GOP candidates run for 97th House seat

GOP+candidates+run+for+97th+House+seat

By Emily Klein
Staff Reporter
emilyklein@callnewspapers.com

Three candidates are looking to win the Republican primary for

State representative candidate David Linton. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.

the 97th District Missouri House seat currently held by Rep. Mike Revis, D-Fenton.

Former Arnold Councilman Phil Amato, former Arnold Councilwoman Mary Elizabeth Coleman and attorney David Linton are hoping to win the GOP nod in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 primary to oppose Revis in the November general election.

Newcomer Revis defeated Linton for the seat in a special election in February that gained national attention because the district, which covers Jefferson County and a sliver of south county, voted heavily for President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

The special election followed the September resignation of Rep. John McCaherty, R-Fenton, who resigned to pursue office in Jefferson County.

Coleman did not respond to the Call’s questionnaire.

Retired manufacturing representative Amato, 64, and his wife, Deb, live at 1119 Catskill Lane, Arnold. While on the City Council, he was elected mayor pro tem for six consecutive years.

State representative candidate Mary Elizabeth Coleman. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.

When asked why he’s seeking office, Amato said, “… In 2014, I was given a standing ovation by the Missouri House of Representatives for receiving a lifetime achievement Community Service Award presented by Missouri’s lieutenant governor…. I want to try and make schools safer by creating legislation without increasing school taxes in tackling student mental health, which I am told by educators is the No. 1 issue facing public education.

“There is also a state report calling for an additional veterans’ home south of St. Louis, and I would like to convince lawmakers that building the home in our legislative district would be a good idea.”

Linton, 59, 314 Romaine Spring View, Fenton, is an attorney at David C. Linton, LLC, and counsel for McCarthy, Leonard & Kaemmerer. He and his wife, Judy, have three grown children. Linton has never held public office.

When asked why he’s seeking office, Linton said, “… Circumstances are now such that I think it would be in God’s timing and beneficial to my neighbors to serve them in the Missouri House.”

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?

State representative candidate Phil Amato. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.

Amato said, “Mothers as well as educators tell me their greatest concern is student safety and student mental health being the scariest challenges facing state funded education today. No longer can any of us lie to ourselves and say ‘it doesn’t affect me’. If the child in our neighborhood is suspected of having mental health issues and goes to school doing the unthinkable, it affects all of us. The problem is complex and our local educators need help from the Missouri Legislature in prioritizing this as an important issue. My solution was to first assemble an all-star team and put the problem under a microscope. The team consisted of a Ph.D. in facility management, a corporate attorney who attended Princeton, an expert in lease/purchase agreements who created the second such agreement in our state’s history, and a SLU graduate of finance that put together a billion dollar deal for the New York Yankees. Their challenge was to think outside the box of what the Missouri Legislature could do in assisting local school districts to help fund safety and mental health needs. The approach of using state construction safety grants that defines mental health within the perimeters of safety is a unique idea without raising school taxes. This idea would create a structural foundation for future discussions in the Missouri House of Representatives.

“District 97 is unique in that it straddles two counties, and all of my experiences like the rest of my opponents are in Jefferson County. Student mental health issues, and safety upgrades in public schools however affect everyone regardless of where you live.”

Linton said, “The establishment of respect for and protection of the God-given rights of life, liberty, and property. Government has grown to a point where it is consistently taking all three from the people.”

What other issues do you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Amato said, “There is a state report calling for an additional veterans home south of St. Louis, and one south of Kansas City. I would like to convince lawmakers that building the home in our legislative district would be a good idea.”

Linton said, “ Keep taxes low and government out of the way so that families and small businesses can thrive. Support our law enforcement officers.”

What is your position on abortion?

Amato said, “My religious teachings are opposed to abortion as a birth-control method, and I have been endorsed by Missouri Right to Life.”

Linton said, “I am opposed to abortion under any circumstances.”

What is your position on the death penalty?

Amato said, “The automatic court appeal process cost over a million dollars to put someone to death in our country. The entire system is messed up, and the death penalty unfortunately has not been a deterrent to violent crimes.

“The fine line of justice versus revenge is also important when considering the death penalty. Like everyone else I want bad people off the street where they can no longer hurt people, and I also don’t want country clubs for prisons. Fundamentally, belief in pro-life would lead to being against the death penalty.  However, certain crimes are so heinous in nature that it would be hard to understand how a person with those extreme evil traits could ever peacefully function in our society. I have always believed that if 12 mothers were on the jury, and the situation was a crime against a child, the punishment would be fast, swift and merciless. It would be like the old gladiator days in ancient Rome. Twelve mothers would be standing up and pointing their thumbs down, and then with no remorse go to lunch afterwards. Since nothing else has worked as a deterrent, maybe the real answer is to let the ACLU be damned, and make prisoners beat on rocks fifteen hours a day until they break.”

Linton said, “I support the death penalty.”

What is your position on tax-increment financing?

Amato said, “In Arnold I passed legislation called ‘fast tracking’ that was used many times in the industrial court for attracting new factories and the expansion of others. The city ordinance recognized that time was money and guaranteed the cumbersome building permit process be accomplished in 30 days or less… The legislation produced hundreds of millions in construction jobs and permanent jobs.  I would like to introduce a similar piece of legislation on the state level that might be a start in allowing communities to expand without hurting education.”

Linton said, “I am opposed to TIF. Tax-increment financing is a mechanism whereby government uses the tax system to subsidize and benefit special interests. The best approach to economic development is to reduce the government burden on all and allow the free market to pick winners and losers rather than the government. Are changes needed to this law? Yes, it needs to be abolished.

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

Amato said, “This country was founded on majority rules not supermajority. School bond issues are in my mind the only tax proposal put forth before voters that require supermajorities. Being on the Arnold City Council in three stints over 16 years, there were times that whatever decision was made some people may not be happy. I always tried to inform my constituents if I had information they did not, and then do what I thought the majority wanted, not the super majority. Yes, I would favor allowing the people to decide this issue through a referendum.”

Linton said, “No. Debt and taxes are sapping the life out of our economy and the people. The people should be convinced by a significant margin that increased funding is needed for education to authorize a tax increase. Education can be provided economically by eliminating the government burden at the top.”

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

Amato said, “Our second President John Adams in drafting the Massachusetts Constitution believed the upper mobility of a free society could not easily happen without education. Nine years later, the United States Constitution was written, and John Adams’ written words were added; hence forth public education was invented.  Since that time, the debate has centered on how to best pay for public education. If home values are tied to the quality of education in our local schools, and as the founding fathers believed that education was the key to success, then the funding formula has to be a top priority. Schools must be safe, secure places of learning, and student mental health has to be addressed in the school funding mechanism before the unthinkable happens in one of our schools. In our two largest metropolitan areas, commercial and business taxes pay a great deal for funding schools. In areas that do not have  large commercial tax bases, the state education funding formula is vital for success in educating students.  According to numerous ratings, Missouri is not ranked high among states in education, even though the state is top ten in graduation rates. It would appear that the state legislature needs to study how to strengthen our rating, and make sure our children are able to compete in an ever changing technologically world. I would like to be appointed to the committee that handles education bills in order to really find solutions to these complex problems.”

Linton said, “Yes, Changes need to be made to distribute school money more equitably among the parents and students in the state.”

Are changes needed to the law allowing Missouri citizens to carry concealed weapons? If so, why? If not, why not?

Amato said, “Missouri’s current concealed carry firearms laws allow for many acceptable opportunities for lawful citizens to provide for self-defense with respect to the US Constitution. I think before considering additional opportunities in gun free zones, safety for the community must always be our primary goal.”

Linton said, “Missouri’s law regarding concealed weapons is constitutional carry. The Second Amendment places no restrictions on Missourians’ right to bear arms. Missouri should not restrict the right to carry in contradiction to the Second Amendment.”

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

Amato said, “In theory open meeting laws are good, but in practicality they are sometimes difficult on a local level in order to do the people’s business. I have been in city council meetings debating an ordinance, and at times knew a couple of my colleagues were lost and didn’t really understand the topic. Then it becomes difficult to not embarrass them in an open meeting when their line of thinking is confused. It doesn’t mean there should be backroom deals pursued; sometimes it would be nice to just discuss a topic for clarity without being afraid of being misquoted. The state legislators are the ones that pass open meeting laws on the local counties, and municipalities to look good. And then you walk the halls at the state capital where they do business, witnessing discussions being done in the hallway outside the rotunda with lobbyist. At times the whole situation seems like a real hypocrisy. I think it would be nice for an informal work-session, open to the public, once a month without motions or votes allowing discussion for clarity on topics. Municipality and county meetings could then with a respectful press in attendance not quote for public consumption any elected official until the subject matter is brought forth in a regular meeting for debate. This idea could help to make sure everyone understands the topic and be able to ask questions. Then the decision by the elected body in full transparency could move the issue forward to a regular meeting for debate and vote.  I believe it would be smoother and more of the people’s business would get done.”

Linton said, “I would prefer to reduce or eliminate government regulations which necessitate it to hold meetings or records and thereby reduce the need for such meetings and records.”

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

Amato said, “First I would want to make sure money appropriated for roads and bridges are being spent wisely before additional money is sought. I know paying for road and bridge improvements using gas taxes is unpopular with many, because no one wants to see the cost of fuel at the pump increased. Raising fuel taxes would be a last resort in trying to solve this issue.”

Linton said, “Generally, I support user fees because they are most just in that those who benefit pay the cost. Equitable user fees should be considered.”

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

Amato said, “I helped draft the Jefferson County Charter, or some might call it the county constitution in 2008. We included in the enormous document the use of eminent domain could not be used strictly for economic purposes. I also encouraged the same verbiage then used in an ordinance for the City of Arnold.  I like that Missouri Law currently prohibits the use of eminent domain on farm ground. The current state law also allows for certain uses of condemnation or eminent domain for road expansion, sewer, water, and other utilities. Allowing for developers to skirt the law by saying West County Shopping Center for example was blighted, and the use of eminent domain could be used because water pipes were undersized. And after former Busch Stadium was demolished for the new ballpark, the old site was blighted because a few pieces of rebar and concrete were left behind is ridiculous. I’d like to see those types of things no longer allowed in the state law. The definition of blight to allow the use of eminent domain definitely needs more clarity.”

Linton said, “Yes, there are still situations in which private business interests can abuse the eminent domain process to condemn private property for private purposes. The law needs to be strengthened to protect the hard-earned property rights against special interests seeking to take those rights for private business purposes.”

What will you do to improve Missouri’s economy?

Amato said, “Our state is unique in that the Kansas City and St. Louis metropolitan areas are close to Kansas and Illinois. Neighboring states business incentives need to be studied to make sure our state can compete, and doesn’t put Missouri at a disadvantage for economic growth. Sometimes the free market system needs a kick in the fanny to work. That being said however, if my “Fast Tracking Bill” on the local level in Arnold could produce hundreds of millions in construction and permanent jobs, I would like to have a crack at the state’s economy.  If I was fortunate enough to be placed on the state committee that handles economic growth, my first order of business would be to look to other states for successful ideas.”

Linton said, “Support and vote for legislation that will reduce the burden of taxes and government regulation on the free market.”

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

Amato said “I don’t believe the majority of St. Louis County wants to merge with St. Louis City. Unfortunately the problems plaguing St. Louis are not going away, but a merger is not the answer.  Many of our entertainment choices take us numerous times per year into the city, and we need to absolutely feel safe. I believe the city is looking for an economic bailout from St. Louis County as a quick fix to their problems. King Solomon might not be able to fix what all is ailing St. Louis City. It doesn’t take however rocket scientists to understand that other cities across the country are passing St. Louis, and before long the city might be considered a second class metropolis.”

Linton said, “No.”

Are changes needed to the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri? If so, what would you propose?

Amato said, “It is my understanding that the educational retirement system is about the best in the country.”

Linton said, “In as much as this is an issue between an employer and an employee, I would like to hear what the two parties propose.”

Are changes needed to the Sunshine Law? 

Amato said, “In theory open meeting laws are good, but in practicality they are sometimes difficult on a local level in order to do the people’s business… I think it would be nice for an informal work session, open to the public, once a month, without motions or votes allowing discussion for clarity on topics… with a respectful press in attendance not (quoting) for public consumption any elected official until the subject matter is brought forth in a regular meeting…”

Linton said, “I would prefer to reduce or eliminate government regulations which necessitate it to hold meetings or records and thereby reduce the need for such meetings and records.”

Would you support legislation imposing limits on campaign contributions?

Amato said, “Once the United States Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech was money and campaign limits were lifted allowing the super-rich the ability to buy elections across the country, at that point unfortunately, the train left the station. The Supreme Court allowing for political action committees to be formed hiding the real people behind them with their money, it would seem too late to now close the barn door after the horse got out. As a city councilman in Arnold I donated my over $5,000 salary yearly to the food pantry. In the history of the city, I was also the only elected official when traveling on city business to municipal conferences who paid my own way. Campaign contributions can be construed as legalized bribery, but after the United States Supreme Court messed up the integrity of elections, it might be too late to pass limits on campaign contributions. I would support the legislation, because I’m real picky when it comes to mixing money and politics.  The issue however might be labeled unconstitutional after what the United States Supreme Court did with their ruling.”

Linton said, “No. It strikes me campaign contribution limits are a tyrannical response, restricting free speech rights of the citizens of the state of Missouri in response to alleged character problems with her elected officials. The solution to campaign ethics issues is to get government out of influencing and/or regulating the property rights of private citizens and companies. Then there will be lesser need for lobbyists and their influence in the legislative process.”

What did you think of the performance of former Gov. Eric Greitens? What do you think of the performance of Gov. Mike Parson?

Amato said,” Former Gov. Eric Greitens has now resigned and is no longer an issue. In regard to Gov. Mike Parson’s job performance, he is credited for the second time in history of signing a budget that 100 percent fully funded the education foundation formula. He signed a budget with a $99 million increase for K-12, and fully restored the $68 million previously cut to higher education. This stabilization of college budgets allowed St. Louis Community College in our district to resend their previous announced tuition increase.”

Linton said, “As a private citizen, I will not pass judgement on the former governor nor the present governor. I do commend the Missouri House of Representatives for their wise and deliberative review of the

situation.”

Are changes needed at the state level to make elections smoother in St. Louis County? If so, what would you propose?

Amato said, “The most fundamental right of any American is the right to vote. The issues of what happened in St. Louis County during recent elections are very serious, and needs to be monitored for improvement. At this time unfortunately I don’t have a specific plan to improve the situation.”

Linton said, “Unsure.”

If elected, what bill would you sponsor as your first legislation?

Amato said, “Making our schools safer will be my top priority.  We are all frightened when hearing about another school shooting.  Today, school officials indicate the root cause for safety concerns is student mental health issues, and it currently can take six months to a year to get a student in to see a professional for an evaluation. If this situation is not treated as a top priority, how long will it take before the unthinkable happens in our schools? My top priority if elected is Safety Construction Grants that include building safety upgrades, and mental health considered as part of safety currently not available in Missouri.”

Linton said, “I would meet with the conservative senators in the Missouri Senate and the Missouri Conservative Caucus and consider their agendas. My first priority is to defend the life, liberty, and property of the citizens of the state of Missouri. Rather than chart my own agenda, I would seek to support an agenda that is already set forth for me in the Declaration of Independence.”