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October 21, 2010

First District Representative Candidates Face Off at Canton Forum

This ain't her first rodeo... and it showed as Democratic Candidate Keri Cottrell used the experience she gained in an unsuccessful run at the First District Representative seat back in 2008 as a springboard for a successful showing at Canton on Monday evening.

Cottrell squared off against newcomer Craig Redmon, the Republican candidate for the post being vacated by Brian Munzlinger, R-Lewistown. The two candidates were the guests of the Canton Chapter of American Association of University Women (AAUW), which sponsored the forum allowing them to answer questions submitted live by the audience and read by a moderator.

What Redmon lacked in facts and figures, he made up for with straight forward answers, avoiding the pitfalls of partisanship along the way.

The October 18th event was held at Meaders Lounge on the Culver-Stockton College campus in Canton.

The two Lewis County natives introduced themselves to the mostly student crowd giving brief personal histories before answering a series of questions posed by the audience through a moderator.

With the event being hosted by Culver Stockton College, it was only fitting the first question had to deal with education funding in the state.

Redmon noted that education funding was a hotbed of discussion, with both he and Cottrell in agreement that the state needs to come through with better funding for schools while also eliminating the dollar modifier that is added for urban schools under the guise of higher costs of living in those areas.

"Everybody in Missouri knows, there is a pot of money that all services must be funded from as we are constitutionally obligated to maintain a balanced budget," he said. "So to fully fund education we are going to have to take from some other areas."

Redmon declined to pinpoint what areas, noting it would be unfair to promise budget cuts before ever being involved in the budget process.

Cottrell's experience shined through in her discussion of education funding. She gave a concise explanation of the state's education funding formula and the $6,177 per pupil adequacy target for state aid per student.

She also pointed out the First District is shortchanged by the system's funding on a per pupil basis.

"Our school districts are small in northeast Missouri, they are not the size of the district in Kansas City and St. Louis," she said. So when your overall funding formula is on a per pupil basis that is drastically harmful to the districts in northeast Missouri."

But Cottrell turned the funding formula from an issue of rural versus urban into a question of politics.

She noted that the funding formula was created by Senate Bill287 sponsored by Charlie Shields during a period of Republican control of both the house and the senate.

"The vote was 96 Republicans to 64 Democrats. So many people say that it is a rural versus urban issue, unfortunately I am afraid it is a partisan issue because of the vote that it received."

Both candidates highlighted their opposition to Proposition A, which if passed would eliminate a 1% earnings tax in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Cottrell stated the earnings taxes fund approximately 33% of St. Louis's budget and 44% of Kansas City's budget.

"If this is something we in northeast Missouri choose to support, then we are going to be receiving even more leftovers, as state government is caused to fund more services in St. Louis and Kansas City," Cottrell stated.

Redmon drew a round of applause with a short and to the point response.

"No I'm not for it," he said. "Basically it will take the tax that Kansas City and St. Louis is paying for their goods and services and defer it to northeast Missouri and other areas."

When asked what programs and agencies they would cut to fund drooping health care programs Redmon again steered clear of pinpointing any specific targets.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you what department's need to be cut, because I haven't been down there yet," he said. "It wouldn't be fair."

Redmon did note that with a state in a budget crunch as Missouri is, legislators owe it to their constituents to look at making cuts wherever feasible, adding "there should be no sacred cows, everything needs to be looked at."

Cottrell responded that her first cuts would be made by scrutinizing tax credits.

"There's about $587 million in tax credits," she said. "Tax credits are good if they bare the fruits there were supposed to bare. We need to evaluate them and look and see if they are continuing to do what they were supposed to do, and if they're not they need to be stopped and we need to put that money back into general revenue."

Cottrell also highlighted the 2005 Medicaid cuts.

"1,317 people had their access to health care taken away," she said. "The state legislature took those people from Medicaid but at the same time they chose to insure their own families on state-sponsored health insurance."

Both candidates shared similar sentiments on a number of issues raised at the forum, such as favoring campaign contribution limits, promoting agriculture and investing in renewable energy.

Cottrell highlighted the importance of ethanol and bio diesel tax credits to continue the viability of the fuel source to help decrease dependency on foreign oil.

In addition to the local value-added crop products, Redmon also pointed to the hydro-electric possibilities offered to the First District by its bordering Mississippi River as well as other alternatives such as wind power.

"What we have to remember is this will take a long-term commitment to these alternative energy sources," Redmon said. "This isn't going to happen overnight."

When faced with questions regarding big government and a growing bureaucracy, Cottrell noted that it is a standard line found in one political party's advertising.

"Adding all kinds of programs and funding all different kinds of additional agencies, that is not what we need to do," she said. "What we need to do is look at streamlining that and not working harder, but let's work smarter."

Redmon responded that he does think state government is too big. Again he deferred to identify any areas to cut, noting it is premature to make specific budget choices before being involved in the process.

The forum closed with a question voicing fear the candidates will chose to reflect the interests of their chosen political party in lieu of the needs of the First District.

"My party will always be second," Cottrell said. "That is one reason why I'm kind of proud to be a Democrat. Because in Jefferson City if you're a Democrat, they let you vote on the basis of what is best for your constituents."

Redmon highlighted his nine years of service on the Canton school board to answer the question. He related making decisions not just for his two children, but for the greater good of the entire district.

"I have to look at that guy in the mirror when I get up in the morning and know that I'm making decisions based on you folks and not based on what the people in Jefferson City want me to do," Redmon said. "It'll be tough, I know that. I'll be a freshman lawmaker and they're going to want to twist my arm hard on certain things, but at the end of the day I have to be able to call home and say I made this decision because it was in your best interest."


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