Candidates address pandemic, Medicaid, economic recovery at gubernatorial forum

Candidates vying for the office of governor met at the Missouri Theater in Columbia on Friday to share their positions on topics ranging from the state’s coronavirus response to Medicaid expansion and taxes.

Sponsored by the Missouri Press Association, the debate featured Republican Gov. Mike Parson; Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway; retired U.S. Air Force officer Rik Combs, the Libertarian candidate; and former professor Jerome Bauer, the Green Party candidate.

The state’s response to the coronavirus was a topic of heated debate, bringing a variety of opinions from the candidates. Galloway proposed an entirely new plan to deal with the effects of the pandemic, stating that Parson’s actions as governor had not been adequate to contain the situation.

“We need a complete reset on our coronavirus strategy,” Galloway said. “I have outlined a plan based on data, on containment, on mitigation, on masks and science-backed, data-proven ways to get this virus under control and prevent community spread.”

Earlier this year, Parson said in an interview that he felt no personal responsibility for people who have contracted the virus, a statement that Galloway reminded him of during this debate. When given a chance for rebuttal, Parson denied these claims.

“I’ve never said that I wasn’t responsible,” Parson said. “When you’re the governor, you’re responsible for everyone in the state of Missouri.”

Parson’s plan for future coronavirus response is to continue with the current Show Me Recovery plan that he has implemented, allowing local governments to enact their own health orders and mask mandates, with a focus on also reviving the economy and returning students to the classroom.

“I think you want to do a balanced approach, which is what we’ve done from the beginning,” Parson said. “We want the local officials to have input. No one person should try to be making mandates for the entire state of Missouri. It’s a diverse state.”

Combs said that the economy be opened again without restrictions, stating that he would have never implemented a stay-at-home order.

Bauer suggested imposing mandatory mask mandates, but stressed that it is more important that people wear them because they want to do so.

Medicaid expansion

After voters approved Medicaid expansion in August, the candidate elected in November will preside over its implementation. With questions about how the health insurance program for low-income people will be funded, the next governor will play a role in determining how to finance the state’s part of the expenses.

“What (this pandemic) has done is shown cracks in our system that have existed for a long time, but gotten wider and deeper with COVID-19, especially in our health care system” Galloway said. “I support Medicaid expansion by implementing it in a way to keep our rural hospitals open, to make sure that working people can have access to health care, particularly in the midst of this pandemic.”

Parson opposed Medicaid expansion ahead of the August vote, citing the financial implications of enacting such a program. However, with voters approving expansion, he has agreed to implement it.

“The people of the state voted for this. We’re going to have to implement it, but it’s not going to be free,” Parson said. “Anytime there is an expansion in state government, it is never free.”

Tax policy

The economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic have caused severe cuts to the state’s budget over the past several months, leaving many questions about the possibility of tax increases for Missouri residents.

Candidates were each asked about their intentions to raise taxes in order to balance the state’s budget. All but Bauer said that they would not raise taxes, with Combs actually proposing to decrease taxes.

Parson and Galloway both proposed measures to reallocate funds that they said were not being used effectively.

“I am not proposing any increases in taxes for the agendas that I have laid out,” Galloway said. “As state auditor, I have found and identified loopholes and giveaways that provide no value to our taxpayers, whatsoever.”

Parson proposed using similar methods to prevent fraud and wasted funds, citing the trimming of the Medicaid rolls under his administration as an example.

“By doing these kinds of things, you can find money to pay for programs, but you have to get the waste and fraud out, no matter where it’s at,” Parson said.

Economic recovery

The candidates were asked to address the economic pressure the state faces due to high unemployment and restrictions that have been imposed on businesses in recent months.

They took a range of positions regarding plans to revive the economy and reduce unemployment. Parson, who has championed infrastructure and workforce development throughout his tenure as governor, once again pointed to these as the foundation upon which recovery would be built.

“You have to focus on two things, infrastructure and workforce development,” Parson said. “That’s not a Democratic or Republican issue. That’s a Missouri issue, and that’s how we’re really going to prepare our kids for the future of this state.”

Galloway took a different approach to solving the problem, focusing more on the importance of developing local businesses in order to strengthen the state from the inside out.

“Oftentimes our economic development strategies focus on chasing big out-of-state companies to come here,” Galloway said. “I think that we need to refocus on our small businesses that are rooted in the community and provide good paying jobs for folks close to home.”

Bauer proposed a student loan forgiveness plan for graduates wishing to purchase farmland. Combs revisited his suggestion to decrease taxes, with the intention of allowing residents additional wealth to reinvest in the economy.

Parting messages

Before parting, the candidates reminded viewers and voters of their platforms and values, and how each of these aspects differentiates them from their peers in the race.

Parson reminded voters of his religious and family values, his past military service and position in law enforcement, and how each of those play into the way that he approaches leadership.

“I believe everyone has a right to the American Dream,” Parson said. “But the only way that happens is if we stand up for basic freedoms and we protect individual rights.”

Referencing her track record as auditor, Galloway called attention to the misappropriation of government funding that her office has uncovered, promising to bring the same level of diligence and commitment to her work as governor.

“I have demanded efficiency, accountability and transparency,” Galloway said. “I’ve put forward comprehensive plans to lower the cost of health care, to contain this virus and provide more Missourians economic opportunity. We can’t just go back to where we were on the eve of this crisis, because where we were wasn’t good enough.”

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