Web exclusive: Leech, Sifton vie for District 96 state House seat

Scott Sifton

Scott Sifton

Staff Report

Democrat Scott Sifton and Republican Anthony “Tony” Leech are vying for the District 96 Missouri House seat being vacated by Democrat Pat Yaeger.

Yaeger, first elected in 2002, is ineligible to run because of term limits.

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

•”Jobs. More than 275,000 Missourians are unemployed. The unemployment rate has only been higher in our state a couple times in the last century. The modest recovery we have seen since this near-Depression ended in 2009 will never be secure until we get people back to work,” Sifton said.

• “Eliminate the budget shortfall,” Leech said.

Sifton, 36, 9814 Berwick Place, 63123, is an attorney with Husch Blackwell LLP. He and his wife, Stacey, have a 20-month-old child.

Sifton, who served on the Affton Board of Education from April 2001 to April 2010, did not respond to a question about why he is seeking election to the District 96 Missouri House seat.

Leech, 64, 4724 Don Ron Drive, 63123, is a retired communications manger. He served on the Cool Valley Board of Trustees and helped incorporate the village into a fourth-class city. He then served on the Board of Aldermen and and as acting mayor of the city. Leech also has served on the St. Louis County Municipal League. He is married to Julia Mary.

Leech said he is seeking office to “inject new ideas in the state, reduce the deficit and freeze taxes.”

The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

What is your position on abortion?

Sifton said, “I believe it 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.”

Leech said, “No government funding for abortion. Abortion is not birth control.”

What is your position on the death penalty?

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

Leech said, “I support it.”

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

Sifton said, “I believe tax-increment financing should be a development tool available to local governments. Voters must hold local governments accountable for how they use TIFs. Some TIFs make sense and others do not. Each proposal should be evaluated on its individual merits.”

Leech said, “Mixed in my support.”

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

Sifton said, “Yes. In the 1990s, Affton 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 — before I joined the school board — than they would have had to with an earlier bond issue. A simple majority threshold would have saved Affton taxpayers at least hundreds of thousands of dollars and benefited kids by making the improvements sooner.”

Leech said, “No.”

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

Sifton said, “Yes. Affton, Bayless, Hancock Place, Lindbergh and Mehlville have not benefited under the current formula or the prior one. Given the current fiscal and legislative climate, changing the formula for the better will be difficult.”

Leech said, “Possibly. I need more research on this issue.”

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

Sifton said, “Voters in the 96th voted 2-to-1 against conceal-and-carry in 1998. After the Legislature passed it anyway in 2004, I do not see much point in revisiting the issue. We should focus on jobs, economic development and education instead.”

Leech said, “No. I support the U.S. Second Amendment. Criminals don’t secure permits to commit their actions.”

Are changes needed to the state’s current Open Meetings and Records Law?

Sifton said, “Yes, the law should be tightened in light of the state’s investigation of (former) Gov. (Matt) Blunt and Ed Martin’s handling of public records.”

Leech said, “Possibly. I have no objection to opening all records to the public except personnel discussions.”

What do you propose to solve the state’s budget woes? What do you propose to generate additional revenue for the state?

Sifton said, “The best way to fix the state’s budget is to increase revenue by growing the economy and regaining jobs lost due to the meltdown in 2008. That will require careful investment of limited resources in economic development and education. Further state spending cuts should not come at the expense of economic development or education or, to the greatest extent possible, jobs.”

Leech said, “Eliminate Amtrak funding, evaluate every department in the state as to services provided and cost to operate.”

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

Sifton said, “No. Local governments must be held accountable by their voters for the manner in which they use, or misuse, eminent domain.”

Leech said, “Yes. Eminent domain should not be used for public owned expansions.”

The Legislature several years ago approved legislation protecting Missouri residents from Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, lawsuits. Should the provisions of this legislation be expanded?

Sifton said, “I support protecting citizens against SLAPP suits and would be amenable to modifying the current law to provide greater protection of free speech.”

Leech said, “Not sure.”

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

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 just plain wrong and I will fight hard against it.”

Leech said, “Possibly. I require more input on this issue.”

Would you support amending the state’s Sunshine Law to require public governmental bodies make audio recordings of all closed meetings? Such recordings would not be available to the public or press.

Sifton said, “No, because it would undermine the reason for having discussion of sensitive personnel, legal and land acquisition matters closed in the first place.”

Leech said, “Yes.”

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

Sifton said, “Yes. Gov. Nixon has not raised taxes but instead cut them, including eliminating the franchise tax for 16,000 small businesses. He has kept college tuition frozen for two years, a spectacular accomplishment in these times. He is finding creative ways to deal with the budget mess he inherited from Blunt without making unemployment far worse by eliminating state jobs in droves. I understand the frustration of state employees who have seen their duties increase and gone without a raise in years. We need to make the Republican Legislature stop blocking the governor’s economic development initiatives.”

Leech said, “For the most part. Missouri is better off than many states. However, we need to address the budget, jobs and a few other areas.”