Steve Kraske | Jason Kander is quickly making his move

Steve Kraske
Steve Kraske

Talk about the audacity of youth. At age 30, Democratic Rep. Jason Kander of Kansas City never sought approval from party leaders before jumping into the Missouri secretary of state’s race in September. He did it just minutes after Robin Carnahan decided not seek a third term.

Kander’s speed raised eyebrows. He was viewed as just a tad too eager.

Within days, he was involved in a staredown with one of the leaders of his own party, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who also was interested in running.

Sanders blinked.

Now Kander has a clear path to the Democratic nomination, more money in the bank ($442,000) than any of the three Republicans running and a pile of endorsements, including one from former secretary of state Bekki Cook.

And he’s done it all in little more than three months.

Kander, a lawyer and former military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, is living proof these days that a new style of politics that puts little stock in “waiting your turn” can work. He is utterly unapologetic about being a man in a hurry.

“I just think when you’re the best person for the job, you should step forward,” he said.

Chutzpah? You bet.

Anyone who saw Kander in his 2008 campaign tearing around the Brookside area knew they were witnessing something rare. Kander and his wife, Diana, built an impressive grass-roots network in one of the city’s top-performing Democratic districts. Kander showed he was an unusual mix of next-door-neighbor friendly and steely determination.

He won easily, then began pushing what became his pet issue in the Missouri Capitol — campaign finance reform. He sought a more transparent system and one that put a halt to those supersize $100,000 campaign donations. In his first term, he won a partial but significant legislative victory, and he continues to push for more reforms.

In his secretary of state campaign, he pledges to be a fair arbiter when it comes to writing ballot language for initiative efforts and using the office to aid new businesses.

He knows that translating the same how-ya-doin’ ethic that proved so successful in his state rep campaigns to his statewide run will be difficult. But he’s approaching it the only way he knows how, which is with long hours. He has put 4,400 miles on a car he bought at the end of December.

This weekend, he’s doing a southeast Missouri swing.

“I never planned to run statewide in 2012,” he said.

But he also says,

“I’m extremely happy to be where we are right now.”