Pretto is challenging Murphy in 94th District

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Jim Murphy (left) and Jean Pretto (right).

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

It will be a rematch of the November 2018 election for the 94th Missouri House District, as Rep. James “Jim” Murphy, a Republican, will once again face Mehlville Board of Education member Emma “Jean” Pretto, a Democrat, in the election Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Murphy, 69, 4983 Karington Place Drive, Oakville, is the owner of Shoppers Rule Inc. He and his wife, Maryellen, have three grown children, Kathleen, Maureen and Jamey. He previously edged Pretto for the seat in 2018, following the death in office of the late Rep. Cloria Brown.

Murphy attended North Carolina State University, where he received his degree in business administration as well as a degree in computer coding from Ohio State University–Newark.

When asked why he was seeking re-election, Murphy said, “Re-election for my second term to continue to work for the citizens of the 94th District.”

Pretto, 69, 114 W. Pottle Ave., Oakville, has served on the Mehlville school board since 2014, and won re-election for the school board in June.  The retired educator and her husband, Giosue “Joe” Pretto, have two grown children: Angela and Tamara.

Pretto attended Webster University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education, as well as a master’s degree in education/administration and supervision from the University of Phoenix.

“To improve the state and more specifically our district,” Pretto said when asked why she is seeking office.

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

Should police departments be defunded?

Murphy said, “Today our police who put their lives on the line each and every day to protect us are under attack by the liberal left. Officers continue to be attacked, hurt and killed at an alarming rate. Meanwhile crime continues to rise and spill over from the inner city to our community. The liberal plan to cut funding will reduce the amount of protection our community deserves. I stand with our police and do not support efforts to defund and disarm them.”

Pretto said, “Absolutely not.”

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

Murphy said, “Having worked with Mike Parson over the last two years, I have great respect for his sincere desire to move Missouri forward.  His priorities of work force development, education and infrastructure are the right ones for moving Missouri forward.  He came from humble beginnings and truly understands the needs of our citizens.”

Pretto said, “Weak.”

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

Murphy said, “Senator (Scott) Sifton and I worked together on my first piece of legislation and every piece of legislation I passed had overwhelming support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  I worked with Representative (Sarah) Unsicker on an amendment to my abandoned baby bill and carried a bill for Representative (Bob) Burns that passed through committee.  We may not always agree but you would be surprised how often we do, especially in committees.”

Pretto said, “I will listen and keep an open mind and respectfully ask those across the aisle to do the same.”

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

Murphy said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredible hardship on all of us and the way state and local governments have handled the situation has exacerbated the problem. There are many questions as to how funds are being spent and what safeguards and oversight should be placed on them. I have legislation that will requires special permission for government entities to implement extended public health or safety closures. We need uniform standards to protect the public and our businesses. I also have two pieces of legislation concerning media literacy and abandoned babies that didn’t make it to the finish line due to the shortened session and I will refile them again next session.”

Pretto said, “I’m not really sure.”

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?

Murphy said, “I’m not in favor of creating another government bureaucracy.  The A.G.’s office does have the power to investigate and prosecute violations.”

Pretto said, “That would be fine with me.”

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

Murphy said, “The Attorney General should have all the tools necessary to investigate government agencies, including subpoena power.”

Pretto 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?

Murphy said, “Yes.”

Pretto said, “There will always be a segment of our population that will always rely on print.”

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?

Murphy said, “I am against any use of these apps for any government business!”

Pretto said, “Yes. Public officials work for the people.”

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

Murphy said, “Considering that we were in uncharted waters, I feel the state responded to the crisis in a responsible manner.  We appropriated $1.6 billion in CARES Act funding to local governments, schools and state agencies. The state left no stone unturned to buy PPE (personal protective equipment) and other supplies. Every patient in the state that needed a ventilator had one available. That being said, we have learned a lot and we now must prepare for any future events of this nature.”

Pretto said, “It was poor. Tremendous lack of leadership statewide.”

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

Murphy said, “Protecting the privacy of our constituents is important to the Legislature.  The rule that allows us to redact personal information of our constituents when they communicate personal hardships or medical information is a sound policy.  Over the last two years I have never had a Sunshine request that required this action.”

Pretto said, “I do not. Legislators work on behalf of their constituents. They should be completely transparent.”

Read on for web exclsuive questions and answers. 

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

Murphy did not respond.

Pretto said, “Health care.”

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

Murphy did not respond.

Pretto said, “School funding — respecting the vote of the people.”

What is your position on abortion?

Murphy said, “I have been endorsed by Missouri Right to Life and I’m a strong supporter of the rights of the unborn. I do understand that protecting the life of the mother is of equal concern.”

Pretto said, “We need to make certain that whether or not a political party objects, women have access to affordable and reliable forms of contraceptives and safe, legal abortions.”

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

Murphy said, “The foundation formula is complex and our current formula has been approved by the courts.  Since I have been in the Legislature, I have seen many plans to change the formula. All of the plans I have seen benefit rural districts and hurt our school districts. I would not support any change that would adversely affect our local schools. I have voted to fully fund the formula and will do the same in the future.”

Pretto said, “In a ‘normal’ year, it’s a formula that can work. It just needs to be adequately funded — not reduced every year.”

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

Murphy said, “CCW laws in Missouri have been effective and do not need to be changed. Illegal guns continue to be a problem, and we must strengthen the laws regarding the use of illegal guns.”

Pretto said, “Yes, as of now concealed weapons are permitted just about anywhere. No need to conceal any longer — need better gun laws.”

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

Murphy said, “In light of recent events I believe we need to define when remote public meetings are appropriate. Livestreaming of meetings is a convenience for many who cannot travel to the meetings, but citizens have the right to attend and express their views in person. We must define under what circumstances the public can be excluded from open meetings.”

Pretto said, “I believe open meetings and records should be exactly that — open.”

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

Murphy said, “MODOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) has one of the largest state budgets that is dependent on motor fuel taxes for funding. This funding will no longer be sustainable with more efficient electric and alternative fuel vehicles coming out. We passed a bonding bill last year that will allow us to repair our bridges, but more needs to be done. We need to look at an alternative to the gas tax that will more equitably capture road use revenue.”

Pretto said, “I think the 1-cent gas tax should be a tremendous boost to help get our roads and bridges up to par.”

What will you do to improve Missouri’s economy?

Murphy said, “Work force development is the key to improving our state’s economy.  The No. 1 issue for companies considering moving to Missouri is the availability of a workforce with the knowledge and skills to fill the jobs of tomorrow. We have made major progress on this issue over the past year, and we must continue to improve education and provide more options for high-demand job training.”

Pretto said, “Everything I can. Avoid waste. Look for resources. Work in unison with other lawmakers to expedite any opportunities for improvement.”

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

Murphy said, “At this time, I see no plan for merger that would be beneficial for the citizens of the 94th District. Until a plan comes forward that garners citizen support, I would be opposed.”

Pretto said, “I would support whatever the people of St. Louis city and St. Louis County vote on and approve or fail to approve.”

Should there be a statewide mask mandate?

Murphy said, “Eighty-seven percent of the state is now under a mask mandate. Some rural counties have had little or no COVID-19 cases and would not benefit from a mask mandate. The Governor (Mike Parson) has encouraged the use of masks and has given local authorities the power to make decisions based on their circumstance. I believe this is a sound policy.”

Pretto said, “For now —  while we are still in a very high incidence area. Science dictates that this could bring a quicker healing to our country. If that’s what we need to return to ‘normal’ sooner.”

What is your position on the death penalty?

Murphy said, “I am not in favor of the death penalty even though certain crimes are so heinous it would be a just sentence.”

Pretto said, “The least effective way to reduce crime. The Catholic Church teaches that one cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing. There have been too many eleventh-hour exonerations to have any confidence that this is just.”

What is your position on tax-increment financing? Are changes needed to this law?

Murphy said, “The original intent of tax increment financing (TIF) subsidies was to encourage redevelopment of blighted areas.  The use of TIF’s has gone far afield of the original intent.  I am generally opposed to the use of TIFs as they punish our school districts, place existing local businesses at a competitive disadvantage and rarely spur development that would not have occurred with or without a TIF.”

Pretto said, “While TIFs can encourage new business growth, this resource has a need for close oversight. I believe a very strict definition of ‘blighted’ is needed.”

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

Murphy said, “I would not support placing this in our Constitution.  Long term taxpayer obligation should be important enough that it will be supported by the vast majority of the citizens having to foot the bill.”

Pretto said, “If that’s what the people want to place on a ballot.”

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

Murphy said, “Eminent domain was intended to be used for public works projects that benefited the common good.  It was never intended for commercial projects and should be restricted to the original intent.”

Pretto said, “Yes — more comprehensive definition of ‘public purpose’ and ‘just compensation’ to prevent improper acquisition of private property.”

Do you support right-to-work legislation?

Murphy said, “Right-to-Work was soundly defeated in both the state and by the voters of the 94th District. The role of a representative is to represent the people of the district.  As a member of the Workforce Development Committee I have stood up for all workers in Missouri, both union and non-union.”

Pretto said, “Never.”

What changes should Missouri make to its health-care system?

Murphy said, “Health care is a national issue. Forty-two percent of our state budget is spent on social services, mental health, and health and senior services.  This amount will increase with the passing of Medicaid expansion.  As a state we continue to look for efficiencies that will lower the cost of health care, but driving down the cost of healthcare is very difficult at state level.”

Pretto said, “There are many changes needed. However, Medicaid expansion is a definite step in the right direction.”

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

Murphy said, “Clean Missouri changed the criteria for establishing House and Senate districts.  Clean Missouri changed the standard from: ‘Districts must consist of contiguous territory as compact as may be and to the extent permitted communities must be preserved.’ These criteria were in place so that community values could be preserved and that community interests would be represented.  When Clean Missouri was passed, the standard was changed to create politically competitive districts that no longer need to be compact or contiguous. Therefore, in order to make an inner-city or North County district more Republican, it can be split to include parts of South County. Under Clean Missouri, the state representative from the 94th district could be from North County or St. Louis city. I do not believe this serves this district well, as the issues concerning Oakville and Mehlville are very different from those areas. I believe that representatives should reflect the community that they live in, regardless of political party. I will support Amendment 3.”

Pretto said, “Absolutely not. This is a slap in the face of Missouri voters who already approved the original by a large margin.”