Beyond the Podium: Third-party Senate candidates say change rests outside major parties
JEFFERSON CITY —
When Missourians head to the voting booth on Nov. 6, five names will await them on the Senate ballot.
Missouri's U.S. Senate campaign has drawn national attention. Major polls consistently show two-term Democrat Claire McCaskill in a virtual tie with Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley. The two candidates don't have the field to themselves. Green Party candidate Jo Crain, Libertarian Japheth Campbell and independent candidate Craig O'Dear will also have their names on the ballot.
Crain said U.S. policymakers are willfully ignoring hard data on everything from climate change to economic inequality. She said Americans and the officials they elect will need to drastically rethink their approach if they want to avert a calamity.
O'Dear said he is running as an independent because he sees no signs of true political independence in Washington. He said the two major parties appear more interested in fighting each other than solving the nation's problems.
Crain and O'Dear both said the U.S. healthcare system isn't working under the Affordable Care Act and wasn't beforehand. Crain said she endorses the approach championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, popularly called "Medicare for All." That approach would cover all Americans under the system currently used for seniors, with no copays or deductibles.
O'Dear said the problem with the healthcare system is providers are being reimbursed for the wrong things. Instead, he said the business model should be revised so payments are made for the efficacy of services, not the current cost-plus approach.
Crain said much of the current migration into the United States from Central and South America is due to decades of misguided U.S. foreign policy in that region. She said the U.S. spent far too much time, money and effort propping up dictatorial regimes that ruined economic conditions for their people, thus removing an incentive for remaining in their own countries. Crain said the United States should embark on a Marshall Plan-style program of economic aid to Central and South American countries to reduce poverty in those regions. Meanwhile, she said the U.S. should expand its guest worker program to allow migrant workers to shuttle back and forth between the two countries.
O'Dear said many Congress already has well thought-out solutions with bipartisan support but leadership won't let it come to the vote. He said lawmakers should work together to decide what criteria determine who gets into the country, and how many people should be allowed in. As for the southern border, he said the United States should continue to expand its investment in border security but a 2,000-mile wall won't do the job. O'Dear said many of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally are here because they overstayed their visas. He said Congress needs to address those issues as well.
The opioid crisis
Crain said legalizing cannabis-derived drugs, which she said can achieve many of the same effects as opioid-based painkillers, would eliminate the need for doctors to prescribe opioids. Moreover, she said drug abuse in general is a symptom of a larger societal issue. Crain said many people turn to drugs because they see no future, either because they are stuck in dead-end jobs or their employers are forcing them to work too hard for too little pay.
O'Dear said policymakers need to treat drug abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal justice issue, and fund services accordingly. He said the country needs to do a better job of tracking where controlled substances come from, but that doesn't mean the country can ignore treatment.
Lost in the shuffle
KRCG 13 asked each candidate what issue they felt was not getting enough attention in Washington. Crain named climate change, calling the attitude toward it "hear no evil, see no evil." She said a warming climate means larger, more destructive hurricanes and tornadoes. Crain said access to drinking water is another major issue climate change will force. She said a good idea might be to redirect U.S. military resources toward desalinating ocean water and building seawalls to protect coastal cities.
"We can do this in record time, but we need to open our eyes," she said. "We need to quit sticking our heads in the sand."
O'Dear said the partisan atmosphere in Washington has paralyzed discussion over gun laws. He said there are solutions to gun violence that don't directly involve guns, such as improving the background check system and training people to recognize potentially destructive behavior before someone goes on a shooting rampage.
"In this era of big data, how do we not have a background check system that can connect all the sources of data in our society that produce red flags?" he said.
Democratic and Republican candidates frequently accuse third-party and independent candidates of acting as spoilers, particularly in close elections. Polls have shown Hawley and McCaskill well within the margin of error since May.
Crain said she doesn't see any other candidates with a vision for the country. She said the main thing she hopes to accomplish is to engage young people in the political process and convince older voters to endorse policies that will benefit their children.
"I don't care if people vote for me or not. I want them to look at my vision and say, is this something I want to see?" she said.
O'Dear said he hears that argument from supporters of both Hawley and McCaskill. He said ballots cast for Republican or Democratic candidates are the true wasted votes because that only ensures the two major parties will remain in power and perpetuate their conflict.
"There is no more certain way to waste a vote in this election than to vote for one more party-line R or one more party-line D, which is what the two options are," he said.
Libertarian candidate Japheth Campbell did not return multiple calls seeking comment for this story.