Missouri Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-District 19, and State Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, met Tuesday night at MU in a debate hosted by the university’s chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honors society.
The two are running for a state senate seat in Missouri’s 19th District, which includes Boone and Randolph counties.
Still has been a state representative, representing District 25, since 2008 and is attempting to prevent Schaefer from being reelected to his senate seat.
The debate questions, which were asked by members of Pi Sigma Alpha, focused primarily on higher education concerns and the candidates made a point to focus their answers toward students.
Still criticized Schaefer for presiding over $23 million of revenue cuts to MU during his three years as Senate appropriations chairman.
Schaefer said those cuts were primarily because of decisions by Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and that he himself has fought diligently for higher education funding during his time in office.
Schaefer said when Nixon initially proposed a 12.5 percent cut to higher education last year, he and Democratic State Rep. Chris Kelly, who represents part of Columbia, immediately went to work to fight against the cuts.
“We rolled up our sleeves and worked together and undid the entire $106 million cut in the state budget for this year,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer’s main line of attack during the debate was Still’s legislative record while in office.
“The distinction between the two of us could not be any clearer,” Schaefer said. “You have a legislative record with zero accomplishments and (I have) a legislative record of passing and sponsoring over 50 bills.”
In response to Schaefer’s criticism, Still said being in the minority party forces her to do her job a little differently.
She said through her efforts, two major issues — the cigarette tax and payday lending reform — have been brought to voters' attention.
The cigarette tax will be on the ballot in November and Still said its passing is key, because the additional revenue will partially go toward higher education funding.
Missouri’s current cigarette tax is 17 cents per pack and the ballot initiative, titled Proposition B, would raise the tax to 90 cents per pack.
Schaefer also said he supports the cigarette tax, but his support is for slightly different reasons. He said cigarette use plays a part in expanding Medicaid costs, which means more money is being funneled to Medicaid that could otherwise be used for education.
“We have got to get people to quit smoking, it’s costing too much money,” Schaefer said.
The candidates also fielded a question about term limits. Both Schaefer and Still said they used to support term limits but have serious concerns with them now.
Schaefer said term limits have hurt MU because state legislators place more importance on their specific district and don’t treat MU differently than any other university in the state, with regard to funding. He said this is wrong because of MU’s unique place as a land grant university and establishment in the Missouri Constitution.
Missouri’s current term limit law is that legislators can serve a maximum of eight years in the state house. The same rule applies for the state senate.
Still said term limits have transferred the political power to lobbyists.
“That is the problem with term limits, lobbyists are controlling so much of what happens in Jefferson City,” Still said.