Sifton challenges Lembke for Senate seat

By Kari Williams

A Democratic state representative is seeking to unseat Republican Jim Lembke in the Nov. 6 election for the 1st District Missouri Senate seat.

Rep. Scott Sifton, who represents the 96th District in the Missouri House, is challenging Lembke, who was elected to the Senate four years ago after serving in the Missouri House for six years.

Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates responded:

• Lembke said, “The protection of life, liberty and religious freedom.”

• Sifton said, “Economic development and job creation remain the key to our future success, and their importance is elevated in this race because the contrasts are so clear. While I consistently supported an array of bipartisan jobs bills that passed out of the House, my opponent, Jim Lembke, helped kill them in the Senate and also filibustered for five weeks in an effort to end unemployment benefits in Missouri.”

Lembke, 51, 812 Ann Lynn Court, 63125, is a full-time state senator. He and his wife, Donna, have two children, ages 21 and 18.

Lembke, who represented the 85th District in the Missouri House, said he is seeking re-election to the Senate to “serve the people of Missouri.”

Sifton, 38, 9814 Berwick Place, 63123, is an attorney at Husch Blackwell LLP. He and his wife, Stacey, have two young children.

Sifton was elected to the Missouri House in 2010. He served on the Affton Board of Education from 2001 to 2010 and was board president from 2007 to 2009. He said he is seeking election to the Senate because “as even the Republican Speaker of the House put it, the Senate is broken. There is too much obstruction and not enough action, especially on jobs and economic development legislation. We need change and some new perspectives in the state Senate.”

The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

• What is your position on abortion?

Lembke said, “I am 100-percent pro-life and I have a 100-percent pro-life voting record in my 10 years of service.”

Sifton said, “I believe abortion should be a woman’s decision and not the government’s. Our focus should be on promoting abstinence, prevention and adoption, as well as providing comprehensive sex education.”

• What is your position on the death penalty?

Lembke said, “To oppose the death penalty in principle would be to remove one of the most basic responsibilities of the common good — to provide defense and security against aggression.”

Sifton said, “I support the death penalty. My experience working with the Special Prosecution Unit of then-Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office reinforced my view.”

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

Lembke said, “I would not support placing a constitutional amendment before voters that would repeal the supermajority requirement for school-district bond issues. Borrowing money and taking on debt on behalf of the taxpayers should be held to a higher standard.”

Sifton said, “Yes. In the 1990s, Affton schools had several bond issues fail by less than 100 votes despite receiving support from more than 56 percent of the electorate. Taxpayers ended up paying far more in borrowing and construction costs to finance the needed building work through a tax levy in 2000 — just before I joined the school board — than they would have had to had an earlier bond issue passed.

“A simple-majority threshold would have saved Affton taxpayers at least hundreds of thousands of dollars and benefited kids by making the improvements sooner.”

• Do you agree with the direction the state is moving under Gov. Jay Nixon?

Lembke said, “As your independent voice in the state Senate, I support a Gov. Nixon policy when it reflects the will of the people of the 1st District and is best for our state.

“When a Gov. Nixon policy doesn’t reflect the will of the people of the 1st District and is not best for our state, I oppose it.”

Sifton said, “Yes. Gov. Nixon has not raised taxes but instead cut them, including eliminating the franchise tax for 16,000 small businesses. He was able to keep college tuition frozen for two years and has limited tuition increases since. His handling of the tragedy in Joplin was outstanding.

“He was dealt a bad hand with the effects of the Great Recession and has played it about as well as one could possibly hope. And I am confident he will secure passage of a comprehensive jobs and economic development bill once a few changes are made in the state Senate.”

• Do you agree with the Legislature’s override of Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of legislation allowing employers and insurers to refuse to provide health insurance coverage of contraception, abortion and sterilization if such procedures violate the employer’s religious beliefs?

Lembke said, “I voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of SB (Senate Bill) 749. I stand with the people of the 1st District who support religious freedom.”

Sifton said, “No. We need to promote, rather than restrict, access to contraception in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Use of contraception should be an employee’s choice, not their employer’s.”

• Are changes needed to the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri?

Lembke said, “I don’t support proposals to consolidate (PSRS/PEERS) funds with our other state public employee plans.”

Sifton said, “I oppose changing the teachers’ pension system to allow the state to raid teachers’ pensions. Teachers give their professional lives to our future and give up Social Security to do it. Raiding their pensions is wrong and I will fight hard against it.”