By Erin Achenbach
Gravois Township Committeewoman, Jennifer Bird, Republican, will take on incumbent Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, for the 91st District House seat on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Bird, 50, 9244 Laurel Hill Drive, is the mother of a young family as well as being an officer manager and working with sales for Kendall, LLC.
Bird has served as a Gravois Township Committeewoman since August 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education.
“I was asked by leadership and several legislators (past and present) to run,” said Bird on why she was seeking office.
Unsicker, 42, 5008 Exter Ave., is married to Tom Unsicker. Together they have two young children: William and Nathan, who both attend Affton public schools.
Unsicker is the current representative of the 91st District, after being elected in 2016. She is a graduate of Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana and Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
She is involved in Gethesmane Lutheran Church, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice National Women’s Political Caucus and the National Conference of State Legislators.
“I want to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives,” said Unsicker on why she was running for a second term.
The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:
What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why?
Bird said, “I believe economic development is of critical importance.”
Unsicker said, “It is important to elect someone who listens to and understands the constituents of the 91st District
What other issues do you perceive in your race?
Bird said, “The City-County Merger is another critical issue and I have been leading the charge against such a measure. Legalizing Cannabis and ending imprisonment for victimless crimes are also important issues.”
Unsicker said, “Healthcare – needs to be affordable for everyone; Education—we need to support our public schools; Economy—we need to improve our state’s economy and make it more equitable for everyone.”
What is your position on abortion?
Bird said, “I am pro-life and believe protecting the unborn is a duty. I also see that protecting the life of the mother is of equal importance.”
Unsicker said, “We need to reduce abortions by reducing the reasons women believe they need abortions, including reducing poverty, expanding child care availability, enacting paid family leave policies, making healthcare affordable, and expanding access to family planning. Outlawing abortions will not stop abortions, but it will drive them underground and negatively affect the health of women.”
What is your position on the death penalty?
Bird said, “Being pro-life, I support natural life sentences (with no chance for parole) for murderers. I recognize some crimes are so horrific that a death sentence is easily justifiable but more strict and natural life sentences I believe are appropriate and more cost-efficient than keeping someone on death row and paying for appeals.”
Unsicker said, “It costs more money to put a prisoner to death than to keep them in prison for life, and at the same time the death penalty increases the burden on the court system.”
What is your position on tax-increment financing? Are changes needed to this law?
Bird said, “Area leaders in recent times have strayed far from the original intent of TIFs and have seemingly been in a race to give away the most while gaining more retail shopping stores and other commercial developments. TIF subsidies siphon dollars from area school districts and often end up rewarding developers and private business. TIFs should only be used to encourage development and redevelopment of truly blighted areas. Changes to the law to tighten rules and definitions are needed.”
Unsicker said, “TIFs are overused in St. Louis County and add to the fragmentation of the region. They take money from public schools and we need to change the way they are enacted.”
Would you support placing a constitutional amendment before voters that, if approved, would repeal the supermajority requirement for school-district bond issues?
Bird said, “No, we do not need another constitutional amendment. Fiscal prudence, excellent performance and quality programs are generally supported while waste, extravagance and irresponsibility are not. People generally support their schools and recognize the long-term obligation we all have to schools. Repealing the supermajority requirement is not needed and could make it easier for passage of wants versus needs.”
Unsicker said, “I would need to know more about where my constituents stand on this issue.”
Are changes needed to the state’s foundation formula for funding education?
Bird said, “The formula itself is very complicated and very few people understand it. I don’t believe it needs changes but any such plans should be heavily scrutinized and pre-tested to ensure intentions are acquired and potential disasters are not on the horizon.”
Unsicker said, “Yes; it needs to be made more equitable.”
Are changes needed to the law allowing Missouri citizens to carry concealed weapons? If so, why? If not, why not?
Bird said, “I believe the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution spells out my rights very clearly. This is my “permit” to carry, concealed or open, not Missouri law.”
Unsicker said, “Yes. The law should require training before an individual carries a concealed weapon, should require a license to carry concealed, and allow officials to deny a license to people who are guilty of domestic violence.”
Are changes needed to the state’s current Open Meetings and Records Law? If so, what would you propose?
Bird said, “Yes, I believe changes need to be made to prohibit the use of information and message-destroying applications that prevent forwarding or taking screenshots or any other proof-providing action. Use of any such application indicates an attempt to deceive and hide. One doesn’t get to operate in secret when one is publicly supported and tasked with a public job.”
Unsicker said, “I am not aware of any changes needed in the law but I would be willing to listen to proposals. I do believe we need better enforcement of current laws.”
What do you propose to generate revenue for road and bridge improvements?
Bird said, “I think we should legalize and tax cannabis to help fund road and bridge projects and repairs.”
Unsicker said, “The users of the roads need to pay for maintenance improvements. One way to do this is through the gas tax that is on the November ballot. I would also like to see some toll roads and bridges to help raise the money needed for improvements.”
Are changes needed to the state’s eminent domain laws to prevent abuse?
Bird said, “Yes, absolutely. We need to end eminent domain use for private businesses to profit.”
Unsicker said, “I am not aware of any changes needed in the law but I would be willing to listen to proposals. I do believe we need strong enforcement of current laws.”
What will you do to improve Missouri’s economy?
Bird said, “I will try to secure the St. Louis region’s market share of brewers, food processors and data storage facilities since we have excellent water at the best (already tiered) price rate and don’t even use half of our daily capacity of 800 million gallons per day. We do not have our market share for any of the above listed industries which all require incredible amounts of water and we’ve got the best in the nation and cheap, too! And these industries will bring jobs.”
Unsicker said, “First, we need to make sure our students get a good education so that they are career or college ready when they graduate for high school. Second, we need an earned income tax credit to benefit lower-income individuals. We need to make sure work is incentivized and provide strong supports so that companies want to locate in Missouri. We also need to simplify regulations for small businesses to make it easier to form a business in Missouri.”
Would you support legislation to facilitate a merger of St. Louis County and St. Louis city?
Bird said, “Absolutely no City-County Merger/reentry/reunification or whatever label the pushers wish to apply. A merger of any kind is but a bail out, an anchor around the County’s neck and a reward for the City’s decades-long failed practices. The City, like Illinois, doesn’t seem to understand that spending more than what is collected is not sustainable. Citizen beware: Steve Tilley, Rex and company will bring us the merger via statewide petition initiative. It is on the horizon.”
Unsicker said, “That depends on what is in the legislation. We have strong communities in St. Louis county and I would not support a bill that would weaken these communities. More than a merger, I would support increased collaboration between the City and the county.”
Are changes needed to the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri? If so, what would you propose?
Bird said, “No. No changes are needed now. It is solvent and needs no fix. It seems there are some who’d like to gain access but I believe it should be left alone.”
Unsicker said, “No.”
Would you support amending the state’s Sunshine Law to require public governmental bodies to make audio recordings of all closed meetings? Such recordings would not be available to the public or press.
Bird said, “Yes. Anyone performing “work” on the taxpayer dime should be accountable to the bosses: John & Jane Q. Taxpayer. No secrets!”
Unsicker said, “Such recordings would not be available to the public or press. No; I’m not sure how this would help make these bodies more transparent. ”
Would you support legislation imposing limits on campaign contributions?
Bird said, “I generally prefer more freedom than less but understand people’s wish to limit contributions given Rex Sinquefield’s purchase of many seats in the Missouri Legislature.”
Unsicker said, “Yes. We need candidates who are supported by individuals and constituents, not by industry and corporate PACs.”
What did you think of the performance of former Gov. Eric Greitens? What do you think of the performance of Gov. Mike Parson?
Bird said, “I liked that Governor Greitens signed the Right to Work legislation so quickly. I don’t think he was in office long enough to accomplish many goals. I believe Governor Parson has certainly restored integrity to the office and am eager to see him enjoy success for the remaining term. It seems too early to issue a judgment.”
Unsicker said, “I believe that most of Greitens’ work was done in public and he was not interested in working across the aisle. Gov. Parson is interested in policy and in doing the work the office requires. He is willing to work to pass good policy, and I have already met with his staff about legislation I plan to work on next year.”
What will or have you done to work across the aisle in Jefferson City?
Bird said, “I talk to anyone and as many people as I can. I believe most people agree at least 85% of the time if they are given the truth and the whole story, not the story with the hole in it. I will continue to be honest and not manipulative and seek counsel and input from many people, regardless of political affiliation.”
Unsicker said, “Yes. I believe most issues that are important to citizens are nonpartisan, although different people may have different approaches to solving problems. I was able to work with Republicans to improve bills by making significant amendments, including one that supports individuals receiving a blind pension.”
If elected, what bill would you sponsor as your first legislation?
Bird said, “I would like to hear from constituents what legislation they want sponsored first since I will be representing them. If no one comes up with anything good, I’ll sponsor a bill to legalize cannabis. I also would like to release criminals convicted of non-violent and victimless crimes, letting them get back to their regular lives, contribute and not drain valuable resources while in jail.”
Unsicker said, “ My first bill next year will be for a maternal mortality review board, to look at why Missouri has such high rates of women dying as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, and to make recommendations to policy makers, health care providers, DHSS and to the public about ways to reduce maternal mortality in Missouri. I am pleased that this is a priority of DHSS and that they are already beginning to take important steps to reduce maternal mortality in Missouri. As we tackle the issue of maternal mortality, we need to ensure that pregnant women continue to have healthcare coverage.”
Should there be a Transparency Division created within the office of the Missouri Attorney General for the sole purpose of prosecuting violations of Public Records and Public Meetings statutes?
Bird said, “Quite possibly, yes. As a private sector small business person, out of necessity, I must perform many tasks for work in order to succeed. No group or individual has come in to “help” me by restricting how much work I can accomplish in a day. I’d like to explore this concept further and see if we can develop such a division without increasing costs to taxpayers because ALL government has a cost. I don’t want to just create new jobs for my friends or friends of other politicians. The state cannot be in the employment business!”
Unsicker said, “I would need more details before I could answer this question, including what it would cost, how many full-time employees would be assigned to this division, and what services would be sacrificed to create this.”
Should the Missouri Attorney General be given subpoena power to investigate Sunshine Law violations?
Bird said, “Yes, the Missouri Attorney General should be given subpoena power to investigate Sunshine Law violations.”
Unsicker said, “Yes.”
With fewer than 50 percent of rural Missourians having access to high-speed internet service, should Missouri’s newspapers continue to be the medium in which all public notices required by law are published and distributed in print to provide due process to those persons affected by the public notices?
Bird said, “Yes.”
Unsicker said, “Yes.”
Should members and staff of all public governmental bodies (including state, county and local, and public colleges and universities) be prohibited from downloading or using software designed to send encrypted messages by electronic means that automatically self-destruct on communication devices purchased with public money? In other words, should the Confide app or other such software be prohibited from use because such apps are capable of destroying public records that should be available to citizens?
Bird said, “Yes. Operation under secrecy begs fraud, waste and misuse as well as breeds contempt for s/he who foots the bill and most certainly offers a perfect environment for cheating and improper behavior. Shine the light and the mold can’t grow!”
Unsicker said, “Yes.”
Do you support right-to-work legislation?
Bird said, “Yes, I support right-to-work legislation as long as it doesn’t prohibit any voluntary act of joining or not joining a group.”
Unsicker said, “No.”
Should Missouri legalize medical marijuana?
Bird said, “Yes, Missouri should legalize medical cannabis.”
Unsicker said, “I would like to see more research done into medical marijuana, including research into dosage and effectiveness. There are substantial anecdotes that it is effective, but the FDA does not allow research studies on marijuana. I am uncomfortable making laws based on anecdotes, but I do know that the majority of my constituents support medical marijuana.”
Do you support work requirements for Medicaid or SNAP recipients
Bird said, “Yes, at least some contribution should be made unless physical limitations prohibit such.”
Unsicker said, “No. Work requirements for Medicaid recipients are counterproductive because an individual has to be healthy in order to work. In addition, it is nearly impossible for adults to receive Medicaid in Missouri unless they are disabled and there is a high unemployment rate of individuals with disabilities (more than double that of the unemployment rate for individuals without disabilities). Work requirements for SNAP recipients will lead to hungry children. Another problem with work requirements is that we don’t have any major industry in parts of Missouri, especially in the Bootheel, which is already one of the nation’s worst areas for child hunger.”
What will or have you done to identify any waste or inefficiencies in Missouri government?
Bird said, “I am constantly reviewing various expenditures by various government entities and alerting the public about waste, suspected fraud and more. I will continue to monitor fiscal behavior of elected officials.”
Unsicker said, “In my first session, I served on the Fiscal Review Committee, looking at how much different bills would cost the state. I have objected to a number of bills because of their cost to the state or because of insufficient information about their costs.”