The two candidates for a vacant Mid-Missouri state House seat took part in a forum on Wednesday sponsored by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Former Rep. Caleb Jones', R-Columbia, House seat in the 50th district became vacant in January when he took the job of Gov. Eric Greitens' deputy chief of staff.
About 35 people plus members of the media attended the forum, though questions for the candidates were predetermined by Chamber members.
The special election to fill Jones's seat is on Aug. 8, and the two candidates are Republican Sara Walsh and Democrat Michela Skelton.
The district encompasses parts of Cole, Cooper, Moniteau and Boone counties, including California, Prairie Home, Ashland, Hartsburg and parts of Columbia.
In her overarching position at the forum, Skelton said she will fight to make Missouri's economy fair, and that corporate lobbyists have too much power in the Legislature and have skewed the economy to favor pre-ordained winners and losers.
She cited fair wage laws as the first piece of legislation or policy position she would support if elected. "There's really no such thing as a pro-business or pro-worker economy," she said, only one that supports healthy or unhealthy economic development, which does or doesn't exploit people.
Walsh wants to work to support businesses — Walmart sized or more local — as job creators.
"I want to be a collaborator," she said. "I want to work with businesses, the chamber, the community, citizens and the economic development boards to come together with good policy and good decisions" to lift people out of struggling from one paycheck to another.
On a question on the role of government in economic development, she said she wanted to cut red tape.
"I will push back against things that don't make sense," she said. Her frame of reference was the question "How is government in your way?"
Skelton's response to the same question was government should incentivize growth but not necessarily subsidize it. As an example, she cited expansion of the Columbia Regional Airport and paying for it with targeted lodging taxes.
Both candidates answered questions on a range of specific topics related to local and regional economic development, including support for interstate highways, job training programs and funding for the University of Missouri, research initiatives and elementary and secondary schools.
A main point of departure between Skelton and Walsh came down to the role of taxes. Walsh is more averse to them and favored cuts like those set for this fiscal year.
"Any time people are able to keep more of their money, they're able to invest that in their communities," she said. "It's your money. At the end of the day, I will work to ensure that you can keep your money, because I believe that you know how best to spend it."
Skelton said, "I would be more than willing to pay an extra dollar a day to make sure that my kids can go to a good school, that I can drive on decent roads, because those are things that we have to pool our resources together to make sure that we can have those available for all of us to use. And those that have the most know it's from each according to ability, and to each according to need."
Walsh is from Mid-Missouri and lives in Ashland. She's been a Republican State Committeewoman for the 19th Senate District and served on the executive committee for the state's Republican party, among other party positions she's held in Cole and Boone counties. She's also worked for the Missouri Pharmacy Association, and is a graduate of Columbia College and MU's Truman School of Public Affairs.
Before Jones' decision to leave his seat for the governor's office, she had announced last year her plans to run for his term-limited seat in 2018.
Originally from rural Alabama, Skelton moved to Boone County just south of Columbia five years ago. She's worked for the private sector and the federal government.
After she earned a law degree from Washington University, she worked for the Missouri Senate in its non-partisan research office.