Government & Politics

Breaking down the Missouri governor’s race on key issues

Democrat Chris Koster (left) faces Republican Eric Greitens on Tuesday in the race to become Missouri’s next governor.
Democrat Chris Koster (left) faces Republican Eric Greitens on Tuesday in the race to become Missouri’s next governor.

There’s a lot hanging in the balance of who emerges victorious Tuesday in the race for Missouri governor.

A wide gulf exits between the way Republican Eric Greitens and Democrat Chris Koster would govern should they be elected.

If Greitens wins, the Republican majorities in the Missouri House and Senate will no longer have to worry about the governor’s veto pen short-circuiting their agenda.

A Koster victory means Democrats hold on to one branch of government and have a platform from which to advocate their priorities and champion their cause.

Here’s a rundown of each candidate’s position on a few key issues:

Right to work

Perhaps no issue has taken a higher profile in the campaign than a so-called right-to-work law, which would make it illegal for workers to be required to join a union or to pay dues to a labor organization as a condition of employment.

Supporters argue right to work would strengthen Missouri’s economy and encourage businesses to grow. Opponents say it would simply weaken labor unions and lower wages.

Republicans have been trying to enact right to work in Missouri for years, but enough pro-labor Republican lawmakers have joined with Democrats to block the GOP from overriding Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto.

Greitens has vowed to sign a right-to-work law, and if he’s elected, Republicans would have more than enough votes to send the bill to his desk.

Koster would veto it, saying it would hurt workers.

Medicaid expansion

Missouri Republicans for years have opposed the idea of accepting billions of federal dollars to offer Medicaid coverage to around 300,000 uninsured Missourians — a key provision in the Affordable Care Act.

Koster supports Medicaid expansion, calling it “one of the biggest economic-development opportunities Missouri has seen in decades.” The infusion of federal funds, he contends, would not only provide insurance to thousands of Missourians, but also create jobs and prolong the lives of struggling rural hospitals.

Greitens vehemently opposes Medicaid expansion, arguing that it has been a failure in the states that have tried it. The issue turns up repeatedly in his ads and at his rallies, where he works to tie Koster to President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

LGBT rights

Greitens made waves, and alienated some in his party, when he spoke out against a bill in the legislature that would have amended the state’s constitution to provide legal protections for individuals and businesses that cite religious beliefs in order to refuse service to same-sex couples.

Greitens said he opposed the bill because he felt it could hurt the economy of the state. However, he also opposes legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, arguing that it could lead to an increase in discrimination litigation.

Under current law, an individual can be fired from his or her job, evicted from an apartment or kicked out of a restaurant for being gay or simply being perceived as gay.

Koster has been outspoken for years in favor of legal protections for LGBT Missourians, saying he will push state lawmakers to approve legislation including sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s discrimination law.

Funding for roads, bridges

State funds for road and bridge repair have tumbled in recent years, thanks in part to the fact that as construction costs have gone up, Missouri’s 17-cents-per-gallon gas tax has remained the same for two decades.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has slashed its workforce by 20 percent, shuttered numerous facilities and sold off equipment. But the funding shortfall continues, and transportation officials say the 200-mile span of Interstate 70 between suburban St. Louis and Kansas City must be rebuilt — it was constructed more than 50 years ago with a life expectancy of 20 years.

Neither candidate has offered many specifics on how he’d deal with the issue.

Greitens says he would oppose any tax increase to fund road and bridge repair. He believes he can find additional funding for roads by cutting other areas of government spending and putting an end to “special-interest giveaways.”

Koster has not come out with a definitive proposal, saying only that he will work closely with Republican lawmakers to find a solution that can win the support of the legislature and the general public.

Ethics reform

Missouri is currently the only state with no limits on both campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts to elected officials.

The result is hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of lobbyists gifts every year — from free meals and booze to trips and event tickets — and campaigns increasingly funded by six- and seven-figure checks cut by wealthy individuals and interest groups.

Both Greitens and Koster support banning lobbyist gifts. But they differ on contribution limits.

Koster supports a constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot capping contributions to state candidates. Greitens opposes contribution limits.

They both also support increasing the waiting period before lawmakers can become lobbyists after leaving office, which currently stands at six months. Koster says it should be at least one year, while Greitens believes lawmakers should be forced to wait the same number of years that they served in elected office.

Abortion, stem cell research

When Koster ran for Missouri Senate in 2004 as a Republican, he described himself as “pro-life.” He said he now considers himself “pro-choice.” He’s won the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and Planned Parenthood.

Greitens says he opposes abortion, adding that “we need to protect every life and that we need to defend the lives of the unborn.” He demanded Friday that Koster return all campaign contributions he’s received from Planned Parenthood’s political action committee.

Koster is a proponent of stem cell research, a position that contributed to him leaving the GOP and becoming a Democrat in 2007. Greitens opposes embryonic stem cell research but has caught flak from some conservatives for accepting huge donations from individuals with a long track record in support of embryonic stem cell research.

Minimum wage

Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.65 an hour and is adjusted annually based on inflation.

Koster favors a minimum wage increase up to $11 an hour, a move he believes should involve a statewide vote. Greitens believes hiking the minimum wage could have a negative impact on small businesses and lead to job losses across the state.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock