Candidates in the Aug. 5 primary with Lee’s Summit connections spoke to a large crowd waiting to see who would stand out in the races.
One hot contest is between Rebecca Roeber, Justin Kalwei and Bob Johnson, all of Lee’s Summit, seeking the Republican nomination for state representative in the 34th District of the Missouri legislature. Dale Mercer is unopposed in the Democratic Party.
Jackson County Legislature candidates also took part.
Bob Spence, the incumbent Republican attended the forum, his opponent Theresa Gavlin did not. Democratic Party candidates for the county’s 1st District At-Large race, Frank White Jr. of Lee’s Summit and Sherwood Smith of Kansas City answered questions. The Republican candidate, Weldon Wray Woodward, is unopposed.
Winners of the party races will face each other in November.
About 120 people attended the forum July 22 at the Gamber Center, sponsored by the Journal and the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce.
Moderator Carl Chinnery asked questions of the candidates, after they giving them a few minutes to introduce themselves.
Roeber said her focus is to support education and because she’s a retired teacher her experiences will be an asset to the legislature.
“I think we need more regular people in politics, not career politicians or lawyers,” Roeber said.
Johnson said partisanship is making progress more difficult in Washington, D.C. and Jefferson City. He said he wants to reform tax credits in Missouri and campaign financing. A home builder, Johnson has served as both representative and senator in the Missouri General Assembly and currently represents District 4 on the Lee’s Summit City Council.
“I just want to present a different point of view,” Johnson said. “... I think I did a good job when I was there.”
Kalwei said, as an assistant prosecutor in Platte County, he prosecutes murders, child abuse and other crimes. That job gives him insight for working with people and making tough choices.
“In that job I find myself making important decisions every day,” Kalwei said.
Spence was a partner in an accounting firm where his job was building its governmental practice.
“I know what it’s like to run a business,” he said.
White stressed his roots in poverty, but determination that allowed him become a major league baseball player, who took two days off work for a try out. He wasn’t going to be drafted, he said. He became an All-Star, playing for 18 seasons with the Kansas City Royals.
“The big reason I want to run is I enjoy helping my community,” White said.
Smith is a captain in the Kansas City Fire Department. He said his experience as a leader and political director of his union makes him a good choice.
“More than anything, I’m a solutions person,” Smith said.
Among questions candidates fielded were several related to economic development, such as what to do with the “border war” between with Kansas and Missouri offering incentives to get companies to jump the state line.
Spence, White and Smith said as county officials they couldn’t do anything directly, other than persuade leaders on both sides of the state line to pass legislation to ends that kind of competition.
“We don’t have any hammers,” Spence said. State candidates agreed there’s not much that can be done without cooperation of Kansas government.
“It’s gotten out of hand. It’s a war that can’t be won,” Roeber said.
Among questions for county candidates were their opinion of the proposed three-quarter cent sales tax for transportation and about light rail in the county.
Smith said he was uncertain, because he’s concerned the amount of the sales tax is “extreme.”
Spence said, “If it was for roads and bridges I would be for it.” The project list for the tax includes sidewalks, bike trails, ports, airports and light rail. White said he’s not a big supporter of taxes “period.”
The county candidates were cautious about endorsing light rail for the region because of the high cost.
Smith said that if the county can’t acquire the existing rail corridors it has few options and “we’re a car community.” White and Spence said they are concerned about a heavy tax subsidy for operating the system.
Asked about how to refine laws for tax-increment financing, the state candidates said a more specific definition is needed for blight. Johnson has long complained that the law allows green fields to be called “blighted” to build a shopping center. County and state candidates said other tax jurisdictions affected by a TIF, such as the county and schools, should be given a bigger voice in those decisions.
The state candidates questions also delved into benefits for retired school teachers and other education issues.
Johnson said the current system of a defined benefit plan is working and shouldn’t be changed. Roeber and Kalwei said teachers who’ve already earned those retirement benefits should get them, but they would support phasing in a defined contribution plan in the future.
The 34th district candidates were adamant they’d protect Lee’s Summit and other suburban schools from any fallout from effort to solve inner-city education problems.
“I’m for leaving districts alone that are doing well, but we have to do something about district’s that are falling down,” Roeber said.
Kalwei said he’d accept limited transfers of students, but they should be primarily between schools within a district first. Johnson agreed, but criticized the recently vetoed law regarding transfers because it could reduce reimbursement for school systems like Lee’s Summit R-7.
The state candidates agreed on medical use of marijuana, saying it should be allowed, with Roeber and Kalwei noting it needs to be tightly regulated to keep it from becoming a loophole for recreational use.
On expanding Medicaid, Roeber and Kalwei said they wouldn’t want to expand Missouri’s program based on additional federal funds being offered.
“I don’t trust the federal government as a partner,” Kalwei said.
Johnson said the state should go ahead because it would at least be recovering money taxed on Missouri employers. “If federal money goes away, we just repeal the law,” Johnson said.
Roeber and Kalwei raised Johnson’s endorsement by Planned Parenthood as an issue. Johnson said he supports the organizations many health services offered besides abortion, such as birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies, breast cancer and other screenings. But he would not vote for farther restricting abortions, while Roeber, endorsed by Missouri Right to Life, and Kalwei say they would.
All the candidates were asked their opinion of campaign reform.
Johnson, Kalwei and Roeber said they support full disclosure of who is donating money to campaigns, but Johnson said he wanted to see limits on campaign contributions. White and Smith, democrats, also said they supported contribution limits.
Smith said from his experience lobbying in Jefferson City, the “transparency everyone talks about is really not there.” Limits allow more average people to have a voice in politics, he said.
Spence said that he thinks it might make sense to have campaign limits at the national level where much more money is raised and spent, but that won’t happen with changing the First Amendment.