and enjoy greater job security than those with high school degrees only.

Missouri University of Science and Technology is consistently rated as a great value for our graduates, and we’re working to make a college education as accessible and affordable as we can by building on the legacy of America’s two great movements to open college doors to more people.

Missouri S&T is one of the “land-grant” universities from the early 1800s. After World War II, the G.I. Bill further opened doors by providing access to college for millions of military veterans.

We are now poised to further remove barriers to access, thanks to our ability to deliver a quality post-secondary education to people anywhere in the world.

Experts

Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett

Missouri State Public Defender Director

According to the FBI, there is only one state in America with three cities in the top 15 for violent crime: Missouri. Springfield is No. 13. Kansas City is 6 and St. Louis is 2. Repeating the phrase ““tough on crime”” is great for campaigning, but it does little actually to reduce violent crime and victimization.

Because local governments have come to rely too much on the collection of fines and fees, they have turned law enforcement into modern-day tax collectors. The state prison budget has increased more than $150 million in just a decade, making Missouri 8th in incarceration rates. But violent crime has not gone down, but up. That’s because half the state’s prison population is incarcerated for a non-violent offense, at a cost of more than $350 million.

Missouri is spending way too many resources on people it can suck revenue out of, and not nearly enough on effective strategies to reduce violent crime.

Jennifer A. Lowry

Jennifer A. Lowry

Chief of section of toxicology and environmental health at Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Division. Our communities are divided and cannot move past looking at our differences in order to see what we have in common. Whether it is to a community that felt left out in the past or the one that is on the fringes currently, a leader must engage all communities in order to bring everyone forward. Doing so requires compromise on all of us to not only take care of ourselves, but to also take care of our neighbor. It also requires those in leadership roles to risk vulnerability in order to lift communities up rather than pitting one against the other. The divide has been evident in the social media and in communities, with only little focus on those who work together. More focus is needed on what we can do to move us, together, in a positive way. Finding our common ground is the only way to secure a better future for our cities, state, nation and world.

Ken Novak

Ken Novak

Professor of criminal justice and criminology at UMKC

Crime. Specifically violent crime. Even more specifically, homicides.

The typical Missourian will not be impacted by homicide in any given year. However some are affected at an alarming rate.

St. Louis and Kansas City consistently log among the highest homicide rates in the country. Victims are disproportionately young African American males, killed by handguns. In Kansas City, the homicide rate for African American males aged 20-29 is 10 times higher than the others in the city, and 57 times higher than the national rate. The Violence Policy Center noted Missouri has the highest African-American homicide rate in the country.

This reality has a ripple effect. Violent crime stunts economic development, fosters helplessness, contributes to community level trauma, strains our criminal justice system, and of course, homicides have a devastating impact on families and communities.

There is no consensus as to why Missouri’s violence is so high, and I am unaware of any single silver bullet to reverse this trend.

Leaders

Kay Barnes

Kay Barnes

Former mayor of Kansas City

The single biggest challenge our leaders must confront to secure a better future for Missouri is recognize, and then address the welfare of all citzens regardless of economic level, race, age, or sexual orientation.

Recognizing that resources are limited, a bold vision and operational plan needs to be developed and clearly articulated to citizens across the state. This bipartisan plan needs to be developed by a cross-section of public and private sector leaders, representing communities of all sizes with a healthy mix of varying constituencies.

What I’m proposing would not be an easy task. It would be fraught with challenges, and yet the end result would be significantly more reflective of the current reality and future potential of Missouri. It would provide widely accepted guidelines for both elected officials and public administrators, as well as business and nonprofit leaders. An ongoing “monitoring” process in which all citizens could participate would enhance the likelihood of our goals being realized.

Jean Paul  Bradshaw

Jean Paul Bradshaw

Partner at Lathrop Gage LLP

The biggest challenge faced by Missouri state government is figuring out how to adequately fund higher and K-12 education in the face of rising health care spending. People generally have failed to explain where they would find the money to solve the problem. The growth in Medicaid and other government health care spending at the state level is squeezing out the ability to meaningfully increase spending in other areas. Increasing taxes politically is not an answer, because it would have to be voted on and simply isn’t going to pass.

Education is a real economic growth issue. Universities that can provide a good workforce, particularly in the STEM fields, is critical to attracting good businesses to the state. Businesses also want to know that their employees have good schools available.

This isn’t an easy issue to resolve. Many states are struggling with these same issues. The ones that get it right are going to prosper.

Alissia Canady

Alissia Canady

Kansas City Council member

Regardless of partisan politics, we expect voters to show up at the polls - but many are not engaged. Some are suffering, feel neglected, or are just so discouraged by the news headlines of what’s happening in political leadership that they’ve shut down.

Missouri is the deadliest state for black men, particularly in Kansas City and St. Louis, which were the last two cities in the nation without local control of the police departments. Now only Kansas City remains on that list. Missouri spends only $5.86 a year per person on public health, which is less than any other state in the nation.

Our urban school districts are still struggling, which impacts workforce and crime. And sadly, it’s been almost 50 years since Kansas City Public Schools have received a levy increase. We continue to struggle to maintain our infrastructure.

Missouri has a bright future, but we have lots of work to do that will require bipartisan support at all levels.

Jack Danforth

Jack Danforth

Former attorney general of Missouri and former U.S. senator from Missouri

Missouri’s biggest challenge isn’t for our leaders alone; it’s for all of us. It’s to create a political climate that permits government to function.

Government that successfully addresses our most pressing issues - alarming public debt, decaying infrastructure, underperforming schools - depends on the willingness of policy makers and the public to understand opposing positions and reach compromise. Currently that doesn’t exist.

The political center, where progress is possible, has eroded as hard-line activists have pulled office seekers to the ideological poles. Legislators who work across party lines invite organized opposition in primary elections. The result is legislative stalemate as the main work of officeholders is sending tweets that energize the party base, while avoiding the hard work of resolving differences.

Politicians listen to the voices of the people. It’s essential that what they hear competes with the strident insistence by a minority of partisans for ideological purity, and is, instead, a simple demand from America’s great center for government that works.

Heather Hall

Heather Hall

Kansas City Council member

Communication and our workforce are among the many challenges we face as a city and state.

Addiction to social media is spiraling out of control. We are making ourselves more stressed than previous generations. We are forgetting how to communicate in person, thus making the next generation’s ability to interview for a job, form meaningful relationships and be productive a challenge. The simplest act of handwriting a thank-you note is becoming a thing of the past.

Another area of weakness is creating a useful, productive future workforce. For many years, we have preached that one can only be successful by receiving a college degree. I truly believe that the future workforce will be a mix of tradesmen and college grads. So many of our tradesmen are growing older without a generational plan to secure bright young apprentices to carry on the trade.

I believe that if we have a smart, well-trained young workforce, our future will be very bright.

Bob Holden

Bob Holden

Chairman of the Midwest U.S. China Association and former governor of Missouri

The single biggest challenge facing Missouri is the transformation of our economy, our institutions and our workforce to meet the demands created by a competitive global economy.

How do we reform our tax system or educate and train our workforce? How do we continue our high standards - our free and open press and our intellectual property rights? And how do we communicate within our own culture to help people understand what is real and valid information, and not fake news?

The challenges are immense, but the opportunities are boundless if we stay true to our values, effectively train our workforce, prepare our students and continue to lead the world in creativity and inventiveness. We will remain leaders of the world if we continue to invest in our talent, enhance our physical and intellectual infrastructure and remain true to the vision outlined by our founding fathers and our national and state constitutions.

Sly James

Sly James

Mayor of Kansas City

I agree with Mark Gerzon, author of “The Reunited States of America,” that living in this age of “hyperpartisanship” in which decisions are based in partisan policy and winning, as opposed to solving people problems, is the major issue dividing this country and state. Politicians of both major parties need to focus on finding sustainable solutions to chronic problems by becoming “transpartisan,” where divergent ideas are considered and accounted for, to produce the best results for the people they are elected to serve.

Jolie Justus

Jolie Justus

Kansas City Council member

Trust in government is at an all-time low. To secure a better future for Missouri, we must restore confidence in our elected leaders and enable them to create effective policy in a fair, open, inclusive and civil environment.

We can start restoring voter trust by using technology to foster transparency and inclusiveness rather than using it to obfuscate the process. Policy should be fact-based, data driven and crafted in an open, inclusive environment.

We have the technology today to increase transparency and trust. Now we need leaders who will invest the time, education and resources to start earning back the public trust.

Quinton Lucas

Quinton Lucas

Kansas City Council member

A challenge for Missouri leaders is restoring public trust in elected officials and government. Missourians have reason not to trust. Scandal, secrecy in campaign funding and an Animal House culture in Jefferson City undermine the public’s confidence. A lack of public trust leads not just to less voter participation, but also apathy about where Missouri is headed.

Governments do important things each day. Governments employ thousands of our neighbors. When “government” is seen as bloated corrupt, and nothing but a swamp filled with “broken and disturbed people,” as Gov. Eric Greitens ironically once argued, then we stop understanding how things get done. We underinvest in schools, infrastructure and justice.

Our educational outcomes stagnate or decline. Companies select other states with robust investment and educational environments, and our taxpayers shoulder greater burdens through local fees and taxes.

Sex, money, and politics have made Missouri resemble a soap opera script. A focus on what’s worse does us all greater harm than we imagine.

Jay Nixon

Jay Nixon

Attorney and former governor of Missouri

The biggest challenge is individual economic stagnation. While there is a painful lack of historic context to many issues and discussions, and people are getting more comfortable divided rather than united, I believe that economic fear and angst are a primary driver for these afflictions.

More people of all ages feel they are economic slaves to an unreachable American dream. Even at economic full employment, we still fail to see wages and income reflect the growth. Higher consumer costs - phone bills, car insurance, utilities and more - continue to rise while wages stay stagnant. Even the old bargain of higher education equaling greater economic freedom seems to be crumbling.

From the death of the family farm, to the closing of small businesses, to downward pressure on the wages for factory workers, alternative paths to long term prosperity are closing. The disruptive economy and lack of commitment from the public sector to assist in building ladders of opportunity add to the problem.

Leland Shurin

Leland Shurin

Attorney and vice president of The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners

A better future for Missouri can come through high-quality public education from preschool to postgraduate school so that every resident has had the opportunity to develop to his or her fullest potential. An educated population relies less on government-funded welfare programs, is less likely to commit violent crime, earns and spends greater income, and attracts out-of-state business. An educated population raises productivity and governmental revenues.

Fully educating a population begins in preschool. Instruction in the areas of STEAM starts early and is built upon in the years that follow, laying the foundation for critical and creative thinking. This foundation is so important that people sacrifice in order to move to areas with good public elementary and high schools. It’s vital that every part of our state provide high-quality public education. Beyond high school, a well-respected state university supplies research and leadership personnel to industry, agriculture and government. It attracts businesses and individuals, and elevates the reputation of the state.

Ryan Silvey

Ryan Silvey

Missouri Public Service Commissioner

The biggest challenge our leaders must confront to secure a better future is their own ambition. Nobody pushes big ideas anymore because big ideas take too long to complete. Many won’t be around to take credit at completion, so they opt instead for something easier that they can put on the next mail piece for re-election or TV ad for the next office. The challenges we have are complicated and therefore require complicated solutions. Sound bites and campaign slogans are good for getting elected, but they are terrible for governing.

Phil Snowden

Phil Snowden

Member of the University Of Missouri Board Of Curators

First, our leaders must accept criticism without the fear of retribution. This requires a very thick skin.

Second, they must be good listeners. Collaboration is the key. A leader puts the end in mind and checks the ego at the door.

Third, leaders are willing to compromise and recognize what is good for all.

Fourth, no one should be worried about their job or the next election.

Fifth, each individual holding an office of authority must possess a strong sense of honesty and integrity.

Sixth, leaders must empathize with the less fortunate or consider the minority position.

Seventh, leaders must completely be open and transparent in all aspects of their endeavors, especially financial. There is no place for money off the books, or hidden dark money.

Leaders who possess these qualities will have a much greater chance for success. Whether the issue is health care, education, infrastructure, taxes, or law enforcement, these seven steps will provide a landscape for progress.

David Steelman

David Steelman

Chairman of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, attorney and former state legislator

Leaders need to spend less time talking about the grand problems that they intend to solve and more time teaching people how to confront and overcome the problems that people deal with every day.

Too often the rhetoric of our leaders focuses on the faults of those with whom they disagree, or with whom they are vying for power. Instead of conversation and solutions, too often we hear only crosstalk, invective and ad hominem attacks. If we instead focused on improving ourselves, particularly our ability to listen and empathize with others, we would generate a society and a state that fosters individual responsibility and accountability, and incorporates the best of all ideas. So the biggest challenge our leaders face is themselves, and to become individuals worthy of followers that lead by example and inspire all of us to generate new solutions, not from the top down, but from the bottom up. This would engage all, not just those who supported the leader.

Scott Wagner

Scott Wagner

Mayor Pro Tem of Kansas City

Our single biggest challenge is preparing the workforce for tomorrow to leave no one behind. The jobs of the future depend on skill sets that require both soft and technical skills that are challenging for many Missourians. It goes beyond traditional education. It means workforce development that prepares a new generation, or transitioning the present workforce to construction, software development and many other vocations that require the skills that will give people their best chance at a career. Economic growth that leads to neighborhood stabilization comes from talent, and we need to grow that.

Pacesetters

Mark Bryant

Mark Bryant

Attorney and former Kansas City Council member

The biggest challenge Missouri leaders face is how to attract people and jobs to our state. Missouri is not near an ocean or mountains, nor does it enjoy warm temperatures year-round.

Missouri can distinguish itself by providing excellent public education and by taking an enlightened approach to public safety. Our public schools in Kansas City and St. Louis struggle to maintain accreditation. Our urban centers provide the culture, diversity and amenities that millennials seek.

Despite more police, longer sentences and harsher prisons, Kansas City and St. Louis continue to outpace other urban areas with respect to homicides and violent crime.

It is time for a more enlightened approach to public safety. The answer to gun violence is gun control, not more powerful weapons in the hands of more people. Incarcerating people who lack job skills doesn’t enhance their marketability.

Missouri will attract more people and business if it distinguishes itself by setting ethical and moral standards that exceed the norm.

Mike Burke

Mike Burke

Lawyer and former member of the Kansas City Council

The areas prospering in this high-tech society are those that have shown they can best educate, train, retain, attract and steal talent. Jobs follow the talent pool. Educated millennials are drawn to a vibrant lifestyle. This has been a key in Austin, Denver, Portland and San Jose.

For several decades, Kansas City has been a net exporter of talent to these cities. More recently, our area has become more attractive to creative talent with our active arts, sports and technology communities. Combined with a competitive cost of living, we have begun to attract and keep talent.

To maintain our momentum, leaders must have a vision of the future that builds on our strengths and addresses our deficiencies. Elected officials need to fully fund our university system including the Conservatory of Music and Dance and a new technology center at UMKC. Missouri should also restore the cuts to the Missouri Technology Corporation that assists startups.

Jason Grill

Jason Grill

Media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant

Without a doubt, it’s infrastructure. Missouri needs to improve its overall infrastructure now and look toward the future. Roads, bridges, buildings, transportation assets and options and energy generation are key.

In order to remain competitive, Missouri and its municipalities must give current and future residents and businesses safe and effective infrastructure. From Kansas City to St. Louis, from Columbia to Jefferson City, and from rural community to urban area, Missouri must take infrastructure seriously. Missouri must find innovative ways to work with local and federal officials to fund these assets, maintain them and build the best new infrastructure avenues possible.

Finding solutions to the growing infrastructure problems and needs in Missouri is a challenge leaders must confront head on for a better future for this great state.

James Harris

James Harris

Founder of The J. Harris Company

Missouri has a number of problems to address, including lackluster job growth, crumbling infrastructure, and unsustainable spending growth in our Medicaid program. Businesses are bypassing Missouri, and lack of economic growth – if not corrected – will force young people to leave our state just to find a job that will support their ambitions. To take the major steps that are necessary to fix these issues, our leaders have to take the time to work with the people of Missouri and develop a vision for our state that will put us on a better path. They have to demonstrate that they are willing to listen, have the moral fortitude to ignore special interests that oppose change, and are willing to pursue meaningful policy changes that will help move our state forward.

Gregg Keller

Gregg Keller

Principal of Atlas Strategy Group

The unchecked power and influence of government unions in Missouri is an issue our leaders need to address for the benefit of not only our government workers, but taxpayers as well. The unions representing our state’s public sector workers are in the unique position of getting to negotiate with public bodies, while also having the power through their political activity to influence who is elected and, ultimately, with whom they bargain.

Fortunately, legislative leaders in both the Missouri House and Senate are working to implement a government union reform package that would be among the most comprehensive in the country. The legislation would require government unions to obtain annual authorization for paycheck deductions, re-certify every two years, provide the same financial reports as private sector unions, make collective bargaining meetings and documents open to the public, and prohibit clauses in labor agreements that extend the terms beyond the original expiration date.

Crosby Kemper III

Crosby Kemper III

Director of The Kansas City Public Library

Missouri’s growth is the central issue: economic and educational growth which together can make this a healthier and stronger state. Missouri is one of the slowest-growing states economically. Our education system is mediocre, especially in the flagship higher education institutions (except Washington University) and the demographically elite K-12 public schools (except again three or four in St. Louis and the superior private schools in St. Louis). Our economic engines, the St. Louis and Kansas City regions, are riddled with failed incentive policies and budgets dramatically captured by special interests.

St. Louis and Kansas City are among the highest-taxed cities in the United States, because of earnings taxes — a flat tax — from dollar one, sales taxes, TDD and other special taxing districts, and abatements and diversion of property taxes that favor the wealthiest developers and most profitable companies. And those tax rates are among the most regressive, especially when the stunningly high sewer and water rates are considered as they should be.

The primary cause is the absence of civic leadership, including the traditional media and political parties.

Richard Martin

Richard Martin

‎Director of government affairs at ‎JE Dunn Construction

I believe the single biggest challenge our leaders need to face is cooperation, collaboration and compromise. We are too divided in too many ways: urban vs. rural, St. Louis vs. Kansas City, Democrats vs. Republicans and black vs. white. Until our leaders begin to see the forest instead of only the trees, we will never be able to address fully the needs of our state. Our transportation infrastructure is woefully underfunded, and our public education system is not providing enough of our children with the skills needed to succeed in today’s economy. These are tough but critically important issues and require the commitment and collaboration of leaders from across the state willing to look past the divisions that have traditionally held us back. Together, Missouri can excel and prosper. Divided, we will fall further behind.

Daniel P. Mehan

Daniel P. Mehan

President and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Our organization serves as the voice of the Missouri business community. The biggest concern we hear is about the state’s workforce. Companies are struggling to find qualified workers for jobs. Stagnant workforce growth, the impending retirement of older workers, a changing job landscape and a widening skills gap are a few of the challenges Missouri employers face.

As part of our Missouri 2030 strategic plan, we are launching new programs that build bridges between businesses and educators. We are also advocating for policy changes that support today’s students and workers with greater opportunities to gain valuable skills.

We are encouraged to see the Missouri Department of Economic Development place a new focus on workforce development. Talent has quickly replaced the tax incentive as the economic development tool of choice. The countries, states and regions that recognize that fact and wisely invest in strategic workforce development and retention initiatives will succeed. The rest likely will be left behind.”

John F.  Murphy

John F. Murphy

Partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP and co-chair of KC Rising

Our single biggest challenge is ensuring that our region can continue to compete for the best and brightest talent nationwide and that we remain at the forefront of developing the workforce of the future. The competition for talent has never been more intense than it is today. Virtually every metropolitan area faces a shortage of talent across any number of disciplines. Ultimately, winning in business comes down to talent and this region has successfully differentiated itself as a destination for such talent. Our advantages with respect to an affordable cost of living and a family-centric lifestyle are important, as long as salaries remain attractive.

We need to have programs in place to provide individual access to post-secondary education. In this region alone, we have over 300,000 working age adults who have some college credit but no degree. This represents one-third of our entire workforce. We have to give them the opportunity to receive that degree.

Jeffrey J.  Simon

Jeffrey J. Simon

Office managing partner at Husch Blackwell LLP

Until the investment is made to break the cycle of poverty, Missouri’s ability to prosper and to grow is stunted at best. This means investment of political will, investment of private dollars and - most importantly - investment of collective concern by the entire community, including those who do not believe they are directly affected by poverty.

Poverty does not know racial, political, social or geographic boundaries or distinctions. Its byproducts – crime, violence, social injustice, unprepared workforce, disease, despair, fear - hold us all back. Poverty cannot be ignored. Our leaders - not just elected officials, ministers and philanthropists, but civic and business leaders as well - must boldly and honestly confront the root causes of poverty - families in distress, educational inequalities, present day consequences of historic discrimination, transportation shortcomings, health care inaccessibility, insufficient jobs and businesses, criminal justice limitations, hopelessness – to move us forward.

What a future it could be, if only we build it right.

Mike  Talboy

Mike Talboy

Director of government affairs at Burns & McDonnell

The biggest challenge our leaders must confront to secure a better future for Missouri is to focus on policymaking and governing, instead of getting too bogged down in the politics. Today we do not see many who want to undergo the sometimes years-long effort and criticism that come along with grand plans or big ticket initiatives, which may not mature until a future date.

First of all, let’s recognize legislative term limits were likely the most damaging thing implemented upon the structure of government. That said, some of this challenge before us is due to term limits, but not all. The gerrymandering and primary threats often handcuff many because there are real pressures from the smaller primary electorate.

When you add in the amount of money that can now be spent without attribution, those three things when in place with a term-limited legislature make the governing part of government far more difficult today than ever before.

Pam  Whiting

Pam Whiting

Vice president for communications at The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce

My answer, in one word: education.

Support for both K-12 and higher education is critical, but I’d like to focus on the very youngest Missourians. As sister to the head of a Montessori school, I’ve learned a lot about early childhood education. For example, 90 percent of a child’s brain architecture is developed by the time that child is 5.

Getting children off to the right start pays off, reducing juvenile delinquency, addictions, school dropout rates, learning disabilities, obesity and other problems. For every dollar invested in early childhood education, society sees a return of $12.

Yet one in three kids in Kansas City Public Schools doesn’t have the skills to succeed in kindergarten. They’re behind even before they start.

That needs to change, which is why I’m proud that my organization, the KC Chamber, has launched Pre-KC, an initiative to increase awareness of the importance of quality early childhood education. Visit Pre-KC.org for more information and resources.

jump to Kay Barnes

Kay Barnes

Former mayor of Kansas City
jump to Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett

Missouri State Public Defender Director
jump to Mark Bedell

Mark Bedell

Superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools
jump to Brenda Bethman

Brenda Bethman

Director of UMKC Women’s Center
jump to Jean Paul  Bradshaw

Jean Paul Bradshaw

Partner at Lathrop Gage LLP
jump to Mark Bryant

Mark Bryant

Attorney and former Kansas City Council member
jump to Mike Burke

Mike Burke

Lawyer and former member of the Kansas City Council
jump to Alissia Canady

Alissia Canady

Kansas City Council member
jump to Scott Charton

Scott Charton

CEO of Charton Communications
jump to Luis M.  Cordoba

Luis M. Cordoba

Chief, student support services, Kansas City Public Schools
jump to Woody Cozad

Woody Cozad

Founder of the Cozad Company, government relations and former chairman of the Missouri Republican Party
jump to Thomas Curran

Thomas Curran

President of Rockhurst University
jump to Jack Danforth

Jack Danforth

Former attorney general of Missouri and former U.S. senator from Missouri
jump to Reza  Derakhshani

Reza Derakhshani

Associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at UMKC
jump to Jane Dueker

Jane Dueker

Lawyer, consultant and radio host
jump to Patrick A. Dujakovich

Patrick A. Dujakovich

President of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO
jump to John Fierro

John Fierro

Board member for the Kansas City Missouri School District
jump to Gwendolyn  Grant

Gwendolyn Grant

President and CEO of The Urban League of Greater Kansas City
jump to Jason Grill

Jason Grill

Media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant
jump to Heather Hall

Heather Hall

Kansas City Council member
jump to John Hancock

John Hancock

Consultant and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party
jump to James Harris

James Harris

Founder of The J. Harris Company
jump to Deb Hermann

Deb Hermann

Chief executive officer of Northland Neighborhoods, Inc.
jump to Bob Holden

Bob Holden

Chairman of the Midwest U.S. China Association and former governor of Missouri
jump to Vernon Percy  Howard, Jr.

Vernon Percy Howard, Jr.

President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and senior pastor of The St. Mark’s Church
jump to Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael

Director of government accountability for The Show-Me Institute
jump to Sly James

Sly James

Mayor of Kansas City
jump to Jolie Justus

Jolie Justus

Kansas City Council member
jump to Gregg Keller

Gregg Keller

Principal of Atlas Strategy Group
jump to Crosby Kemper III

Crosby Kemper III

Director of The Kansas City Public Library
jump to Jennifer A. Lowry

Jennifer A. Lowry

Chief of section of toxicology and environmental health at Children’s Mercy Kansas City
jump to Quinton Lucas

Quinton Lucas

Kansas City Council member
jump to Dianne Lynch

Dianne Lynch

President of Stephens College
jump to Christopher G. Maples

Christopher G. Maples

Interim Chancellor of the Missouri University of Science and Technology
jump to Richard Martin

Richard Martin

‎Director of government affairs at ‎JE Dunn Construction
jump to Daniel P. Mehan

Daniel P. Mehan

President and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
jump to John F.  Murphy

John F. Murphy

Partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP and co-chair of KC Rising
jump to Jay Nixon

Jay Nixon

Attorney and former governor of Missouri
jump to Ken Novak

Ken Novak

Professor of criminal justice and criminology at UMKC
jump to CiCi Rojas

CiCi Rojas

Partner and president of Tico Productions LLC and Tico Sports
jump to Leland Shurin

Leland Shurin

Attorney and vice president of The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners
jump to Ryan Silvey

Ryan Silvey

Missouri Public Service Commissioner
jump to Jeffrey J.  Simon

Jeffrey J. Simon

Office managing partner at Husch Blackwell LLP
jump to Phil Snowden

Phil Snowden

Member of the University Of Missouri Board Of Curators
jump to David Steelman

David Steelman

Chairman of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, attorney and former state legislator
jump to Mike  Talboy

Mike Talboy

Director of government affairs at Burns & McDonnell
jump to Roy Temple

Roy Temple

Political strategist and former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party
jump to Patrick Tuohey

Patrick Tuohey

Director of municipal policy at The Show-Me Institute
jump to Scott Wagner

Scott Wagner

Mayor Pro Tem of Kansas City
jump to Maurice A. Watson

Maurice A. Watson

Partner at Husch Blackwell LLP
jump to Pam  Whiting

Pam Whiting

Vice president for communications at The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce