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Candidates express views on issues

Monday, October 30, 2006

SIKESTON -- With Missouri's term limits preventing incumbent Lanie Black from running for another term as the state representative for the 161st district, voters have their choice of two new candidates to send to Jefferson City.

Gary Branum, the Republican candidate, has been married to his wife, Becky, for 34 years. They have one daughter, Elizabeth, age 18.

"We've lived in New Madrid County 37 years, farmed for 37 years and still farm," Branum said.

The Democratic candidate, Steve Hodges, has been married to his wife, Amy, for 34 years. They have three adult children: James Hodges, Andrew Hodges and Adam Hodges.

"I moved to East Prairie in 1963," Hodges said. "Dad was operating the IGA Grocery Store here. I started working when I was about 14 years old."

Both candidates are active members of their respective churches and communities.

"I'm a state board member of the Missouri Farm Bureau, I'm the current vice president of the St. Johns Bayou Basin Drainage District, board member of the SEMO Water District, and a board member of the New Madrid County Salvation Army, the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce and the University of Missouri Delta Center Advisory Board," Branum said.

Hodges was president of Chamber of Commerce in East Prairie and the East Prairie Jaycees and was a member of the Kiwanis Club.

"Also I was a member of the East Prairie school board for 12 years serving as president for two different terms," he said. "Presently I'm on the Booster Board of the Southeast Missouri State University."

In addition to their families and community service, both candidates have other interests.

"I spent four years in the military, one tour of duty in Vietnam, I was an air traffic controller and I hold a restricted commercial pilots license," Branum said.

"I've officiated high school football games for 38 years, and basketball for 18," Hodges said. During his time as an official, Hodges has officiated for two state championships.

STANDARD DEMOCRAT: What issues do you believe are most important to those in the 161st District?

HODGES: "Medical costs and medical coverage, education, people being able to send their children not only to college, but to a technical school," Hodges said.

In a time of standardized education, Hodges believes there should be "a high degree of local autonomy within our local school districts. And I think it's very important that we have equitable funding over the state so the children in the rural areas get the same funding as the metropolitan areas."

Hodges is not in favor of school vouchers. "If people want to send their children to private schools that's their option but I don't think public funds should go to pay for it," he said.

BRANUM: "I think the economic development of Southeast Missouri, and of course education, health care, senior citizens and veterans," Branum said. "I'm definitely not for more taxes."

Branum said he is pro-life and is against same-sex marriage.

While he believes it is their choice what they want to do, when it comes to same-sex marriage, "I think that is taking away from what marriage means to Missourians today. Also I am definitely not for them being able to, in case of illness, draw on their partner's disabilities," he said. "I just don't think the people of Missouri should have to pay for a disability they brought on themselves."

SD: What do you believe qualifies you to hold the office?

BRANUM: "I've farmed here and run two businesses here in Southeast Missouri successfully: Branum Farms and Branum Flying Service," Branum said. "I believe I can carry the message of Southeast Missouri to Jefferson City that we need economic development. ... And I'm on a steering committee to bring more industry into Southeast Missouri."

Branum noted he serves as president of the board of directors for a biodiesel plant in Lilbourn which recently held its groundbreaking ceremony.

"We're looking at 23 biodiesel plants and two ethanol plants that are directly related to the No. 1 economic factor in Missouri, which is agriculture," he said. "I believe that any good business capitalizes on its assets and takes advantage of our opportunities. Southeast Missouri is blessed with an abundance of good water, good soil, good transportation -- rail, river, highways -- and great farmers. These will all combine to be a viable factor in the future with biofuels coming in to Southeast Missouri."

HODGES: "I have supervised a business with 30-plus employees for over 30 years," Hodges said.

A 1971 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Hodges received his master's from the University of Missouri in 1972.

"I was employed by Carnation Company in the marketing division," Hodges said. "I lived in Memphis, Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., over a three-year period, all from promotions. ... In September 1975 I returned to East Prairie to go into business with my father. ... We sold the IGA in January of 2005 and since that time I have worked part time as an outside agent for State Farm and have been substitute teaching primarily for the New Madrid County and East Prairie school districts. ... I have been heavily involved with the schools of Southeast Missouri with my officiating, teaching and school board experience."

"I think I know more about general business and labor relations," Hodges continued, adding that while he may not be as knowledgeable as his opponent when it comes to agriculture, he does have a "general understanding" and that agriculture "would have a special place in my heart" as agricultural interests would affect a large number of constituents.

SD: What are you goals if elected? What changes would you make?

HODGES: "I would try to be very brave in trying to address mismanagement of funds which I believe have taken effect," Hodges said. "The Medicaid cuts have affected so many of the people in the state of Missouri and 1,200 people in Mississippi County alone."

If elected, "this will be full-time job for me, I don't intend to return to my district to another business," Hodges said. "I would want to use my non-

session time to get out in the district, continually finding out what the needs, concerns and problems are of the people in my district."

BRANUM: "Definitely economic changes -- we want to bring industry back in to Southeast Missouri," Branum said. "Education is going to be a big part. We just feel like every child should have an opportunity at a quality education, and that includes higher education."

Branum noted that: "In Missouri, senior citizens pay state taxes on their social security and we are only one of 15 states that do this, and we want to abolish that so our seniors can keep more of their money."

Another goal of Branum's is to lessen government regulations related to health care. He said quality health care should be affordable for everyone.