Sad to say, the Missouri governor’s race may well descend into petty pranks and divisiveness.
Unless both candidates agree to run toward a more respectful and adult-focused campaign. Not holding my breath.
Both candidates are party-switchers. Eric Greitens used to be a Democrat. And Chris Koster was a Republican until 2007. That either makes them opportunists, wily sellouts or, more hopefully, the type of moderate leader who could do the state good. That’s their blank to fill in.
But let’s challenge both men to do it with some real campaigning, not the sort of sloganeering that belittles voters’ intelligence and their ability to accept the gray areas of complicated issues.
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Greitens said he planned on the more adult approach in a July 2015 piece he wrote for Fox News. The article explained his decision to run as a Republican, despite nearly a lifetime as a Democrat. He expressed dismay at the problems of the Department of Veterans Affairs and charged that Democrats are “world-class hypocrites,” too bent on throwing money at problems without gaining results.
Being a conservative, Greitens wrote, “means respecting and challenging our citizens, telling them what they need to hear, not simply what they want to hear.”
If that truly is his intention, he might want to put the ammunition down. An ad he released during the primary had him showing off marksman abilities. He touted his background as a Navy SEAL and aimed a gun into an empty field, firing to create a fireball.
Such a demonstration of bravado is the height of disrespect. It’s the adult version of a little boy putting firecrackers into a mailbox to see if he can blow it off the house — bigger ammunition, similar immature antic.
Note to Greitens: As leader of the state, there will be a security detail assigned to you. Fantastic for yourself, your family and the nation that you met the standards to become a Navy SEAL. Thank you for four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there is no need to re-create the dangers of war stateside.
The governor needs to focus on budgets, health care, education, public safety and economic development along with acknowledging a vast citizenry that includes people of the Bootheel and outlying areas, as much as it does those who live in cities.
Sorry if that’s not dramatic enough.
That said, expect gun issues to also bedevil Koster, at a loss to Missourians’ safety. It’s one of the areas where Koster has split from others in Democratic leadership as it tries to find answers to gun violence while protecting the Second Amendment.
The state needs a governor who can bridge the divides between rural and city voters on this topic. The middle ground is there. It’s just been deemed too politically thorny to acknowledge, much less to work within it.
Many of the recent efforts to loosen gun laws in the state did have an impact on violence in cities — the ease with which thugs can gain access to firearms. Police chiefs and the mayors of St. Louis and Kansas City begged conservative members of the legislature to accept this truth. They wouldn’t do it.
We need a governor who can court the middle, the gun owners who believe in training for firearms and who know that no hunter needs to buy a gun the same day he or she heads out for deer, pheasant or any other game. We need someone who will talk about keeping guns from domestic violence abusers and dare to discuss with voters the intricate complications involved with effectively addressing how to keep those with serious mental illness from acquiring firearms.
Greitens’ pitch that he’s an outsider, not a career politician, doesn’t help him much here. No past campaigns, no voting record, no management of thorny issues within the legislature.
Koster, for better and worse, does have a long record.
His first ad released after Tuesday’s election touted his 10 years as Cass County prosecutor, putting away criminals. All true. He’s also got his experience as a state senator to tap.
But ethical concerns have arisen in the past for him. Most recently, the issue was how the attorney general’s office under his leadership awarded contracts to private lawyers to do state work while he also received the attorneys’ campaign donations.
To some observers, Koster has played both sides of issues, such as health care reform, dodging damage to his career as he ascended the political ranks. So is that akin to being politically astute, or too slick? There will be plenty of opportunities to assess his past.
Both candidates are flush with campaign donations in a state that is extremely lax about such matters. So voters can expect an onslaught of efforts to reach them.
Judge for yourself if they are courting Missourians’ better selves, piquing interest to understand issues rather than simply berating an opponent.