Missouri’s Republican leadership has failed in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the state and central Missouri in a dangerous place with one of the worst current outbreaks, Democratic state Senate candidate Judy Baker said Monday.
At a news conference outside Columbia City Hall, Baker was joined by two current Democratic lawmakers, state Reps. Martha Stevens and Kip Kendrick, to urge fast action to shore up public health agencies, not-for-profits and individuals.
Baker is seeking to unseat incumbent Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, in the 19th Senate District, which includes Boone and Cooper counties.
"I have seen absolutely nothing that indicates this is even a priority in the Senator’s eyes," Baker said.
Baker is a former state representative and was regional administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama. She said state lawmakers must act quickly to extend unemployment benefits, make COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations, when available, free to Missourians and provide support for small businesses owned by women and minorities.
Rowden, who won election to the Senate in 2016 after two terms in the Missouri House, responded in a text that Baker’s plan is "a bunch of ideas with no concept of how to implement them."
Missouri is one of the worst states for new infections this month and the two counties in the 19th District are among the worst in the state.
Since the start of September, Boone County has added 1,531 new COVID-19 cases, according to state data through Monday, and Cooper County has added 111. Boone County has the 10th highest per capita infection rate overall and the fifth highest in the state for September among 117 local health jurisdictions. Cooper County is 23rd overall and 11th for the month of September.
The state is in its current situation because of a slow early response and continued resistance steps that would mitigate the problem, Baker said.
"It is interesting that even the White House is raising alarms about the state of the virus in Missouri," Baker said.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force has recommended Missouri impose a statewide mandate to wear face masks and close all bars until the infection cools.
"I think it would have been incredibly positive for our leader at the state and local level to demonstrate a belief in science, and I think that if they had come out with a commitment to push masking, social distancing, contact tracing earlier we would have been able to open our businesses with a better result," Baker said.
During the news conference, Stevens said protecting Missourians from COVID-19 will include making sure the Medicaid expansion plan approved by voters in August is implemented without changes.
"We have seen, time and time again, Republicans in Jefferson City who ignored the will of the voters," Stevens said.
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Kendrick, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said the state budget for this year overspent revenues that have contracted because of the pandemic. At the same time, he said, GOP lawmakers are sending letters to Washington that the state does not need aid to help it maintain services.
Also at the same time, he said, Republicans have not paused or rolled back any tax cuts enacted in past years.
"Our ability to fund our priorities has been hampered by tax cuts in the last decade," Kendrick said.
Several of the items Baker proposes have a cost to the state treasury, and she said any additional spending could be covered by enacting a change to state tax law to collect sales tax from online purchases.
However, she said, "it is difficult to put a cost on these things."
Rowden, whose most recent statements about COVID-19 were to urge the Boone County Commission to release federal money passed through the state, wrote in a text that he had hoped Baker would join him in putting pressure on local leaders.
"It seems as though she might be too interested in playing politics than doing what's right," Rowden wrote.
He prioritized getting federal CARES money into the state budget and getting it to agencies that could use it, Rowden wrote in a text.
"It's a theme you will hear often — her saying something and having no ability to actually accomplish it," he wrote.