At a forum Wednesday for Democratic candidates for state representative in the 25th district, the candidates participating in the debate, unlike Democratic presidential candidates, didn’t have much to argue about.
Legislative advocate Bob Pund, state auditor spokesman Sean Spence and former MU spokeswoman Mary Still, took part in the debate.
MU sociology professor Wayne Brekhus, who is president of Democracy for Missouri, was the moderator. He asked the candidates about voter identification laws, affirmative action and immigration.
Brekhus asked the candidates what they thought were the biggest issues facing MU and how they would confront them.
Pund said MU is the “economic engine of the state,” and that affordable tuition for college students and pay for instructors are important issues.
Spence said he would work to lower tuition for students and would propose a bill to provide funding for stem-cell research.
“We have to send the message that we’re going to the kind of research that we need to do,” Spence said. “It’s going to be up to professors, not legislators.”
Still said funding was one of the most important issues facing the university.
“We have to have people understand that we have a major research university,” Still said. “It is respected throughout the world and people in Jeff City need to understand its value.”
Brekhus also asked the candidates their views on the Emily Brooker Higher Education Sunshine Act that would make universities meet certain “intellectual diversity” requirements, and each candidate struck down at the measure.
“That is what I’m talking about when I say our university and academic freedom is under attack,” Still said.
Spence said the bill represented a plan to attack government efforts to take care of individuals.
Audience members were also allowed to provide questions for the debate, and asked the candidates questions regarding education, environmental issues, gun control, voter registration laws, working with a Republican majority in Jefferson City, abortion and health care.
The candidates were in step with each other on nearly every issue. The only note of tension in the debate arose when a member of the audience asked the candidates about Missouri’s conceal and carry law, and Spence said Pund and Still did not differ in their campaign priorities.
Pund said he would be a legislator that stands up for the “little guy.”
“I don’t consider myself a politician,” Pund said. “I got into this race because I think there is a lot of things that need to be changed.”
Spence, who has worked for several Missouri politicians, said the time he has spent in the Missouri Capitol and his experience in the business sector would make him a viable representative. He also said he would promote progressive ideas, and would be legislator easily accessed by his constituents.
“I think every Missourian should be educated, employed and insured,” Spence said. “Not because we’re charitable, but because it is the right thing to do.”
Still, who has served on the staff of former Gov. Bob Holden and Attorney General Jay Nixon, said she would be a strong voice and a promoter of progressive ideals.
“When you are the state representative from Columbia, it’s been my observation that the rest of the representatives look to you for those progressive ideas,” Still said.
Brekhus said, in regard to MU, the candidates addressed the subject very well but that he would have liked to hear their plans for getting other legislators on the same page.
Columbia resident Jeneva Powell, who asked the candidates about women’s issues during the debate, said she was encouraged and impressed by the candidates’ answers.
“I think they’re all extremely qualified,” Powell said. “I’m really grateful that we have three very viable candidates to choose from.”
College Democrats of Missouri President Nate Kennedy said the candidates confronted issues facing college students.
“The candidates have been really attentive to college students,” Kennedy said. “It’s a big issue for this district, having three higher education elements here.”