Former teacher challenges O’Donnell to represent Oakville in Missouri’s House

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Rep. Michael O’Donnell, left, and Ann Zimpfer, right.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Incumbent Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R-Oakville, is being challenged for the 95th District Missouri House seat representing Oakville by Ann Zimpfer, a former teacher and newcomer to public office. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

O’Donnell, 52, 7043 Chalkstone Road, Oakville, and his wife, Lisa, have two children who attended Oakville schools. He is a municipal finance professional and a U.S. Navy Reserve officer. He was first elected in 2016.

Zimpfer, 5907 Oakville Woods Place, Oakville,  and her husband, Tim, have two sons, one a graduate of Oakville schools and one a graduate of Special School District. She is a retired Mehlville School District teacher.

When asked why he was seeking re-election, O’Donnell said, “Having spent more than 29 years engaged in the finances of cities, towns, school districts and states, I’ve seen states, like Illinois, drive themselves to the brink of insolvency with unchecked spending. I understand the need to make the difficult spending decision for Missouri that avoids that sort of outcome. I’m a fiscal and constitutional conservative who would like to continue his service to the community; first via my service in the Navy and now by serving the Oakville community in Jefferson City.”

When asked why she was seeking office, Zimpfer said,“As a longtime member of this community, I knew I could represent the interests of the people of Oakville. I knew I could share my voice and my passion for people and causes around me. I’m a retired teacher and an advocate for people with special needs. I know that I can continue my career of service in Jefferson City.”

The candidates gave the following responses to The Call’s candidate questionnaire:

What is your position on abortion?

O’Donnell:  “I am pro-life and proud to be endorsed again by Missouri Right to Life.”

Zimpfer: “I believe decisions around pregnancy are best left to a woman and her physician.”

What is your position on the death penalty?

O’Donnell:  “I support the death penalty for the most extreme cases.”

Zimpfer: “I am opposed to the death penalty. By eliminating the death penalty, the state would have millions of dollars a year to invest in programs that are proven to prevent violent crime, create safer communities and support those who are harmed by crime and violence.”

Are changes needed to the state’s foundation formula for funding education?

O’Donnell:  “Definitely. Oakville residents have been sending more money out of the Mehlville School District than they are paying into it. More of that money needs to stay right here to increase the educational opportunities right here in Oakville. Last session we saw a proposal that would have taken millions of dollars from the Mehlville School District. If re-elected, I will continue to fight such measures.”

Zimpfer: “No, but what we do need to change is the amount that is set for each district. When the initial fully funded amount was set (1998), the state failed year after year to actually fully fund the formula. Instead of providing schools with the money the foundation formula promised, Republican legislative majorities just redefined how much funding constituted full funding. That’s a broken promise to kids across the state. We should undo that mistake and actually fully fund the foundation formula.”

What do you propose to generate revenue for road and bridge improvements?

O’Donnell: “I would like to see more federal, state and local partnerships to help fund road and bridge improvements. During my first term, our use of short-term bonding allowed us to secure a federal grant and saved us millions of dollars and is providing important construction jobs.”

Zimpfer: “Our state fuel tax rate, 17 cents per gallon, has not increased since 1996. Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support an increase for good reason, because a gas tax increase is a far better option than toll roads. If we want quality infrastructure in our state, we all need to spend a little more to get it.”

Do you support right-to-work legislation?

O’Donnell: “Right-to-work legislation that was passed was rejected by the voters. I would not support passing that legislation again and overriding the wishes of the voters.”

Zimpfer: “I oppose right-to-work and other anti-worker legislation that would hamper collective bargaining, and as a representative, I would honor the voice of the voters in the 95th District. In the 95th District, a whopping 68 percent of voters voted no on this issue.”

What changes should Missouri make to its health care system?

O’Donnell: “We need to continue work to bring down health care costs. We are paying more and more every year but we’re getting less and less. The inflation rate in everything that has to do with health care is on an unsustainable course.”

Zimpfer: “One important change was Medicaid expansion. We must now make sure that it is implemented effectively. We must make sure health care is affordable and accessible for Missourians. I would like to see us pass a PDMP (Prescription Drug Monitoring Program) in order to curb opioid abuse and support investing in mental health services, especially during these trying times during the pandemic. Missouri is still the only state without a PDMP.”

What will you do to improve Missouri’s economy?

O’Donnell: “Improving the state’s economy, in a post-COVID era, is going to require new businesses to relocate here or be started here. A large component of that growth will require a workforce that is trained for the jobs of tomorrow. We are in a different world now – technology is advancing so quickly and the government is struggling to keep up. We can’t hide our head in the sand – we must prioritize education for the next generation.”

Zimpfer: “Currently, Missouri is trying to recover from unemployment and the closing of small businesses across the state due to COVID-19. When we begin to recover from COVID-19, the state will need to focus on rebuilding the economy and specifically by incentivizing businesses to hire back those workers who were laid off.

“In the long run, we need to focus on bringing in more high-skilled workers to the state, by making Missouri an attractive place to live and work. That often means investing into state infrastructure and public services. We should look at providing tax incentives for small businesses, not just large corporations, and work to analyze and promote emerging technologies and invest in bringing those industries to Missouri. Additionally, we must continue the plan for the minimum wage increase.”

Should there be a statewide mask mandate?

O’Donnell: “A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t make sense in this case. Counties like Reynolds and Skyler have had the equivalent of 650 and 600 cases per 100,000 residents respectively. Businesses have put mandatory mask requirements in place, and for the most part people have been supportive.”

Zimpfer: We have seen evidence that wearing masks reduces the possibility of spreading COVID-19, and a piecemeal approach has not contained this virus.”

Read on for web exclusive questions and answers.

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why?

O’Donnell:  “Oakville residents expect the Missouri Legislature to deal with the things that have the largest impact on their lives — for most that is their ability to provide for their families and themselves. The state needs to continue to cut regulation and red tape so that companies in Missouri will continue to provide jobs and additional companies will come to the state to improve everyone’s quality of life. The post COVID-19 economic recovery will make these types of changes even more crucial.”

Zimpfer: “Health care must be at the top of the list. Our nation is in the middle of a pandemic and we continue to see cases rise here in Missouri. We have not had the leadership we need to slow the spread.

“Missouri voters also recently passed Medicaid expansion and we need to make sure that the next legislature makes it a top priority to implement Medicaid expansion effectively in the state.  We have many rural areas that have suffered and no longer have access to hospitals or quality medical care, as well as those who go uninsured right here in Oakville. Our seniors must make decisions about paying bills or paying for medication, and that’s not right. Overall, we must ensure that folks in Missouri have accessible and affordable care including dental and mental health care.”

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

O’Donnell:  “Crime is a growing problem. So much so that it has become a deterrent to companies relocating to our area for increased job opportunities. Now, more than ever, we have to give our police the resources they need to deal with this problem. We cannot expect to keep our families safe and grow our economy by defunding and disarming our police. We have to continue to fight the opioid crisis in Missouri. When I was deployed to Afghanistan, I was part of a group focused on counter-narcotics efforts, so I’ve worked on the front lines of this crisis by stopping heroin from making its way here. There is so much the state can do to help reduce the lives lost and the lives ruined by these illegal drugs. The state needs to ensure we have safe roads and bridges. The state must reprioritize its spending to meet current infrastructure needs. Technology is changing rapidly, and we need to take a really hard look at how our K-12 and post-secondary education curriculum is preparing students and future workers for the opportunities that are going to exist.”

Zimpfer: “Education: My belief in the strength of the public school system is a defining part of who I am. We must empower our teachers and support our students by prioritizing local control and pursuing more equal distribution of statewide funds. We must make sure that student learning standards align with developmental ability and not rush or hinder students so we can teach to their strengths. I oppose the expansion of charter schools, which take already-limited funds away from public schools.

“I am a fierce advocate for the special needs community. I want to ensure workers with special needs have options in their working environment. I support increased funding for agencies that provide support for individuals with special needs. These agencies need to be able to retain and recruit quality staff and provide fulfilling opportunities for those with special needs. I would also like to streamline the Medicaid and SSI application process for individuals with special needs and adjust the financial limits for Missourians to qualify for Medicaid.

“I support the hardworking families in the 95th District. My experience as a negotiator for Mehlville NEA has taught me the power of collective bargaining, and protecting that right is important. I strongly oppose right-to-work and other anti-worker legislation that would hamper collective bargaining. We need a local economy that works both for business owners and for workers.

“I unequivocally support the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act.”

What is your position on tax-increment financing?

O’Donnell:  “I believe in free markets and would like to see the use of TIFs reduced. Local and state governments are responsible for making sure that the infrastructure is in place for successful business development in our community, and that continued support requires businesses to support their local communities through the taxes they pay.”

Zimpfer: “Tax-increment financing should be used in ways that further true community development. Common sense reform should be explored to protect against blatant abuses of the program.

“We need to ensure that school districts are able to protect needed revenue as well. I will ensure we have resources in place to assure that school districts have the resources for every student to get a quality education.”

Would you support placing a constitutional amendment before voters that, if approved, would repeal the supermajority requirement for school-district bond issues?

O’Donnell:  “No, because raising taxes should never be an easy thing to do. However, with current market conditions and interest rates at record lows, this is a moot point because school districts with strong credit ratings, like Mehlville and Lindbergh, would only get a 2 to 5 basis point break, if any at all, for the supermajority vote. For example, Lindbergh issued almost $10 million in bonds back in July and got a rate around 1 percent without a supermajority vote. Investors scooped these bonds up quickly and the district suffered no consequences for not having the general obligation backing that a supermajority vote would have given.”

Zimpfer: “Yes, I would prefer just a simple majority.”


Are changes needed to the laws allowing Missouri citizens to carry concealed weapons?

O’Donnell:  “I remember all of the scare tactics that were used when the voters passed the conceal and carry law here in Missouri and none of that has come to pass. Conceal and carry is about allowing law-abiding citizens to safely protect themselves.”

Zimpfer: “I support people’s Second Amendment rights and the right to self-defense, but all too often firearms are not merely used to stop violence but to start it. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I always lived with the fear in the back of my mind that that could happen at my school to my students. For that reason, I support common sense gun laws that can restrict access to firearms that present a clear and present danger to themselves and those around them.

“Citizens who want to conceal and carry should have proper training, and there should be a state certification and licensure.”

Are changes needed to the state’s Open Meeting and Records Law?  If so, what would you propose?

O’Donnell:  “I support any effort to make government business and the spending of taxpayer money a more open and transparent process. Voters deserve to have the information necessary to hold their elected officials accountable. However, they’re not entitled to know the opinions and personal business, including medical information, of other Missourians in their correspondence with their elected officials.”

Zimpfer: “I would like to see more clarity around what can, must, and should not be disclosed in order to avoid legal battles and unnecessary confusion. I’m a firm believer in transparency.”

Are changes needed to the state’s eminent domain laws to prevent abuse?

O’Donnell: “Eminent domain abuse is a real problem and we need to quickly put an end to this practice. Private property is private property, and the government has no right to infringe on the private property rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Zimpfer: “Yes.”

Would you support legislation to facilitate a merger of St. Louis County and St. Louis city?

O’Donnell: “Absolutely not! I co-sponsored the measure that ultimately stopped the Better Together effort during my first term and will continue to fight a merger if re-elected. I have met so many Oakville residents who are so upset by the thought that their tax dollars could wind up going to help bail out the financially strapped city. I will continue to do everything I can in the Legislature to protect South County residents from this attempted land and money grab by the city.”

Zimpfer: “No. This is not a state decision and would need to be made by the voters in St. Louis City and County. There was not enough clarification on issues in the Better Together proposal. This should not be a decision made by folks across the entire state when it pertains to our region.”

Do you support the changes the Legislature made to the Sunshine Law in 2019, including exempting some legislative records?

O’Donnell: “I did support that change. A citizen should feel comfortable sharing whatever information they think is necessary when communicating to their elected officials. A private citizen should not have to forfeit their right to privacy just to get help from their legislator. I will continue to fight to protect the privacy of the citizens of the 95th District.”

Zimpfer did not respond.

Should police departments be defunded?

O’Donnell: “Defunding and disarming our police will erode the safety of our families. I will always support our police and first responders. Having deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand the dangers and fears our police officers face every day and the stress it causes their families every time they put on that badge. I will support those brave men and women with the tools, resources and funding they need to keep Oakville safe.”

Zimpfer: “No, law enforcement needs every resource available to keep our communities safe. That said, we have room to make common sense criminal justice reform at the state level and take a closer look at how we’re spending money that goes towards public safety. We must allow additional funding for after-school programs, the hiring of social workers to accompany law enforcement, and provide more de-escalation training for our police officers. Fighting crime is a comprehensive effort that we all need to fight, not just law enforcement.”

What do you think of the leadership of Gov. Mike Parson?

O’Donnell: “I have found Gov. Parson to be a person interested in moving the ball down the field. He understands he represents a co-equal part of our government and is willing to work with the elected members of the Legislature to create the best possible outcomes for as many Missourians as possible. Whomever is governor we should all be rooting for their success because, as Missourians, their success is our success.”

Zimpfer: “I think he lacks leadership. I don’t think leadership should mean cutting funding to education, taking children off Medicaid, and not exhibiting leadership qualities throughout the state in response to COVID-19.  This lack of leadership grows as the schools suffer and people continue to struggle through this pandemic.”

What will or have you done to work across the aisle in Jefferson City?

O’Donnell: “With my background in banking and investments, I found myself working on a lot of legislation related to finance. All of the bills I worked on in this area received bipartisan support in committee, on the House floor and by both parties in the Senate. We will continue to disagree but I plan to continue to work with them, because so many of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle have a lot of life experience to share that may make our legislation better.”

Zimpfer: “I will reach out to legislators across the aisle who might have one point of common interest and build on that. I have served on Mehlville School District’s negotiations team and we had to do just that with administration. Though some conversations are difficult to have, we found a common point of interest and made attempts to build on that. Bipartisanship is extremely important to me.”

What bill would you sponsor as your first legislation post-election?

O’Donnell: “First and foremost, I believe in limited government. I will always seek to end regulations, kill bad legislation and root out waste, fraud and abuse in government. There are plenty of areas government can help the community without overstepping. I’m going to put my background in finance to work to help utilities reduce their borrowing costs. By reducing these costs, the utilities would be required, by the Public Service Commission, to reduce the utility bills for all of its customers, saving the hard earned money of all Oakville residents.”

Zimpfer did not respond.

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?

O’Donnell: “There need to be improvements to state Sunshine Laws to make records much more accessible and increasing penalties for violators rather than creating more bureaucracy. If the law has faults, adding more bureaucrats won’t solve the problem.”

Zimpfer: “I support this, with a caveat. Government accountability should be important to everyone, and I would love to see something like this within a state organization so we can root out corruption and keep everything above board. While this office would work to protect Missourians, I do worry that an attorney general could use this office to pick and choose who he or she does or doesn’t want to investigate or prosecute based on politics.”

Should the Missouri Attorney General be given subpoena power to investigate Sunshine Law violations?

O’Donnell: “Potentially, but before we get to this point the law needs to be improved and clarified by the Legislature. If the law is improved, it may not require a subpoena power. We must first focus on improving and strengthening existing statutes on state Sunshine Laws.”

Zimpfer: “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?

O’Donnell: “Missouri newspapers are a stable source in the community for notices. However, this may change over the next few years and we will need to look at it at that point – but the time is not now.”

Zimpfer did not respond.

Should members and staff of all governmental bodies 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?

O’Donnell: “I believe all work done by public officials on behalf of the public belongs in the public domain and any attempt to hide or destroy that information should be illegal.”

Zimpfer: “Yes, such a prohibition is important. In a democracy, elected officials and their staffers need to be transparent and all of their official actions need to be cataloged to hold them accountable in case there’s wrongdoing.”

What do you think of the state’s COVID-19 response?

O’Donnell: “We still know so little about this virus, so fighting it and keeping people safe has been one of toughest things we’ve ever faced. Those of us in the Legislature moved quickly to get the $1.6 billion CARES Act money appropriated to increase the availability of testing and PPE (personal protective equipment) for our courageous frontline health care workers. So much of what is needed has nothing to do with government and everything to do with personal responsibility.”

Zimpfer: “To date, our state has not effectively responded to COVID-19. We average roughly 1,400 new cases each day, we continue to be a red zone for the disease, and 2,200 Missourians have died from COVID-19. The governor’s rationale for sending kids back to school was that they would ‘get over it’ without considering the danger it posed to them, as well as teachers and staff. We must be sure to use proper social distancing, masks, and hand washing to curb the continued spread of this virus.”

Do you support the changes to “Clean Missouri” that are on the ballot as Amendment 3?

O’Donnell: “I do support them. Reducing the influence of special interest groups through the reduction of maximum contributions is something we can all get behind. Also, right now, Oakville has someone in the Missouri House of Representatives that is an Oakville resident who is looking out for Oakville interests. If Amendment 3 doesn’t pass, many residents in Oakville could find their representative lives in the city of St. Louis, Lemay or Webster Groves. Oakville deserves Oakville representation in the Missouri House.”

Zimpfer: “No, these changes are not necessary. Nearly 60 percent of voters in the 95th District voted for Amendment 1 in 2018, and this new amendment disrespects these educated voters. Amendment 3 will undo voter support for fair maps and fair redistricting, and would make Missouri the first state in the country that does not count children and non-citizens when drawing new districts.”