By Erin Achenbach
Democrat Mike Walter, a newcomer to public office, will square off on Tuesday, Nov. 6 against former Oakville Republican Committeeman Michael O’Donnell to succeed Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, and represent Oakville’s 95th House District in the Missouri Legislature.
O’Donnell, 50, 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.
O’Donnell served as GOP committeeman from 2001 to 2003. He was also appointed and reappointed by the Missouri secretary of state to the Missouri State Securities Advisory Panel, serving from 2001 to 2006.
“Having spent more than 27 years engaged in the finances of cities, towns, school districts and states, I’ve seen states like Illinois drive themselves to the bring of insolvency with unchecked spending. I understand the need to make the difficult spending decisions for Missouri that avoid 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,” O’Donnell said when asked why he was seeking office.
Mike Walter, 62, 3061 Arrowhead Point Drive, Oakville, and his wife, Sue, have four grown children: Nick, Dan, Tim and Sarah. Walter is retired after working in the past with Ameren and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
When asked why he was running for office, Walter said he wants “to continue to serve people and our community.”
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?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter said, “All issues are most important. I cannot state the most important. See below for why.”
What other issues do you perceive in your race?
O’Donnell said, “Government waste and out-of-control spending is a huge issue right now. We need to cut the fat, shrink the bureaucracy and prioritize how we are using state resources. We need to ensure that no taxpayer money is being used to provide services to illegal immigrants.
“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.”
Walter said, “Education, law enforcement, fire, EMS, mental health, the opioid crisis, health care, economic development.”
What is your position on abortion?
O’Donnell said, “I am pro-life and proud to be endorsed by Missouri Right to Life.”
Walter said, “It is federal law. I do not believe our government should be making that decision for a woman. Tax money does not and should not be spent on abortions. Life is from point of conception.”
What is your position on the death penalty?
O’Donnell said, “I support the death penalty for the most extreme cases.”
Walter said, “Oppose except for extreme cases.”
What will or have you done to work across the aisle in Jefferson City?
O’Donnell did not reply.
Walter said, “I have lobbied at the capitol for many years on behalf of working people and private or investor-owned utility companies. I always talked to both sides of the aisle.”
Would you support legislation to facilitate a merger of St. Louis County and St. Louis city?
O’Donnell said, “Absolutely not. 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 do everything I can in the Legislature to protect south county residents from this attempted land and money grab by the city.”
Walter said, “There are no proposals to consider at this time, and I am not aware of any discussion. The city and county would need to have formal discussions and then it is up to the voters to decide on the conditions of the deal.”
Would you support placing a constitutional amendment before voters that, if approved, would repeal the supermajority requirement for school-district bond issues?
O’Donnell said, “No because raising taxes should never be an easy thing to do. However, with current market conditions, this is a moot point because new issuance of municipal debt is on the decline and 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. Long gone are the days of school districts saving 25 to 50 basis points with general-obligation debt.”
Walter said, “I am not sure but would like to look at the difference between voting for bond issues and tax increases. I believe there is a conflict in this area.”
Are changes needed to the state’s foundation formula for funding education?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter said, “Yes.”
Are changes needed to the law allowing Missouri citizens to carry concealed weapons? If so, why? If not, why not?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter said, “I was opposed, but now that it is law, yes, I believe there need to be additional conditions, such as but not limited to: additional background checks and training.”
Are changes needed to the state’s current Open Meetings and Records Law? If so, what would you propose?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter said, “I do not see a change needed. If everyone is honest and transparent and follows the present law, we would not have this conversation.”
What do you propose to generate revenue for road and bridge improvements?
O’Donnell said, “I would like to see more federal, state and local partnerships to help fund road and bridge improvements. We can also take advantage of financing techniques used in other states to help fund such capital projects.”
Walter said, “Not a proposal, but ideas would be to look at increase in tax or tolls. Raising a tax is never popular or welcomed, but this issue must be addressed.”
Are changes needed to the state’s eminent domain laws to prevent abuse?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter said, “If there is abuse, yes, we would need to look at changes.”
What will you do to improve Missouri’s economy?
O’Donnell said, “Improving the state’s economy 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 government is struggling to keep up. We can’t hide our head in the sand – we must prioritize education for the next generation.”
Walter said, “I intend to work directly with small and large businesses to learn the needs. I will continue my work with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to which I am presently a board member, as well as serving on the Industrial Development Partnership.”
Read on for web exclusive answers:
What is your position on tax-increment financing? Are changes needed to this law?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter said, “I believe it does assist in economic development. However, must be limited and under conditions which provide benefit to all parties and taxpayers.”
Are changes needed to the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri? If so, what would you propose?
O’Donnell said, “Underfunded pensions are a problem across the country. Even the U.S. military is moving away from a defined benefit program. We need to move organizations like these to programs that tell their members that we trust them to do what’s best with their money and allow their families to retain the wealth that has been accumulated by their decades of hard work.”
Walter said, “I am not aware of any need for change at this time.”
Would you support amending the state’s Sunshine Law to require public governmental bodies to make audio recordings of all closed meetings? Such recordings would not be available to the public or press.
O’Donnell said, “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, I believe that constituent privacy needs to be maintained. That is one of the huge problems with Proposition 1 (Clean Missouri), unfortunately it does not discriminate between confidential health records or whistle blower information and would stifle constituent interactions with elected officials.”
Walter said, “No, there are reasons for closed sessions. If everyone remains fair and honest, there is no reason for change.”
Would you support legislation imposing limits on campaign contributions?
O’Donnell said, “This aspect of our election system has gone off the rails. The new system puts limits on the money a candidate can take from a publicly disclosed donor, yet it also allows for these massive pools of undisclosed ‘dark money’ to fund campaigns. If a candidate is taking a large donation from one donor, that should be disclosed publicly and the public can decide whether that contribution is too much when they go to the polls on Election Day.”
Walter said, “Yes.”
What did you think of the performance of former Gov. Eric Greitens? What do you think of the performance of Gov. Mike Parson?
O’Donnell said, “We achieved significant conservative policy reforms under the leadership of Gov. Greitens. Now, we are seeing Gov. Parson continue to bring leadership and reform to state government. Whomever is governor we should all be rooting for their success because, as Missourians, their success is our success.”
Walter said, “Gov. Greitens — poor. Gov. Parson — good so far.”
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 said, “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.”
Walter said, “I do not see a reason at this time.”
Should the Missouri Attorney General be given subpoena power to investigate Sunshine Law violations?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter 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?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Walter said, “Yes, until they all have high-speed internet.”
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?
O’Donnell said, “ 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.”
Walter said, “Yes.”
Do you support right-to-work legislation?
O’Donnell said, “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.”
Should Missouri legalize medical marijuana?
O’Donnell said, “I trust doctors to make decisions that are in the best interest of their patients – as long as it is for a legitimate need. If they believe it is the best course of treatment for a specific patient, they should be able to write a prescription for it.”
Walter said, “Yes.”
Do you support work requirements for Medicaid or SNAP recipients?
O’Donnell said, “Anything that we can do to move people on public aid towards productive lives is important. I will advocate for any reasonable legislation that helps to do so.”
Walter said, “No, they may not be capable of working a minimum wage job. If they did work minimum wage, they would still meet the criteria for SNAP.”
What will or have you done to identify any waste or inefficiencies in Missouri government?
O’Donnell said, “ I would really like to see more fiscal opportunity audits, similar to the one done for the Department of Revenue. That audit uncovered $36 million in potential cost savings in the one state department. A detailed fiscal analysis needs to be done across all state cost centers. We all know the waste is there; we have to send in outside auditors to find those cost savings.”
Walter said, “We should always, everyone, be working toward an efficient government at all levels.”