Campaign 2018 - Special Election of State Representative, District 144 - Democrat Candidate Jim Scaggs

Jim Scaggs

A special election has been set for Feb. 6, 2018 to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Paul Fitzwater (R-144th District). The respective party county organizations have each selected a candidate to run for that seat.  Jim Scaggs is the Democratic candidate.  Christina Dinkins is the Republican candidate. Each candidate was asked a set of questions about local issues and allowed to address additional issues important to their respective campaigns.

Jim Scaggs of rural Annapolis is the Democratic candidate for District 144.  Scaggs is a 1974 graduate of South Iron High School, a 1980 graduate of Mineral Area College with an Associates Degree in Business Administration, and he attended Central Methodist University (through MAC). He is the owner of Scaggs Rock-N-Lime, Inc. in Patterson.  He is the Presiding Commissioner of Iron County and served on the South Iron School Board for 16 years. He has served on numerous boards and commissions including the Missouri Department of Agriculture Economic Development board, the Southeast Missouri Mine Safety Association (President), and the National Stone Association.


What is the top issue facing the 144th District and how would you address it?

“The first issue I heard about all over the district is education – administrators and parents alike.  They are concerned with revenue cuts, whether it is for transportation or special needs kids or loss of revenue due to a decline in assessed valuations.  I think there is a host of issues driving that decline in education. It appears that the Missouri’s Foundation Formula is not fully funded at this point and  I don’t really understand why.  People are very concerned about that.

“Rural schools provide a very specific need, they are distributed across a wide land area and we run a lot of busses. Without adequate money to run those busses, it is getting more difficult to finance that budget item.

Of course in the last couple of months, the termination of the Commissioner of Education has been a big concern for the people of rural Missouri. They thought they had a friend in education and now they see that maybe they don’t.”

We will come back to that issue in a moment.  If you are elected you would be representing numerous counties in the 

144th District. What has your campaigning revealed about their concerns?  

“Most of their concerns are similar to what I have been dealing with as Presiding Commissioner.  Things like the lack of jobs. They are wondering where the economic base is going to come from.  Most of these counties are 3rd Class Counties and they are concerned with the legislature trying to ‘give’ the lettered roads to the counties, which would be a financial hardship on them. 

“They are concerned about some infrastructure issues.  We’ve addressed some of those in Iron County but we aren’t there by any means.     

“I get two or three inquiries every quarter about businesses looking to locate.  We have to make sure we have the infrastructure to support those businesses when they call. That is one of the things we are lacking.  Number one is broadband internet.  We don’t have it.  It is coming, but it is coming slowly and we need it fast-tracked. Every business depends on high-speed internet so they can compete in the global market. Until we do this type of infrastructure building, it will be hard for us to attract new businesses.

“People want to locate in rural Missouri. I’ve had phone calls from a company that wants to manufacture lead acid batteries, for example.  They need that internet infrastructure.”

You have already answered much of this question: In Iron County particularly, the top three concerns seem to be jobs and economic development, infrastructure development (including roads and internet) and tourism.  Do you agree and what are your thoughts?

“Those are all economic engines for us.  Tourism plays a big part in it. One of the big issues with tourists is that when they come here they can’t connect. I think broadband (availability) would expand tourism.  We live in God’s Country and we need to promote that.”

Let’s get back to what you brought up a while ago:  The governor has made some changes in the state board of Education.  What is your view of what has happened and what are your concerns with Missouri Public Education in general?

“In my experience, I’ve served on two state commissions.  I served on the Parks and Soils Sales Tax Commission that oversees the money that went for state parks and agriculture. It was not political.  Some of the members were Democrats and some Republicans on the commission, but once you got there, you worked together.

The changes in the State Board of Education appear, from an outsider looking in, to be all partisan; a political move to put a commissioner in charge of the Department of Education that supported charter schools and private school vouchers.  Private schools and vouchers to private schools in rural Missouri would be a disaster.  It will kill our rural schools.  Some of the best leaders in this state come from rural schools.  

“I have been committed to rural education since I first ran for the (South Iron School District) Board of Education in, I think, 1989.  I served 16 years and I think there is no better education system than we have right here at home in our public schools.”

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources recently held a public meeting at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park to receive input on three new state parks that have not yet been developed.  One of them, Jay Nixon State Park, is at least partially in Iron County.  What are your thoughts?

“As Iron County Commissioner, I had to take a stand on some of those issues.  Under the ASARCO Settlement Fund lawsuit, there was $2.4 million that came from the ASARCO Glover plant.  I felt strongly that the $2.4 million should stay here in Iron County - that was where it originated – and be used to rehab Crane Lake. In my mind, that was a restoration project that fit the guidelines of the program.  The Board of Trustees and the Governor did not agree with me totally, and that project did not get funded as I thought it would.

“As far as naming the park after Jay Nixon – I think that was a mistake. I don’t think you should use lawsuit money to buy land and name a park after any politician.   Profit Mountain links to the Ozark Trail, which would make it a good addition into our state park system.  I don’t think anybody is against state parks per se, but it was the way it all came down. It caught people off-guard when they took the money to Oregon County, when we have projects here that could have been funded. I thought that was wrong and the money should have stayed in the Lead Belt.”

There is some talk about the Secure Schools Act and getting it fully funded again. That act is designed to provide tax revenue to counties that have non-taxable government-owned land.  During the past few years, that money to the counties has been cut back.  Granted this is a federal issue, but what are your thoughts on that subject?

“It must be reestablished. This has been an ongoing issue.  The US Forest Service owns a large chunk of land in every rural county.  Here in Iron County, they own about 100,000 acres. The Secure Rural Schools Fund was set up to offset the loss of assess value when they bought that land, so it is part of our school budgets and our county budgets.  Viburnum School District lost about $225,000 in one year because of funding cuts by the federal government. I don’t know if there is any legislation that can be passed by the state, but I can assure you that if I am elected we will have a seat at the table and I will request and demand that funding be reinstated.  It is not right to pick on rural school systems every day.”

If you had been a representative at the time, would you have voted to expand Medicaid in the state under the Affordable Care Act?  Would you still be inclined to do that? What should be done to make healthcare affordable and accessible?

“There were two phases to the ACA, one was the legislation and one was the expansion of Medicaid.  When they blocked the exchange from occurring, which meant we could get competitive pricing from anywhere in the United States, the Medicaid expansion fell apart. With those two pieces gone, the ACA is not going to work in Missouri, in my opinion.

“As far as what do you do to get health care costs under control – I wish I had a magic pill.

“In local county government, we have 15 to 20 percent increases in rates year after year. Something has to be done to get this monster under control.  The feds have been talking about giving block grants to the states to manage Medicaid.  If that would occur in big chunks of block grant money, then I think the state could do a better job of managing that Medicaid expansion program – expanding it especially into the rural areas.  They could decide which areas need health care.  

“Some of our counties are the poorest in the State of Missouri.  We’ve lost the hospital at Ellington. The hospital at Pilot Knob is managing on a shoestring.  We as leaders must come to the table and decide how we are going to approach this on the state level.

You own a quarry in Reynolds County. As an employer and as the Iron County Presiding Commission, have you kept ahead of this at all?

“No, we have not kept ahead of the increased health care costs.  It has consumed our county budget. In the three years I have been a county commissioner, health care costs have gone up a total of 32 percent.  As an employee, health care has gotten so expensive it is almost impossible for a small-business owner to afford it any more. Republicans and Democrats have to come to the table and find a solution to this crisis.  When I talk to people at Missouri Highlands, or at Iron County Medical Center, or talk to people in Ellington about their hospital closing – I had a lady tell me they had a 55-year-old man who had a heart-attack and died on the street because there was no local care.

“I believe we matter here in rural Missouri.  Until we get a voice in Jefferson City, we are never going to come to the table and decide what is best.  We have to speak loud.”

In this age of extreme political partisanship, you are running as a Democrat.  What would you say to a Republican voter to convince them you would be a good representative for them.”

“I’ve been on the ballot many times in Iron County. I’ve been elected several times to the school board and once elected, you represent everybody. Whether they are Republican or Democrat or Independent or Libertarian, you are their representative.  If you are not willing to sit down and hear their side of the story, you are not representing the people who elected you.  Whether they voted for you or not, it makes no difference. That is your job.

“I have become numb to the fact that we – Democrats and Republicans – can’t get together and have a cup of coffee nowadays.  The rhetoric is so bad we can’t sit down with our friends anymore.  We need to change that or we are never going to get anywhere.  In rural America, where we come from, the issues that Democrats face are the same issues Republicans face.

If you are elected, you will join a legislature that is heavily Republican.  How do you approach that?

“I have a lot of good Republican friends. We have an open dialogue with each other.  I’m sure there would be pressures from both sides, but I will go into their office and sit down and talk with them just like we are talking today. 

“We’ve got a problem, let’s find a solution together versus fighting each other.  We’ve got to come up with some solutions or rural Missouri will disappear.

“I’m not unknown in Jefferson City on both sides of the aisle. I’ve worked closely with folks in almost every state agency. They know I’m pretty aggressive and passionate about what I believe in.  I think they might respect me more for my frankness than my positions, but at least they will come to the table and talk with me.”

Give us an idea of your public service experience and did you ever think you would run for statewide office?  Has that been a goal?

“I did run for statewide office.  I ran for this position in 2002, but came up short in the Primary Election and was not selected as the Democratic candidate to run. I didn’t let that stop me.  I kept working. I have always had a desire to try to help, whether it is in education, or agriculture, or business, or economic development.  I’ve always stepped out there when it was uncomfortable to step. I think I have the experience.  I think I have the resume.  I understand the concerns.  And I think I have the track record to prove that I am a guy who gets things done. So, when this opportunity came about through this special election, I had a lot of people contact me, both Republicans and Democrats.  It took a while for my wife and I to get here.  It is just the two of us at home now and our life is pretty comfortable.  When it is comfortable is when you need to go to work.  We decided to do this because we thought we had something to offer people.  We thought I could be a good representative.

The floor is yours. What else do you want to tell the voters concerning your candidacy?

“Most people know me as a worker. I get up every morning early and I work late every night. I don’t socialize a lot.  I was raised to work and I work hard.  The thing that most people don’t know about me is that I started with nothing.  When my wife and I got married, she owned a car, but I didn’t. I put everything I owned in the trunk of her car. So, everything we have up to this point, we’ve worked hard for.

“I will do the same thing for the people of the 144th District. This is not my race, it is their race. I don’t think the people have a voice anymore. We are too poor of a county and we don’t have enough votes, therefore we don’t matter.

“We need somebody in Jefferson City who has leadership skills and is willing to sit at the table and tell the story: the story that cuts to education is not good for us; we’ve got to have jobs; we’ve got to have economic development in our area. They can’t continue to strip the talent from us with no investment in us. I’m going to tell that story.  The people here in this district are some of the finest people you’ve ever met. I think it is a shame we have let political rhetoric divide who we are. The people I know – both Republicans and Democrats – care.  They care a lot about their schools, about their communities, and about the people who will be left here to care for this district.  They want jobs.

“I’m not going to promise you the moon, but I will work hard and I will do what I say I’m going to do.”