In their most recent debate Friday evening near Springfield, Republican hopeful John Brunner criticized fellow Republican Sarah Steelman for filibustering efforts to reform Missouri's tort laws while she was serving in the state Senate in 2003.
On stage, the two had a quiet exchange - Brunner jabbed Steelman on the issue during a broader question about how to get the economy moving, causing Steelman to defend her vote, claiming there was a provision in the legislation that offered a carve out for drunk drivers.
Steelman's claim left Brunner shaking his head, but the format limited any further dueling on stage. But in separate interviews off stage, the two doubled down.
"The issue I come back to is, if she really claims that there was that issue there, which there wasn't, why was she the only Republican to figure that out," Brunner said. "I did some research here: In Treasurer Steelman's career, she has received more than $500,000 of contributions from trial lawyers. Now, that's a problem."
Steelman said during her tenure in the state Senate, she did, in fact, support reforms to the state's tort laws.
"I voted for a lot of tort reform when I was in the state Senate," Steelman said in an interview, pointing to a list of nearly a dozen civil liability changes she supported during her tenure in the Senate. Among them, Steelman supported legislation to ban cities from suing gun manufacturers, to protect bar owners from recklessness done by patrons, and some medical malpractice reforms that were included in a larger insurance regulation package.
At one point, Steelman voted for the tort reform legislation she filibustered, only to vote against it when it was back up for a vote during veto session. She later opposed similar legislation in 2004.
While Steelman and Brunner have squabbled over the past several weeks, their third leading opponent, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, has largely been left out of the fray. During his tenure in the U.S. House, Akin has supported efforts to change tort laws at the national level.