From the Southeast Missourian

Five candidates in local Missouri House and Senate races fielded a flurry of questions Thursday night, responding to queries on job creation, health care, education and myriad other topics as they march toward what looks to be a tightly contested Republican primary in August.

Kathy Swan, the lone candidate for the Cape Girardeau-based 147th House District, also had a chance to weigh in before the standing-room-only monthly meeting of the Southeast Missouri Pachyderm Club.

Up first at the roughly 75-minute forum were House hopefuls Van Hitt, Gerald Adams and incumbent Rep. Donna Lichtenegger. That portion was followed by what is perhaps the most closely watched local race in which two incumbent House representatives — Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau and Ellen Brandom of Sikeston — are vying against each other, with the winner being sent to the state Senate and the loser being sent out of the legislature altogether.

Swan, a member of the Cape Girardeau City Council who will likely take over Wallingford’s seat next year, told the large Republican crowd about her 42 years as a registered nurse and experience on the school board and the council. Swan said she has seized the opportunity as an unopposed candidate listening and doing her “homework” as she prepares to take office.

Key issues, Swan said, were transportation, education and dealing with the tax credit issue.

Swan could still yet see an opponent, considering independent candidates have until the end of July to file.

While not a debate, Brandom and Wallingford took questions together at a public event for the first time since they learned they were to face each other. Each is trying to take over for the outgoing Sen. Jason Crowell, who cannot run again because of term limits. They are seeking the 27th District seat, which is made up of the counties of Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Perry, Scott and Wayne.

Brandom brought up her experience, noting that she has served a portion of Cape Girardeau County for six years. Wallingford was first elected in 2010. She also quickly mentioned a bill she sponsored that requires drug testing for welfare recipients.

While Wallingford has questioned her voting record on the matter, Brandom said: “I am 100 percent pro-life as my voting record will attest.”

According to Brandom, Missouri’s biggest challenge is creating jobs, and she said Thursday night the best way to do that is to cut taxes, eliminate cumbersome business regulations and to help create a quality work force.

In response to a question on what reforms would make the state’s educational system more productive, Wallingford suggested that pouring more money into the school system is not the answer. Schools need to be shifted away from an “assembly line” mentality, Wallingford said, and even more technology needs to be incorporated into the classroom.

“We need to move to the 21st century and get out of the industrial age,” he said.

Brandom said pay disparities need to be addressed that will help keep quality teachers in rural areas.

The candidates for the 146th took questions on right to work, school vouchers and education. Adams, a Jackson School Board member who lost to Lichtenegger in 2010, said he didn’t see right to work as a big issue. So-called right-to-work legislation would give employees at unionized jobs the choice of whether to join or not.

“The semantics of right to work have been way overexaggerated,” Adams said, adding that the state is facing more important issues.

Lichtenegger said she favors right to work laws, but added that she is not against unions overall. Hitt added that he is for right to work but that he is not in favor of allowing workers for any public employer to belong to unions.