Two candidates with widely different views on the most pressing topics facing St. Louis today are vying to become the next state representative for District 99. District 99 includes the municipalities of Valley Park, Manchester and Twin Oaks.
Lee Ann Pitman was selected by the GOP as the Republican candidate. Trish Gunby was selected by her party as the Democratic candidate. Both women are seeking their first elected office after many years of community involvement.
The seat in the Missouri General Assembly was made available by the departure of Jean Evans [R-Manchester], who resigned to become the Executive Director of the Missouri GOP. Gov. Parson has called for a special election Nov. 5 to fill the seat.
West Newsmagazine recently asked both candidates questions on a handful of prominent issues.
West: Why are you qualified to represent District 99?
Gunby: I’ve always been interested in politics. I majored in political science in college. We moved back here after we got married. We’ve raised our two kids here for the past 25 years in the district. Professionally, I was working in marketing at Citicorp Mortgage and Purina.
I’ve been active in neighborhood watch groups, also active in Parkway Schools on the local and district level … even did a kids’ voting program where they vote like their parents do on Election Day. I’m also very active in my church … served on the leadership board there and was made social justice coordinator.
I’ve also been in the St. Louis Area Voter Coalition where we try to get folks to vote … voting is a real passion of mine.
Pitman: I’ve been a lifelong resident of Missouri and I’ve lived in this area for 25 years. I’ve worked full time while we’ve been raising our family. I’m a senior accountant and my career has been in insurance and banking.
West: If you are elected, what will be your top legislative priorities?
Gunby: One of the things I hear the most when I talk to people … is just to create a spirit of civility and a willingness to sit down and talk about all these issues. I was amazed to find out that the Democrats walk through one door to enter the floor [at the statehouse] and the Republicans walk through another door … So, the fact that people don’t even go in the same door is concerning to me. Some of the stuff that seems so common sense that we wouldn’t allow to happen in our businesses, or our schools happens at our Capitol.
Just finding a way that you could come to the table and be at the table [since] I realize I would be in the minority [party.] I believe you have to start somewhere. You just can’t decide I’m not going to try.
To me, voting is the great equalizer. So, I would also be working to make it as easy as possible for people to vote. There were some attempts made last year to undo some of that and take away the nonpartisan map drawer… it concerns me when representatives want to undo the vote of the people, when it passed with the majority in every senate district.
Pitman: I stand for quality education in our school systems. Recently, the MAP math and English test scores show our students are low performing according to state reports. We need to look to improve and ensure our kids receive the best resources and opportunities available to them as they are our future.
My second point is protecting our seniors. We must maintain their healthcare and looking at ways to improve it. It is also apparent that we need to help those on fixed incomes from being over taxed on their real estate. A commission was formed earlier this summer to investigate why and how there were excessive increases in real estate property assessments not just in St. Louis but around our state. This leads to higher taxes and is difficult for those on a fixed income especially our seniors to financially keep up. I await their findings and recommendations and hope we can find a way to provide some tax relief.
Lastly, I believe in cutting regulations and taxes and to make sure there are less burdens for business owners or those who may want to open a business. Our startup and small business owners make up our states greatest growth in jobs. We have great job training programs in the Missouri One Start and Missouri Works Program that encourages businesses to grow and expand.
West: What role should state government play in the local economy?
Gunby: I am a proponent of the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act that people have been trying to pass for 21 years. It would protect LBGQT people from being fired from their jobs for being who they are … the fact that you can be fired for [your sexual identity] or not live somewhere because of that is beyond me.
I think it’s tied to economic development because why would a corporation want to relocate to a place when [the corporate policy] says everybody has to be treated equally [and] the state doesn’t say the same thing. It’s hurting our ability to recruit young people and retain the ones we have when we have a state that is not forward thinking and is repressive.
Pitman: There is definitely a need for us to work on growing people through entrepreneurship, apprenticeships and skilled trades. We are lacking in people going into those fields. There are some companies that have programs that can help us out. Some of them have even started focusing on the high school students … different companies are looking at high school students who have skills and may not want to go to college, or go to college right away … I definitely see that growth in our area.
I also think we always need to be looking at ways to reduce taxes.
West: What is your position on the state’s current gun control laws? Should the state do anything differently?
Gunby: When you walk around the Capitol, there are signs outside of some legislators’ doors that say ‘guns are encouraged here.’ That concerns me. I’m not against guns. However, I don’t think we need to have inflammatory signs up that promote gun ownership like that. I’m in favor of the Second Amendment but I’m against gun violence … I support universal background checks.
Pitman: Our governor has a law enforcement background. I think what he has done with the city of St. Louis where he did send in the highway patrol and provide assistance in the troubled areas is a very positive move. It’s going to take some time to see the impact that they can have there. I know there’s a lot of people in this district who are gun owners, and I’m going to protect their Second Amendment rights … I would like to see us somehow look to see what we could do with the warning signs [so-called “red flags”] and see what kind of plan we could put into action to help identify those potential warning signs.
West: Another important issue to Missouri voters is on the topic of abortion. What’s your position on the state’s current laws on abortion?
Gunby: I am pro-choice candidate. I believe it is a woman’s right to choose – between herself, her family and her physician – what happens to her body in terms of reproductive life. So, there are things that happen that I am not privy to, that I should not be privy to, and I should not have to regulate for a person … I believe the no exception ban for rape and incest [under current Missouri Law] is some of the most extreme legislation I could ever imagine.
Pitman: I have been endorsed by Right to Life … I struggled with the rape and incest portion of the law that was passed. But I understand that, if at any time the woman’s life is in jeopardy, an abortion [can be performed]. And I think that’s a part of the law that has not been conveyed very clearly. We hear about the eight weeks [ban] but not the whole law.