Gubernatorial, senatorial candidates square off in Columbia

Topics discussed included tobacco taxes and Medicare.
Republican challenger Dave Spence argues the state is heading the wrong way under Nixon's direction. A former CEO, Spence is seeking his first term in a public office. DebateSpence010

On Friday, the Missouri Press Association hosted two debates. The first was among incumbent Gov. Jay Nixon, Republican challenger Dave Spence and Libertarian candidate Jim Higgins. The candidates deliberated about topics such as Missouri’s economy, expansion of Medicaid and transportation.

They also discussed the funding of higher education by increasing state tobacco taxes. All three candidates agreed they would not want a tobacco tax increase, even though Missouri has the lowest tobacco tax in the nation. Spence said he didn’t want taxes to influence what people buy, while Nixon said, even though he doesn’t support a tax increase, he thinks the public should decide.

"We shouldn’t try to influence behavior with our tax policy," Higgins said. "The tax on tobacco should be the same as any other tax. The higher education needs to come up with innovative and creative ways to cut costs. They shouldn’t have to rely on the state to do that."

Nixon said he agreed with some of Higgins' sentiments.

"I don't think a tax increase is the appropriate way to fund our higher education," Nixon said. "That being said, the public deserves to vote on it."

This provoked some concern for young audience members.

“For me, personally, as a student, the cuts in higher education and how those are going to be funded or restored is a big issue," said Michael Baharaeem, a senior at Truman State University. "I think the governor’s hands are somewhat tied because in the past he had to cut a lot of higher education, but he’s also not in favor of increasing the tobacco tax, which would help restore those funds."

The second debate featured candidates for one of Missouri's U.S. Senate seats. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., squared off with challengers Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., and Jonathan Dine, the libertarian candidate, about the postal service, foreign policy and the government’s role in the country’s increasing obesity rate.

The topic of Medicare in particular caused a few rebuttals among the three candidates.

Akin said the Affordable Care Act, which he called “ObamaCare,” should be repealed because seniors should have a choice in Medicare rather than a one-size-fits-all fix. McCaskill said Akin was stating that he wants to privatize senior citizens and basically tell them they’re on their own.

"We need to remember what Congressman Akin wants to repeal," McCaskill said. "He wants to repeal the ability of insurance companies to say you’re out of luck because you’ve had the nerve to be sick before. He wants to repeal kids being able to stay on their policies until they’re 26 years old."

McCaskill said she thinks Missourians will be pleasantly surprised if they give the Affordable Care Act a chance.

Phyllis Fugit, a 67-year-old member of the audience, said she thought the candidates' plans for Medicare wouldn't work.

"Senior citizens will run out if they happen to have a serious illness, which most of us at that age will have one or two or more," she said. "It just will not work that way and the way they’re trying to do it."

Rather than restating a candidate’s view, Fugit said she thinks there is another solution.

“We need to get the economy going and people back to work," Fugit said. "If people are back to work, there will be more money to do roads, bridges, Medicare, (and) Social Security because of all the taxes that would be paid."

Rachel Roberts, a senior at Columbia College, said she thought Dine stood out during the debate.

“Neither (McCaskill or Akin) seemed to have a clue what they were talking about,” Roberts said. “I’m looking at both of these candidates, and the third party seems like they have a little bit more sincerity and unbiased opinion in things because they know that they are the underdog."

During the closing statements, Akin quoted Thomas Jefferson and talked about his own love for America. McCaskill addressed her beliefs that the wealthy shouldn’t receive tax cuts and how compromise needs to be made instead of gridlock.

Dine’s last words of his statement provoked a few laughs from the audience.

“Keep the Republicans out of your bedroom and the Democrats out of your wallets,” he said.

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