Candidates in the November general election were quizzed about their stances on constitutional issues Thursday night at a forum hosted by the Rolla Tea Party.
Although the candidates represented the Democrat, Republican, Constitution and Libertarian parties, there was little disagreement uncovered.
For instance, all but two of the candidates said they support the right of Missourians to carry concealed weapons.
The two that declined to take a position were the two candidates for circuit court judge, who are currently associate circuit court judges and are prohibited by their code of ethics from expressing positions on issues that they could later face in the courtroom. Despite that, they both grinned as they divulged what they could ethically: one said he is an NRA member, the other said he’s looking forward to deer season.
For the most part, candidates spoke about their belief in fiscal prudence by the government.
Attending the forum at the Phelps County Courthouse Multi-Purpose room were:
• Richard L. Lisenbe, Democrat, and Ron Dishman, Republican, both of Rolla, candidates for Phelps County sheriff;
• Charles L. “Bud” Dean, Democrat, and Gary W. Hicks, Republican, both of Rolla, candidates for Phelps County commissioner, District 2;
• Colin Long, Waynesville, Democrat, and Bill Hickle, Rolla, Republican, candidates for 25th Judicial Circuit judge, Division 1;
• Greg Stratman, Vienna, Democrat, and Tom Hurst, Meta, Republican, 62nd District state representative;
• Jack Rushin, Poplar Bluff, Democrat, and Rick Vendeven, Chaffee, Libertarian, Eighth District U.S. representative;
• Cynthia L. Davis, O’Fallon, Constitution Party, candidate for lieutenant governor;
• Jim Higgins, Creve Coeur, Libertarian, candidate for governor.
The evening opened with a prayer from the moderator, Dr. Phil Cox, pastor of Christ Community Church, followed by the pledge of allegiance led by Don Chaney. Jan Ragsdell, treasurer of the Rolla Tea Party, welcomed the candidates and the audience and gave the candidates a chance to introduce themselves.
After that, the format was a two-minute opening statement from each person, followed by a single question for all candidates, with the bulk of the two-hour forum given to specific questions for the candidates. Candidates were given 90 seconds to respond to each question.
Although questions were accepted from the audience, there was little time left to ask those questions.
The first round of specific questions was aimed at Dean and Hicks, the county commissioner candidates.
They were asked about a Sept. 18 Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals ruling requiring Warren County to comply with Warrenton city building codes and permit requirements for a county administration building inside the city. The question was: “By extension, do you think this ruling could, in the future, imply that the county could assert its sovereignty over the state or federal government?” Neither candidate answered that question directly, saying only that they would follow the law, or the law as interpreted by a court.
Page 2 of 3 - “We will follow the law,” Dean said.
Hicks said if a court rules that other political subdivisions could be fined, he is sure the city of Rolla will do so.
Regarding a two-part question about the increasing of transparency for the commission and whether agendas and minutes should be posted online and made available to the newspaper, both candidates agreed the commission is already open to the public.
In fact, Hicks said that he has found the meetings he has attended to be quite open with county residents coming in and out of the meeting room for business and information.
Dean said few closed sessions are ever held. He noted that minutes are open to the public. Agendas are posted 24 hours in advance, but they are subject to change as residents are free to attend and bring up issues.
A lengthy series of questions focused on the county’s application for hazard mitigation funds to replace some low-water bridges and the Tea Party’s concern that this will require federal prevailing wages to be paid. Also, the Tea Party indicated concern that receiving of these federal funds signs over the right of local self government to the federal bureaucracy.
Both candidates noted federal prevailing wages are required for government projects paid for by tax money. Neither indicated a belief that rights will be stripped away.
Finally, the candidates were asked about a road connecting the North Outer Road west of Love’s Truck Stop to County Road 2000. Both said they would support such a road if funding is available and the city, county and state could cooperate on the project.
Hicks assured the audience that a roundabout proposed for V Highway near Love’s Truck Stop has been shelved due to lack of right-of-way. The audience applauded.
Lisenbe and Dishman were both asked about the sheriff’s role as the highest law enforcement authority in Phelps County. Both agreed that is the case, for the sheriff, unlike city or federal law officers, is elected.
The Tea Party questioned whether Phelps County’s $2 million share of the $6.7 million in assets seized from statewide from criminal activity was appropriate. A second part of the question asked if the sheriff’s candidates would be willing to cut the department budget due to the amount of drug forfeiture money received.
Neither candidate indicated the amount was out of line, and Lisenbe said the federal money comes with “strings attached” so it must be used for specific purchases of equipment or paying for training, rather than for uses that might lower the budget request. Nevertheless, he indicated a willingness to work with the commission.
Asked about use of unmanned drones for surveillance, Dishman said he didn’t know enough about this relatively new technology for law enforcement to answer the question. Lisenbe said he is not for cameras on traffic lights, so he is likely not in support of the use of drones.
Page 3 of 3 - At 8:04, the questioning turned to the judicial candidates. They were asked about how to be impartial, whether they would follow the lead of state or federal courts, what the state constitution means when it says Missourians have the right to enjoy “the gains of their own industry” and what uses of private property the Missouri Constitution does not permit the government to restrict.
The candidates agreed on all questions that they must remain impartial, they must follow the precedents set in the higher courts and they could not comment on issues that they might have to judge in the future.
At 8:16, the 62nd District representative candidates were questioned about the role of state government, the way to communicate with constituents, use of federal funds for the state budget and Proposition E, the ballot issue in November that asks Missourians whether they want the state to establish state-based health insurance exchanges without a vote of the people.
Stratman said the role of government is to protect the rights of the people. Hurst said government should offer a “hand-up, not a hand-out.”
Both indicated they would seek ways to keep people informed of what they are doing.
Both said state spending needs to be trimmed because one-third of the $24 billion budget comes from the U.S. government.
Hurst said he supports Proposition E, which would require the popular vote for the health insurance exchanges.
Stratman said most of the people in his district would support the proposition.
The two Eighth District candidates were the farthest apart.
The Libertarian candidate wants to end the war on terrorism and the war on drugs. He wants to end the Federal Reserve System and he wants to cut taxes.
The Democrat candidate spoke about the need for fiscal prudence.
Asked about executive orders having the force of law, Vandeven, the Libertarian candidate, said the first order ever issued was by Abraham Lincoln to lock up his political opponents.
Rushin said executive orders sometimes have validity.
Davis and Higgins also spoke about the need for trimming spending.
The forum was videotaped and the Tea Party plans to place that video on its website at www.rollateaparty.com.
The Rolla Tea Party plans a rally Saturday, Oct. 27, at Lions Club Park.
Todd Akin, Republican candidate for U.S. senator, will be the keynote speaker for the noon to 5 p.m. event.
Rosa String Works Band will provide entertainment.