Both major parties are pouring money and resources into a mid-Missouri state Senate race, a race that could determine whether Republicans keep a veto-proof majority in that chamber.
The district covers Boone and Cooper counties, along the I-70 corridor. While Columbia and Boonville are the two major cities in the district, there are also numerous small towns and farms across the two counties.
Rowden, who served two terms in the Missouri House from 2013-2016, won the Senate seat in 2016 by defeating then-State Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia. Rowden had 45,335 votes, to Webber’s 43,179. Rowden won the race by about two-and-a-half points.
The majority leader is the two number two position in the Missouri Senate. Rowden says serving as majority leader gives him a larger role in impacting the agenda.
“For me that’s making sure that we find a way to get past COVID, trying to find a way to make sure that small businesses have what they need on the back end of COVID, that’s going to be a challenge,” Rowden says. “Trying to make sure the budget situation is stable.”
Rowden also says transportation is huge in the district, noting the importance of an $81-million dollar federal grant to replace the aging I-70 Rocheport bridge. Rocheport is just west of Columbia.
More than 12 million vehicles cross the massive bridge annually, including three million trucks. The bridge connects Boone with Cooper county, across the Missouri River. The current bridge is more than 60 years old, and the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has said it’s in poor condition.
Judy Baker served two terms in the Missouri House, from 2005-2008. She left her House seat to run for an open U.S. House seat in 2008, narrowly losing that race to Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, who’s now in his sixth term.
If elected to the Missouri Senate, Baker’s top priority is implementing and protecting Medicaid expansion, which was approved by Missouri voters in August.
“We just passed it (in August) and in this (senatorial) district, it passed with 62 percent of the vote. And my opponent, of course, has voted against it every time he could,” Baker says.
Medicaid expansion supporters say it will provide healthcare to Missourians who earn less than $18,000 annually.
This year’s closing of a hospital in Boonville has emerged as an issue in this race. Baker tells Missourinet that Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Boonville and some other hospitals would have been saved by Medicaid expansion.
“Those hospitals would have been able to stay in their communities, had they had some kind of revenue for the patients they were already seeing,” says Baker.
But Rowden tells Missourinet that the Boonville hospital closed because of mismanagement, saying hospital leaders in Boonville didn’t have the best interest of the community at heart. Rowden disagrees with Baker on Medicaid expansion.
“Well Medicaid expansion wouldn’t keep any rural hospital open, and there’s no data to back that up,” says Rowden. “I do think the infusion of federal dollars could have postponed the inevitable, in some cases.”
Rowden and Baker are also clashing over the initial cost of Medicaid expansion, with Rowden saying it will cost $300 to $500 million in the first five years. He says the money has to come from somewhere, and doesn’t want it coming from Mizzou.
Baker says Medicaid expansion would be an economic boost to hospitals and to the towns that have hospitals, especially rural areas.
Republicans currently control the Senate 23-8, with three vacancies. Two of the three vacancies are in the heavily-Democratic Kansas City area, and one is in southeast Missouri, a GOP stronghold.
A veto-proof majority in the Missouri Senate is 23 Senate seats.
Democrats hope to unseat both Majority Leader Rowden and State Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, on Tuesday. If that happens and if the other Senate races end up as expected, Republicans would have 22 seats, one short of a veto-proof majority.
Governor Mike Parson (R) noted the importance of Rowden’s seat, during a speech last week to supporters at Emery Sapp and Sons in Columbia. Parson spoke directly to the construction workers in the back of the room, saying “I need him,” referring to Senator Rowden.
Rowden’s other top priorities include protecting funding for Mizzou, as well as K-12 and other higher education funding.
Baker is also focused on the COVID pandemic, and says any economic recovery should be geared toward working families.
Click here to listen to Brian Hauswirth’s full interview with Missouri Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, which was recorded on October 28, 2020:
Click here to listen to Brian’s full interview with former State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, which was recorded in Columbia on October 29, 2020:
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