Candidates provide feedback at forum ahead of August primary

Charles Dunlap
Boonville Daily News

Candidates for various county, state and federal offices had an opportunity to address the public through a Tuesday night forum.

Candidates made introductions before proceeding to the round-robin format of public questions, which were submitted prior to the event. Only the candidates were allowed in the Boonville City Council Chambers for the forum. The event was livestreamed through the city’s YouTube account.

There are three uncontested races in Cooper County. Contested races include Congressional Representative District 4, currently held by Republican Vicky Hartzler, State Senator District 19, currently held by Republican Caleb Rowden, State Representative District 47, currently held by Republican Chuck Basye, State Representative District 48, with no incumbent running, State Representative District 50, currently held by Republican Sara Walsh, Cooper County Eastern District Commissioner, currently held by Republican Charlie Melkersman, Cooper County Public Administrator, with no incumbent running, and Cooper County Western District Commissioner, currently held by Republican David Booker.

The August election will decide which candidate moves forward — incumbent or otherwise — to the November general election. If a candidate could not attend the forum, a representative read a statement from the candidate.


Republican Christy Linhart says she plans to add a way to file online property information online as assesor. The main challenge for the Sherriff’s office is budget and public communication, Republican Candidate Chris Class said. He wants to sit down with smaller jurisdictions to learn about their needs. Deputies and jail staff have attended training in crisis intervention with regard to mental health issues. Republican Coroner Candidate James Hurt could not attend the forum.


There are two Republican candidates, one Democratic, one Libertarian Candidate and one Constitution candidate for U.S. Representative, District 4.

Those present at the forum were Libertarain Candidate Steven Koonse, Constitution candidate Robert Smith and Republican Neal Gist. Hartzler sent her political director to read a statement as the U.S. House was in session. Democrat Lindsey Simmons did not attend the forum.

The first question of the night focused on term limits for members of congress.

Smith, if elected, plans to self-impose a term limit. Koonse is not opposed to term limits, but if a representative is doing their job properly, there is no need to vote them out of office, he said. Gist is in favor of term limits as it is something requested by constituents, he said.

Koonse would like to ensure war powers still are vested with congress.

“The Executive willy-nilly goes out all over the world with military troops,” he said. “We’ve been 19 years in Afghanistan. Congress needs to work with the Executive Branch to get an end to all these wars.”

Smith wants lobbyists out of congressional hallways.

“Our representatives don’t even write legislation anymore,” he said. “Lobbyists and corporations give it to them.”

Gist wants to see an end to what he sees as unconstitutional orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as mask mandates and business shutdowns.

“It is destroying our free-market economy through totalitarian action,” he said. “Only congress can legislate. They mayors can’t do it, the health department can’t do it. That is not their job.”

A resident wanted to know how the candidates plan to get those unemployed back to work.

Government is not in the business of job creation, Gist said. That is determined by entrepreneurship and free market competition, he said. What government can do is remove regulatory barriers for small businesses. He also would like to see an increase in unpaid internships for individuals for job training and a reduction in the minimum wage.

Koonse wants infrastructure improvements to lead to job creation. Smith sees the economic impacts of cannabis and hemp production as a boost to job creation, along with small business and social security tax reforms.

The final question focused on recent protests.

Peaceful assembly is a right, Smith said. However, if a crime is committed, there are consequences, he said.

“Someone’s peaceful protest is someone else’s anarchy,” Koonse said. “When people start looting, the police should not hold back and arrest these people.”

Gist called out leaders for not condemning rioting, calling participants domestic terrorists.

“We need law enforcement to get in there and get them all out,” he said.


Incumbent Rowden and his Democratic opponent Judy Baker were next to answer the public’s questions.

Baker wants to start her first term focusing on health policy if elected. The next steps for the state are figuring out post COVID-19 economic impacts, Rowden said.

A resident wanted to know how candidates feel Gov. Mike Parson has reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the governor has done a fine job, Rowden said, despite there being some decision with which Rowden has disagreed.

Some things have been done right and some wrong, Baker said. She is concerned the recent upswing in cases will lead to another shelter-in-place order.

Baker wants residents and decision makers to follow the science. This means mask usage, social distancing and contact tracing and testing. The latter aspect is a failure of the state, she said.

Choosing a representative should not be based on party affiliation, Baker said answering the next question. Election decisions should be based on which candidate is most qualified, she said.

Rowden currently is Senate Majority Leader and said that the voice of Cooper County would be weaker without Rowden in his position. Party affiliation is not the end all when residents make elections decisions, however, he said.

Rowden wants to immediately support legislation related to public safety.

“We have to figure out how to have a conversation that brings everybody to the table,” he said.

Baker wants to make sure people have a voice in the state Senate, which they currently do not feel they have due to outside influences of lobbyists, money and unfair voting maps, she said.

“So, Clean Missouri came along and we voted on that,” Baker said. “Senate 19 voted for it 72%. They are now trying to undo it.”

She wants to make sure Clean Missouri stays in place.


All candidates seeking seats in the state House for Districts 47, 48 and 50, except for Republican Rep. Sara Walsh, for District 50 were present at Tuesday’s Forum. Rep. Chuck Basye, R-47, read a statement from Walsh.

Residents wanted to know the No. 1 challenge facing the respective districts.

Don Baragary, seeking the 48th district seat as a Republican, focused on transportation infrastructure. Basye wants to explore public education opportunities and school choice. Tim Taylor, 48th district candidate as a Republican also focused on education via expanded broadband access for rural areas. Adrian Plank, running as a Democrat for the 47th District, also wants improved broadband and to lower taxes for working families and small businesses while making sure high-earning businesses and individuals pay a better share.

Family farms are the biggest concern for the 50th district, Democrat Kari Chesney said. Missouri’s lax agriculture regulations make it enticing for large international corporations to farm in Missouri, artificially lowering prices, she said. Bill Betteridge as a former teacher wants to focus on education in his Democratic run for the 48th district. He wants to make it easier for students to seek higher education.

Schools soon will reopen in Missouri and slightly more than 3,600 school-aged children have COVID-19 as of Thursday. Residents wanted to know how candidates feel about children returning to in-person classes amid the ongoing pandemic.

It is a difficult question to answer, Chesney said, adding plans related to student health should have started much sooner when students first stopped attending schools.

“We have really been left with no other choice but to bring students back to school, which is incredibly dangerous given how infectious COVID actually is,” she said.

Reopening decisions should happen on the local level, made by each school district, Basye said. There are ways to get students back into schools, he said.

School administrators want to err on the side of safety, Betteridge said. This may mean finding a way to fund the hiring an additional health care professional for school buildings, he said.

Kids are the most affected by not returning to school, Taylor said. He is concerned about how teachers will be able to maintain social distancing among the youngest students.

Baragary agrees with Basye that is up to each school district to decide how they plan to reopen.

“I think schools will be ready,” he said.

This upcoming school year is going to be a tough one for teachers and schools are going to need the necessary funding to address reopening concerns, Plank said.

“I have faith in our teachers. We are going to come through this. It may take longer than we want it to,” he said.

Rural healthcare recently was affected by the closure of Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Boonville. Residents wanted to know how the candidates would work with public and private hospital systems to ensure convenient access to health care remains in rural areas.

Betteridge wants legislative incentives to get the hospital in Boonville reopened. Taylor is not sure what legislation would be available to reopen the facility, but a hospital is needed in the region, he said. Legislatively, Missouri needs to be able to have standalone emergency rooms, which currently are not allowed, Baragary said.

“A standalone emergency room could stabilize a patient, who then could go to a trauma center,” he said.

Basye said he is open to the idea of standalone emergency access after hearing Baragary reference it.

Rural communities are diminishing and Medicaid expansion will help hospitals, Plank said. Chesney also hopes for the expansion of Medicaid to make sure rural facilities are able to stay open. Rural hospitals need to be supported so they can respond to an issue within the first hour of an incident, she said.


Three Republicans and one Democrat, respectively are running for the Cooper County Public Administrator position. They are Laura Gramlich, Earl Haller, Paula Sims and Wendy Wooldridge.

Residents wanted to know the most important duties of the office.

Advocating for individuals declared incapacitated is the most important part of the job, Wooldridge said. Filing reports in a timely manner and monitoring and implementing services are the other aspects, she said.

The public administrator always needs to be on call, clients should have regular visits to receive the care they need, Haller said.

The administrator needs to have an individual relationship with each client and work must be done in a timely manner, Gramlich said.

Sims echoed that the administrator is always on call. Documentation must be filed timely and face-to-face interactions are needed among clients and the administrator, she said.

How can an administrator cut costs, while maximizing available funds for client benefits, was the next question.

The administrator would have find a less costly facility or seek out some sort of other funds for their clients, Haller said.

Cutting costs is down to what experience the administrator has, Wooldridge said. Her legal background could help clients at no additional cost, she said.

Sims also has similar experience with what is required of a public administrator, which allows her to do more work for clients, she said. This keeps her from seeking outside resources, which reduces costs, she said. At the same time, though she has resources at public agencies that will benefit clients, she said.

Gramlich would want to review client needs to gauge their personal budget. She plans to run the adminstrator’s office as it has for at least the first six months if elected, which will give her a chance to review operations.

Sims mirrored that office procedures would not change starting, unless changes were needed later.

Changes already have happened Wooldridge said regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, Wooldridge would want to spend more time in the office than out of it to be able to serve clients directly rather than remotely, she said.

Haller also would wait to see how the office operates before any changes would be implemented.


The final candidates to answer questions were those seeking seats as either the Eastern District or Western District Commissioner.

Current Republican incumbents are running against Republicans Dawn Kuster and Danny Larm, for the respective seats.

Residents wanted to know candidate priorities.

Booker’s focus is public safety. The county’s radio system is in need of repair in a $300,000 project, he said. There already was a $100,000 investment in the county’s 911 center computer system, he said.

Kuster wants improved communcation and coordination among muncipal governments with the county. Melkersmen puts his focus on employees and and policies affecting them. Larm wants to see more support for the sheriff’s office and road districts.

Residents wanted to know how they would react if personal property tax was eliminated for vehicles and how it could affect the county budget.

The property taxes go toward roads and needs to continue, Kuster said. Melkersman also would not be in support of cutting personal property taxes unless there was another revenue stream.

If property taxes were cut, that would mean an increase in sales taxes which would spread out what would have been the yearly property tax payment, Larm said.

“A few pennies along the way is easier than hundreds of dollars at one time if it would work that way,” he said.

The actual dollar amount of the taxes would have to be reviewed and how it would affect the budget before cuts could happen, Booker said.

“How would you replace that income,” he said.


The original version of this story had Democratic candidate for Cooper County Public Administrator written as Wendy Woolridge. It is Wooldridge. The story has been corrected.