District 97 Republican candidates square off at forum

By EVAN YOUNG

The four Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination for the Dis-trict 97 state House seat took questions on topics ranging from education to health care during a recent forum.

Concord residents Chris Brown, Gary Fuhr and Jerry Little, and Oak-ville resident William “Bill” Zobrist are vying for the Republican nomination in the Aug. 3 primary. They are running for the state House seat held by Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, who cannot run again due to term limits.

The candidates participated in a nearly two-hour forum May 13 at the Tesson Ferry Branch County Library, sponsored by the Tesson Ferry Town-ship Republican Club.

Asked what they believed would be their biggest challenge if they reached Jefferson City, all four candidates cited the need to get Missourians back to work. They called for a jobs bill that would employ tax breaks, loans and other incentives to encourage small businesses to start hiring again.

Brown and Fuhr also said curbing government spending was a top priority.

Besides primary races, Missouri voters on Aug. 3 also will decide on a ballot measure, the Missouri Health Care Freedom Act, that would amend state law to prohibit “any person, employer or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system.”

Asked about the health care reform signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this year, and the Missouri Health Care Freedom Act, Zobrist said, “The health care bill is unconstitutional on so many levels, I don’t know where to start. But the fact of the matter is it’s an excellent idea to take the fight back to the federal government. The 10th Amendment is our future as far as I’m concerned, and we need to be able to govern ourselves and we need to be able to opt out of this if we can. It’s an absolute abomination what they’ve created …”

Brown said of the Aug. 3 health care referendum, “It makes Missouri the first state to be able to have the public vote on opting out of the health care mess that we have from the government. We should not be listening to the fact that big government is trying to pass something that they have no constitutional right to do. The 10th Amendment gives the state of Missouri the opportunity to regulate that, and that’s something we need to do.”

Fuhr said, “This is more about control of our tax dollars and has very little to do with health care. It’s going to be the first time you’ll be compelled to buy something, and if you don’t buy it you stand to be fined or imprisoned.

“That’s just not the way our Constitution is built, and it’s not what I spent my time in the military and law enforcement to protect. Hopefully we can get this country back on track.”

Little said, “What concerns me more than anything is that this is going to kick in in 2013. What’s going to happen is they’re taking our money now, and they’re building up this reserve. And when the insurance kicks in in 2013 and we add all these people onto the roll, it’s going to kill our Medicare system in the state of Missouri. We are going to be really under the gun to try and get back some of the revenue that’s going to be paid out in Medicare premiums and Medicaid premiums. That’s what I’m really concerned about because the federal government — when they mandated this — they could care less where you get your revenue to pay for it. They’re only telling you this is what we’re going to force upon the states. That’s why the 10th Amendment is so important.”

Asked about their positions on illegal immigration, all four candidates said they would support efforts to seal the U.S. border rather than attempt to deport every illegal immigrant in the country.

Asked what they would do at the state level to “promote and encourage” education, be it public, private, parochial or home schooling, Zobrist said, “Education at all those levels is so necessary. As I’ve walked the neighborhoods it’s really surprising how many home-schooled people I talked to. I think it’s a new and very important byproduct of the education system. My boys were sent to private school and it was a huge sacrifice for our family … The way it’s gone it’s just amazing to me how people are doing it today with tuition getting out of control. Public education of course in our budget at the state level a certain percentage of our budget has to be spent on education. I support that.

“I believe that we might want to take a look at the fact that we’re paying the superintendent of the Mehlville School District almost a quarter of a million dollars to run the school district,” Zobrist added. “I mean, we pay our governor $130,000 and housing and yet we’re paying our superintendent of the Mehlville School District nearly a quarter of a million. That’s money that could hire a couple of teachers as far as I can tell.”

Brown said, “We have seen a lot of success in the state of Missouri from all three different tracks of education. We have a very strong home-schooling network in Missouri … we’ve got many people here in South St. Louis County that participate in home-schooling … South county has over 30 percent of our kids in private or parochial schools, so that’s also something that’s very important … And the third sector, the public school sector — We’re very blessed to have a district like Mehlville that is succeeding, doing well. They’ve been able to be a leader in the state several years. They’ve put out programs that have been models for bringing new technology into the classrooms.

“But I think one of the things that is lost in the public school sector is not enough of our tax dollars get to that classroom. I applauded Gov. (Matt) Blunt a few years back when he said 70 cents of every dollar should be in that classroom. That’s not just the schools and textbooks and everything; that’s teachers’ salaries. Too much money is wasted outside the classroom … I think we need to make sure the money is properly allocated in the districts.

“We need to get the federal government out of the education system. They should’ve never been put in the system; it’s a state issue … When we have a failing district, we need to give (families) choices. We can’t just say you gotta go to St. Louis city schools because you live in St. Louis city. Give those parents the opportunity through a voucher system or tax rebate program that they can take their kids out of that failing district and put them in a good environment. Because otherwise, if they don’t succeed, we’re all doomed.”

Fuhr said, “The No. 1 issue we have to deal with is get the federal government out of our school system. Those of you that are familiar with the new programs with Race to the Top, Missouri’s trying to get more of the federal money which means more federal government influence into the schools which means less and less in the way of true education of values and principles. I think it’s a real detriment to our school districts …

“We need to get the parents back involved. Those areas of the state where we have a lot of parental involvement, we have good school districts and pretty good scores. Those areas of the cities primarily where we don’t have good parental involvement are where our school districts are really suffering and we’ve seen some accreditation issues come up.”

Little said, “I think the public school system is what has created the private schools, parochial schools and home-schooling. I think all of us understand that there’s a few good schools out there. I know Mehlville and Lindbergh are excellent school districts. But a lot of schools — public schools — are failing. Teachers are not up to standard. The leadership of the schools is not up to standard. That’s what creates parochial schools. That’s what creates private schools. And I think home-schooling is great as well. My daughter taught her children through home-schooling …

“I think it’s very good that we use these tax dollars efficiently and wisely and not send everything to public schools. I think parochial schools need some of those tax dollars. I think private schools need some of those tax dollars and home-schooling as well. Not every dollar should go to public schools because I think it’s wasteful spending. We’ve seen it, we read about it every day, and there needs to be some parity. I think that’s something legislators need to work toward in order to make our whole society function better in educating our children. They are priority No. 1,” Little added.