By TIM ROWDEN
“Right-to-work” has dominated Missouri politics this year, and it took center stage Oct. 18 in the debate between Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican State Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Hawley has been a vocal supporter of implementing “right-to-work” in Missouri, but hemmed, hawed and tried to dodge his record during the debate.
Asked repeatedly whether he would support a national “right-to-work” law, which President Donald Trump has said he will sign if it reaches his desk, Hawley refused to answer.
McCaskill quickly called him out, reminding voters that Hawley’s campaign for attorney general “was funded almost entirely by the biggest ‘right-to-work’ advocate in the state,” David Humphreys, the owner of Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products.
It’s no wonder. Hawley’s campaign for attorney general was funded almost entirely by the Humphreys family
Missouri voters rejected “right-to-work” (Prop A) in August by an overwhelming 67 percent to 32.5 percent.
When pressed by KSDK Channel 5’s Mike Bush to say whether he still supported “right-to-work” or if he agreed with the president, Hawley said, “I’m not familiar with that (the President’s) pledge… I’d have to see the details.”
McCaskill quickly called him out.
“That’s kinda, I think, a dodge,” McCaskill said. “I don’t think he wants to say anything different than the President, because he’s worried what happens if he” does. Josh Hawley’s been very clear that he supported ‘right-to-work’ … His campaign was funded almost entirely by the biggest ‘right-to-work’ advocate in the state.”
In fact, the Humphreys family contributed $4 million, roughly 75 percent of his campaign coffers to Hawley’s 2016 campaign for attorney general, an office he has held for less than two years.
Hawley also refused to say how he voted on Prop A.
On health care, which has become a central theme of this election, Hawley said he’s sticking with his involvement in a federal lawsuit that would do away with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including its provisions requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions without raising their premiums.
But Hawley also said he is committed to still protecting people with pre-existing conditions – citing his young son’s chronic hip and joint problem as an example.
“I think we should repeal and replace,’’ Hawley said, returning to a popular Republican refrain, contending that the ACA is unaffordable and unworkable.
McCaskill noted that the Republicans controlling Congress have yet to come up with a way to protect pre-existing conditions and have instead focused solely on trying to repeal the ACA — also known as Obamacare.
Hawley accused McCaskill of voting to cut more than $700 billion from Medicare as part of the ACA.
She countered that the $700 billion Hawley was referring to was actually a cut in insurance companies’ profits which has been used to pay for the ACA’s mandates for free health screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.
If the ACA is repealed, McCaskill said, Medicare recipients will also lose some their drug coverage because the ACA got rid of the “doughnut hole,’’ where recipients had to pay the total costs of their drugs until they hit a certain level of spending.
Neither Hawley nor McCaskill said they believed that safety-net programs such as Medicare or Social Security were the main drivers of the deficit, which rose nearly 17 percent in fiscal year 2018 and is expected to grow to $1 trillion. And both pledged that they would not make cuts to those programs.
They disagreed, however, on what caused the spike.
“I would start with Obamacare,” Hawley said.
McCaskill laid the blame on the Republican tax plan Congress approved in 2017.
“It was supposed to pay for itself,” she said. “Revenues are down, and wages are stagnant. In fact, wages are 1.8 percent lower in this country than they were a year ago. That is one of our big problems. We should not be adding to the deficit in a strong economy that we are right now.”
Other issues in the debate included gun violence, police-community relations, global warming and the border wall.
Many of the questions in the debate came from voters.
• On gun violence, Maria Watson of Arnold asked about a concern for residents across Missouri: gun violence.
Watson recalled being in a hospital emergency room with her son last year when hospital officials called a Code Silver, meaning an active shooter.
“I was trying to figure out how to barricade the door and hide my son,” Watson said. “I am frustrated and angry when I see calls for common-sense laws to address gun violence met with powerful resistance from the gun lobby, followed by inaction from our elected leaders. If elected, what will you do about this epidemic?”
Hawley pledged his support for expanding background checks to include a person’s mental-health records, then falsely accused McCaskill of voting against those checks.
“I support universal background checks,” McCaskill countered. “We came very close to passing it. The National Rifle Association was working as hard as it possibly could to stop universal background checks. I support banning bump stocks. You would think after Las Vegas that would be so easy for us to get done. But no, there are way too many people, including most of the Republicans, who are afraid of the NRA. The NRA is very much in Josh Hawley’s corner, because they believe he will toe their line.”
• On police-community relations, North St. Louis County resident Tyale McNary asked both candidates what they would do help bridge the divide between African-Americans and law enforcement.
McCaskill cited her experience as Jackson County prosecutor of implementing “community policing.”
“This is all about people in the community feeling that the police are working in their best interest — and the police understanding that the vast majority need nothing more (from them) than protection,” McCaskill said, adding that the federal government could help by putting the right resources into community policing.
Hawley cited his role in altering how racial-profiling statistics are tracked in Missouri cities and said, “every person and every community in this state deserves the fair and equal protection of the rule of law.”
• On global warming, Brentwood resident Tim Rudolph, who wanted to know what each candidate would do to protect the climate and ensure that corporations were not unfairly burdened by regulations.
“Climate change is real,” McCaskill said. “It’s time we trust our scientists (and) accept some reasonable regulations to keep our waters clean and our air pollution free.”
Hawley also acknowledged climate change but expressed concern with regulations to address it.
“I’m sure the climate is changing and that humans are contributing to it,” Hawley said. But I am very concerned about environmental regulations coming from the EPA and elsewhere that choke off our family farms. The regulations are all out of proportion.”
• On border security, both candidates were asked whether they supported President Trump’s push for a physical wall separating the border between Mexico and the United States.
Hawley said he supports funding and building a border wall. “I think we need a wall,” he said.
McCaskill, who has received the endorsement from the National Border Control Council, the union that represents border-patrol agents, said that border-security personnel have been asking for better technology — and better lateral roads to do their jobs. But she said there are legal challenges to building barriers, including litigation over taking farm land.
“It is not as easy just saying sea to shining sea wall,” McCaskill said. “Some places, we do need more wall. And I’m more than happy to support that.”