Lucas Kunce, Trudy Busch Valentine, Spencer Toder and fellow candidates for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate took questions at a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters (Screenshot via YouTube).
Trudy Busch Valentine was the only one against Medicare For All.
Spencer Toder wants to investigate the U.S. Supreme Court justices who said they would uphold abortion rights and then overtuned Roe v. Wade.
Lucas Kunce suggested far more incremental policies than most candidates to curb gun violence.
And nearly all of the nine candidates who participated in the quasi-debate of Democratic Senate hopefuls Monday night supported abolishing the U.S. Senate filibuster, saying it was essential to get any important legislation passed. That includes the three candidates considered the frontrunners in the race — Kunce, Toder and Valentine.
“With what we have currently, we have no opportunity to save our democracy and that is absolutely essential,” Toder said of the filibuster during Monday’s forum held over Zoom and organized by the League of Women Voters.
Nine of the 11 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination appeared for at least part of the forum. Kunce missed the beginning of the event, joined from his car and fell off the call at one point. Valentine left early.
And while the debate was broad-ranging and surface-level, it presented an opportunity to get candidates on the record on a number of issues from expanding the U.S. Supreme Court to healthcare to abolishing the Senate filibuster. It also separated the progressive candidates from the moderates.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to give their campaign spiel — Valentine’s pledges to bring people together, Kunce’s desire to shift power to the working class and Toder’s record of helping thousands of Missourians access safety-net benefits — to the audience, which garnered 260 views on YouTube.
Valentine, who has declined to participate in previous debates and candidate forums, said there are enough lawyers and career politicians in Washington. The U.S. Senate needs someone with the heart of a nurse and “leadership that brings people together and brings out the best in each other.”
“Our country needs to heal,” Valentine said in her opening statement. “Our country needs acts of kindness to lift each other up and be all we can be. We have to stop fighting and start caring about each other and find the joy that comes from helping each other.”
Valentine’s family owned a majority stake in Anheuser-Busch until InBev bought the company for $52 billion in 2008. Valentine and her husband have a net worth between $69.4 and $219.4 million, according to her financial disclosure.
The central message of Kunce’s campaign is that wealthy people, like Valentine, should have less power in politics. Kunce grew up in a working class family in Jefferson City and attended Yale University and the University of Missouri-Columbia before joining the U.S. Marines. He most recently worked for a think tank in D.C. where he earned $120,000.
“We need to fundamentally change who has power in this country,” Kunce said. “Most of the people who you see up in the Senate…they don’t know how average folks in Missouri live. They don’t know how the average American lives.”
And Toder says his campaign is built on helping people, not just messaging. He has raised more than $50,000 for Afghan refugees and helped families sign up for child tax credits and Medicaid. He said Missouri needs leadership that is “about public service and not about celebrity or about money.”
“I’m running because my wife and I have a two year old son,” Toder said. “And when we gave birth to our precious son, we looked at each other and we said, ‘What kind of a world did we just bring him into? What have we done and what can we do to make sure that his life and the life of all children is better than generations past.’”
On the issues
Every candidate who appeared Monday — Valentine, Kunce, Toder, Jewel Kelly Jr., Pat Kelly, Gena Ross, Joshua Shipp, Clarence “Clay” Taylor and Carla “Coffee” Wright — supported canceling student loan debt.
They overwhelmingly opposed the death penalty. They supported enacting legislation to restrict access to firearms. They urged passage of voting rights legislation named for civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, who died in 2020.
“We’ve seen an assault on our democracy and our sacred right vote,” Valentine said. “Republicans are determined to make it as hard as possible to vote, especially for minorities, seniors and disabled. And if we don’t have our democracy, what do we have?”
Ross, a community college professor, agreed Congress needs to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would re-establish parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the Supreme Court, including a requirement that states that historically discriminated against voters of color receive federal approval prior to changing their voting laws.
“It’s our right to be able to vote,” Ross said. “It’s like what are they afraid of?”
Jewel Kelly, an Air Force veteran and small business owner, said Democrats need to do more, noting the dearth of Democratic candidates in some parts of the state.
“So yes, we need to vote,” Kelly said. “But we also need to organize and we need to recruit candidates and we need to support candidates so that we can have a Democrat for every single ballot. That’s how we protect voting rights.”
On healthcare, the candidates universally supported extending subsidies for the Affordable Care Act that are set to expire this year. And most of them went farther, saying they wanted to see Medicare For All, which amounts to a single-payer healthcare system.
Except Valentine. She supports a public option healthcare plan.
In a “yes or no” section of the forum, each candidate was asked whether they supported Medicare For All.
“No,” she said. “It would cost $30 trillion, and —”
The moderator cut her off: “That’s just yes or no.”
Valentine, Kunce and Toder all said they supported abolishing the Senate filibuster to codify Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court that protected abortion rights until it was overturned last month.
“Missouri’s law is cruel and extreme,” Valentine said, “and women and girls will suffer and die. The decision to have an abortion should be between a woman and her doctor, not the government or politicians.”
Kunce, who opposed abortion when he first ran for office in 2006, said he supports abolishing the filibuster. He relates the overturning of Roe v. Wade to his central campaign message — that policy in the U.S. favors the wealthy and privileged. He said “country club Republicans” worked to pass Missouri’s law barring abortions in almost all cases with no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
“That’s crazy,” Kunce said, “and they’re willing to do that, they have no problem doing that because it’s not gonna affect them. They have wealth; they have power. They’re gonna go somewhere else. They’re still gonna get abortions just like they’ve always done.”
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