On Friday, all six living Missouri governors — five men who used to hold the job, plus the guy who has it now — said boosting the state’s economy must remain a top priority of the state’s chief executive.
Democrats Jay Nixon, Bob Holden and Roger Wilson shared a stage with Republicans Kit Bond, John Ashcroft and Matt Blunt. The rare gathering was part of a fundraiser for the Hawthorn Foundation, a nonprofit company that helps pay the cost of foreign trade missions by Missouri officials, including the governor.
Bond created the foundation in 1982 to unify the state’s economic development efforts. “We had Kansas City fighting St. Louis, and St. Louis fighting Kansas City,” he recalled. “Springfield and Columbia were at odds. The outstate area was fighting the cities. We needed a joint effort.”
The former governors remembered several foreign trips designed to bring new companies to the state — some successful, some not. Wilson recalled a trip to Australia to sell Missouri oak as a material for wine barrels.
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“It’s going to look like a junket no matter what you do,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, there was hard work and business. They almost killed me.”
The six governors largely avoided overt political statements during their 30-minute discussion. Holden said the state should expand its recruitment team to include more women and minorities and explore new markets such as Cuba.
Wilson said he feared the state was “losing a little ground right now” in keeping classrooms small. “I’m really sorry to see some of the attacks on education,” he said.
Ashcroft said increasing the state’s gas tax during his term turned out to be an important economic development tool. “I shudder to think where Missouri would be without that 10-cent-a-gallon increase,” he said. “We needed the roads. We need roads now.”
Republicans in the legislature, and voters in the state, have generally resisted recent proposals to increase taxes for infrastructure repairs and construction.
Nixon said Missouri’s export sales have exceeded $10 billion in the first nine months of the year. In a later interview with reporters, he defended the state’s record on job creation, which continues to lag behind many other states.
“We’re down to 5 percent unemployment,” he said. “We’re adding jobs. … I think every day you’re governor, you want to do better than the day before as far as creating jobs.”