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LWV holds candidate forum for contested races

Candidates in contested races were invited to speak at a League of Women Voter’s forum June 20 at the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

State Representative

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger will not run again because of term limits. Running for her seat in the Aug. 7 primary are Republicans Barry Hovis and Tony Laforest.

Hovis is a retired Cape Girardeau police officer. He moved up through the ranks during his 30 years, serving as a training officer and public information officer while he was a sergeant and serving in support services and in the jail as a lieutenant.

He currently owns a logging business west of Gordonville and has been “semi in politics” for the past 30 years, serving on various boards, including LAGERS (a retirement plan for government employees) and Friends of the NRA.

Laforest described himself as a 100 percent disabled Gulf War veteran (Marine) with a “very diverse background.”

For the past 20 years he has “worked the system” to get veterans benefits to which he and other veterans are entitled. He has a son with cerebral palsy and another that is autistic, so he has worked with disabled children and adults. He went back to school and is now a teacher.

Laforest said the biggest need in Missouri is improvement in infrastructure. “There are over 900 bridges in Missouri that are in disarray.” Missouri is a large exporting state and it’s important to have ports, rail systems and roads to get our products to market.

Hovis agreed, and added that it’s important to improve the job market. The state needs to “Bring people in and keep people here,” he said.

Regarding funding for higher education, Hovis said there are financial restraints based upon revenue collected by the state, but higher education needs to be funded at an “adequate” and “responsible” level.

Laforest said all children should have available a trade school or college. “We need to fund this fully,” he said.

Regarding their support of Prop. A, the “Right to Work” law, Laforest said, “It’s on the ballot. It’s in the constituents’ hands.” Hovis said, “I’ve always believed that people should not be forced to join a union.” If Prop A is voted down, Hovis said he would wait to see “what kind of legislation is written” before he votes for it. Laforest said, “as a representative, you represent your constituents. You represent the people, not yourself. If it gets put down, you have to represent the people.”

When asked whether they represent their constituents’ needs to the state or the state’s needs to their constituents, Laforest said, “You’re the person who is paying attention to your constituents. You’re not a talker; you’re a listener.” Hovis replied that the two go “hand in hand.”

Both candidates expressed a need for qualified workers to fill positions in the job market in this district.

When asked if the governor should appoint a lieutenant governor or if a special election should be held, Hovis said, “I don’t think the ruling is clear.” However, attorneys general have supported the governor’s appointment, so he supports that. Laforest said since the office is an elected position, there should be a special election to fill it.

In closing arguments, Laforest stressed his diverse background qualifying him for office. Hovis stated, “I’m for a limited form of government. I’m pro-life. I support the Second Amendment. Sometimes stopping bad legislation is just as important as voting for good legislation.”

Associate Circuit Judge Div. III

Cape Girardeau private attorney Brandon A. Cooper and Cape County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Frank E. Miller are vying for the judgeship of Gary Kamp, who is retiring.

Cooper, a Cape Central High School graduate, has been in private practice since 2012, working on criminal, personal injury and “lots and lots” of domestic cases. “The thing I am most proud of is being able to help folks out that couldn’t help themselves.” He has been a guardian ad litem, a court-appointed attorney looking out for the interests of minor children.

Miller, a Jackson High School graduate, served as an aide to U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson before moving back home with his wife and becoming an assistant prosecutor. He has tried 29 jury trials, 75 bench trials and more than 400 contested hearings.

Miller said his greatest strength is his experience and integrity. “I am an aggressive but fair prosecutor,” he said.
Cooper said his greatest strength is “the ability to communicate with the audience.” He said a judge needs  “to understand every person in the courtroom.”

Neither candidate thinks politics should play a role in the courtroom. “There’s no place for it,” said Cooper. “The only role politics plays is to get elected,” Miller said.

When asked about the disparity between the number of black and white defendants, Miller replied, “We prosecute what the police give us.” He said a judge’s position is reactive — reacting to what comes before him in court. He should not be proactive. “We can’t change policy,” he said.

“I don’t think the judge should have any agenda,” Cooper said. He would like to lower the number of cases in general, that go to court.

When asked about the status of juvenile justice, Cooper said “we do a fantastic job of protecting children.” He discussed delinquency and crimes perpetrated by minors and removing some children from their parents’ care. “We should err on the side of caution when we take children out of parent’s care,” he said.

Miller said Division III does not handle any juvenile matters. He has prosecuted some juveniles who were certified as adults.

Miller said his most difficult obstacle was a jury trial he lost. A woman’s boyfriend was charged with beating her and the jury found him not guilty. “It’s disheartening when you don’t get a conviction on the charge you want,” he said.
Cooper said his greatest obstacle is “managing expectations.”

Both candidates said court experience is “extremely important” in a judge.

When asked about their temperament, Miller said  he remains calm and cool. He is fair and levelheaded. Cooper said, “I’ve received calls from people who need a bulldog. That’s not me. I’m pretty laid back.”

Cooper said his “broad spectrum of experience” in the courtroom practicing law qualifies him for the position.

Miller said it is his “pursuit of justice as an assistant prosecutor.” He said 90 percent of the cases that appear in Division III are criminal cases. “I have experience in all those cases that will come before the court. I’ve been in Division III more than any other attorney. Only the judge and the bailiff have been there more.”

Miller said he is a felony prosecutor who has proven people guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He pledged to be “impartial and fair.”

Cooper, who has served as a defense attorney, stressed his “broad experience” in the courtroom.

Presiding Commissioner

J.W. Strack is challenging incumbent Clint Tracy for presiding commissioner of Cape Girardeau County.

Strack said he is a “lifelong resident of this town” who has been a member of the American Legion and 4-H. “I am a big supporter of the University of Missouri Extension,” he said. A former union member, he also has run a multimillion dollar business. “The biggest issue in this town is getting qualified workers,” he said.

“Eight years ago, you elected me,” Tracy said. He had promised to bring “leadership, stability and teamwork” to the County. “I believe I’ve done that.”

Tracy has been involved in finance issues regarding the new justice center. Also, a part of his job has been to  oversee the county parks with their 300 acres and seven employees. He has been  the legislative liaison for the county, has overseen emergency management and has served on the MAGNET board (an organization to attract businesses to this area.)

Both candidates saw the biggest need of the county is a skilled labor force.

Strack said he supports governments being required to pay “prevailing wage.” “I believe in skilled labor and high-paying jobs,” he said.

Tracy said it adds expense to government projects because only governments are required to pay it. “It will cost the county 20 percent more for the justice center,” he said.

When asked about the five most important factors in their mind, Tracy mentioned assessments, courts, county revenue that is driven by sales tax that has fallen flat or is decreasing, and preparation for emergencies. “I’m an advocate for taxpayer dollars and keeping the people safe,” he said.

Strack listed listening to people, providing facilities on an emergency basis, security in our county, the taxes (making sure taxes are assessed fairly) and finances to maintain the roads.

Neither candidate is for zoning in the county.

When asked how the county can better meet the needs of residents, Strack said residents can bring their concerns to him (if elected).

Tracy mentioned that people can become involved in the county by volunteering on boards and commissions. He added, “We’re always open to suggestions.”

Both claim they can work well with the other two commissioners. “We work together pretty well,” said Tracy. “I call them my friends. We have an excellent working relationship.” Strack said he has strong relationships with them as well. Charlie Herbst bought his barn, and he worked with Paul Koeper on projects when Koeper worked for Penzel and Strack worked for Dutch Enterprises.

When asked what qualifies them for this position, Strack said, “I’ve worked all my life. I’ve never been handed anything. I’ve run a multimillion dollar company. I’ve worked for the City of Cape and the State of Missouri.” Tracy is running on his record of the past eight years. “Drive around the parks. If you like the direction the county has gone, vote for me.”

“If you don’t like the way the county is going, vote for me,” concluded Strack.

Proposition A

If passed by voters, proposition A, the “Right to Work” bill, will allow workers to work for an employer without joining a union or being required to pay union dues.

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger spoke in favor of the proposition while Rick McGuire of the Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council Local 1104 spoke in opposition.

“This is not about whether you are for unions or against unions,” Lichtenegger said. People who want to join unions still will be able to. But if people don’t want to, they won’t be forced to. “Mine is about freedom,” she said.

“This is a bad law,” said McGuire. He claimed worker salaries will drop by $8,740  and they will lose their health insurance or have less coverage. “People are not asking for this law,” he said. “We don’t want to see anybody struggle or die on the job.”

When asked who is asking for this law, McGuire said, “I get out a lot. I can’t find anyone.” Lichtenegger said 64.3 percent of the people in District 146 favor right to work.

When asked how Prop A will benefit the state, Lichtenegger said  when companies look at relocating to Missouri, the first thing they ask is if we are a right-to-work state. If we are not, they don’t look further at us. McGuire claimed the proposition “does nothing for the state but hurt it.” The state already has a shortage of skilled labor and this will make that problem worse, he claimed.

McGuire said the passage of prop A will bring wages and benefits down.

Lichtenegger said it will not affect unions or people in unions — they will continue to operate as they do now. It will only affect people who are not unions. They will not be required to join unions or pay union dues. If they choose not to join a union, they will not be represented by unions and will not receive union pensions. “It’s very simple. It’s a freedom issue,” she said.

McGuire claimed statistics show there is a 58 percent higher chance a worker could lose his life on a job site in right-to-work states. “They don’t value that worker,” he said.

“The company doesn’t want people dying on the job,” responded Lichtenegger. “That’s ridiculous.” She said federal OSHA safety regulations help protect all workers, union or nonunion.

In closing arguments, McGuire repeated that workers make $8,740 less in right to work states and have lower health care benefits.

Lichtenegger repeated, “If you want to be in a union, you can be. If you don’t want to be in a union, you don’t have to be. If you’re not, the union doesn’t have to do anything for you. Seventy-one percent support right-to-work nationwide. People are realizing that unions aren’t giving them what they used to.”

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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