Wagner is no-show as rivals for her congressional seat debate healthcare, tax policy

CREVE COEUR • The Democratic and Libertarian challengers hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner had the stage to themselves at a forum at Congregation Shaare Emeth on Monday night.

Wagner, R-Ballwin, did not attend. A campaign spokeswoman accused the forum’s organizers, the League of Women Voters, of being biased against Republicans.

In an email on Monday, spokeswoman Ali Pardo cited a statement by the nonprofit’s co-president Louise Wilkerson saying the group’s membership has spiked and crediting it in part to President Donald Trump’s “disrespect for women.”

Pardo said: “Our campaign does not believe a partisan organization with an axe to grind can fairly moderate a candidate forum and, as such, we have elected not to participate.”

But Dana Sandweiss, a volunteer with the synagogue, said Wagner’s campaign told them she could not attend because she had a campaign event scheduled.

Volunteers reached out to the Wagner campaign for three weeks before getting an answer Friday, Sandweiss said after the forum. The synagogue also had sent Wagner’s campaign alternative dates for the forum, she said.

The synagogue invited the League of Women Voters specifically because the group is nonpartisan, Rabbi Andrea Goldstein said. The League of Women Voters says it is nonpartisan but picks stances on issues after close study.

The nonprofit said it would only participate if all four of the candidates were invited.

So Democrat Cort Van Ostran, a 30-year-old lawyer in his first run for public office, and Libertarian Larry Kirk, a retired police chief, were the only two candidates to answer questions that focused primarily on health care, Social Security programs and tax policy but also included gun control, contamination at the West Lake landfill, foreign policy and abortion. Green Party candidate David Arnold did not attend because of a work conflict.

The race is one of several local elections across the country under close watch as Democrats try to take control of the House on Nov. 6. Wagner has held her seat since 2013 and Trump won the district — which includes suburbs from Fenton to St. Charles — in 2016 by 10 percentage points.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee listed Van Ostran’s run for the 2nd Congressional District seat as one of 81 House races it considers most likely to flip from Republican and pledged financial aid and strategic advice to his campaign.

Health care has been a focus of Van Ostran’s campaign.

He reemphasized Monday night his support for protecting and strengthening Social Security and expanding Medicare by allowing people younger than 65 to buy in to the program.

Van Ostran has criticized Wagner, 56, for not hosting any town halls in the 2nd District for several years and he did so again Monday night.

“For six years she’s been in Congress, she’s never once held a town hall that is open to the public and she doesn’t show up to public events like this. ... I will continue to show up, and I will listen to you,” he said. “I will look you in the eye and tell you why I voted the way I voted.“

Kirk, who grew up in Mississippi and was a registered Republican before switching parties, emphasized his support for criminal justice reform, including ending mandatory minimum sentences, legalizing marijuana and legalizing prostitution.

In addressing a question about a perceived partisan divide, Kirk encouraged voters elect third-party candidates and end a political system that he says encourages corporations and large political organizations to funnel money to Democrats and Republicans.

“If you don’t like the choices you’re getting from the two parties ... break the system,” he said.

Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch, 10/15/18

In The NewsChris Claflin