Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens are engaging in a blistering war of TV ads seeking to vault past each other in the Missouri governor’s race.
But apart from Greitens’ continuing pledge to go to Jefferson City to root out corruption and improve ethical standards — a worthy goal — the candidates too often are giving public focus to petty details or distorted characterizations of each other while giving scant attention to issues that matter most to Missourians.
▪ The state’s crumbling roads and bridges are among the worst in the nation.
▪ A national assessment of education progress gives the state a grade of D+ for K-12 achievement.
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▪ Unemployment and underemployment numbers rank Missouri 29th among the states.
▪ Health outcomes for citizens consistently rank in the bottom third of overall health status of the 50 states.
▪ One national tally ranked Missouri fourth among the states in overall taxes per capita while 34th in the value of overall government services received by citizens. (That ranking of fourth comes while Missouri has the lowest cigarette excise tax in the nation and fifth lowest gasoline tax.)
Where are the candidates’ detailed positions on how to fix Missouri’s woeful roads and bridges? The U.S. Department of Transportation last year declared that 27.2 percent of Missouri’s bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. And that was before it was discovered that the Grand Boulevard bridge in Kansas City was in such bad shape it needed to be replaced now.
Thirty-one percent of Missouri’s roads were listed in poor or mediocre condition. Drivers in the state paid out $1.6 billion last year to repair cars and trucks damaged by deteriorated highways.
In a recent meeting with The Star’s editorial board, outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon cited the road and bridge issue and cautioned that it cannot be solved by chopping expenses at the Missouri Department of Transportation, saying it had been downsized by more than 1,000 employees. Nixon correctly noted that the solution will come only from increased dedicated revenues.
Koster and Greitens have made comments about education but not released detailed plans on what they would do to seek K-12 student achievement gains.
The public also needs to hear what they would do about the alarming trend in reduced state funding for higher education that, if carried out on its present course, could see all such funding eliminated by 2036.
When it comes to jobs, Greitens says creating jobs would be his top priority, and it is true that he created thousands of jobs with the charity he started to assist returning veterans. But neither Greitens nor Koster has given detailed plans on steps either would take to create jobs or make the overall business climate better for job creation.
Koster does correctly address one aspect of improving health care in his call for Missouri to approve Medicaid expansion, which GOP lawmakers have consistently blocked. He points out that Missouri taxes are sent to Washington each year and that refusing to accept Medicaid money in return — under the argument it is tainted by being part of Obamacare — is a foolish exercise that has led to rural hospitals and clinics closing, with more likely.
But Medicaid expansion is only one aspect of what the state should be doing to improve health outcomes for all Missourians. Where are the candidates’ plans for comprehensive efforts to improve overall health for Missourians?
Missourians also are waiting to hear detailed discussion from the candidates on how they view the state’s taxing status and how they would address changes.
The rage in Jefferson City for the GOP super majorities in the General Assembly has been to discuss various schemes to reduce taxes. Catherine Hanaway, who lost to Greitens in the GOP primary, correctly pointed out then that Missouri must avoid the mistakes made by Kansas where dramatic income tax reductions in 2012 have led to crippling reductions in state services.
Do Greitens and Koster understand that? Voters deserve to know.
That leads us to ethics and corruption in state government.
Greitens highlighted his intention to clean up Jefferson City during the primary, and he continues emphasizing that need during the general election. He labels Koster a career politician who has been part of the problem and not qualified to be the solution. Greitens pledges to ban all gifts from lobbyists and insist that anyone who serves in state government must wait longer than current rules allow to work as a lobbyist. He promises to apply term limits to every statewide elected official.
But if Greitens gets to the governor’s office, he will discover that he will have to work with the General Assembly controlled by Republicans who have shown little inclination to clean up their act.
Koster became a poster child for pay-to-play accusations when The New York Times featured him and other state attorneys general in a front-page expose in 2014. Koster sought immediately to counter the negative impact by installing requirements that his campaign would not accept contributions from lobbyists or entities that had had business with his office. But he wrongly limited his restrictions to only 90 days.
There are other issues the candidates should be addressing. Voters deserve more substance than smears inserted in TV news and sports broadcasts.