Nearing the final push leading up to the Aug. 2 primary, the four Republican candidates for governor in Missouri agree on many issues they believe will play well in the general election if they get that far.
All oppose abortion, support residents’ gun rights, oppose federal expansion of Medicaid, support law enforcement and support more choices in education, especially for parents of students in inner city schools.
All say they support reforms in the revolving-door system in Jefferson City that sees lawmakers leave office and go right to work as high-paid lobbyists back among their former colleagues.
All agree that Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster — the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor — mishandled the riots and lawlessness in Ferguson in 2014.
But where they do disagree, they try to portray those differences with broad-brush strokes.
As the primary looms, look for Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and political newcomer, to continue trying to blow things up as he has done in his commercials. He will stress that he is the only one of the four GOP candidates never to run for office. He contends that, with his military expertise, he is the only one who can be trusted to go there to destroy the entrenched corruption he says infects Democrats and Republicans.
Greitens’ assertions irritate Catherine Hanaway, who served as the first female speaker of the Missouri House and later as the U.S. Attorney in St. Louis.
They are equally annoying to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a former State Senate president pro tem now in his third term in the state’s second-highest executive office.
Hanaway and Kinder harshly criticize Greitens, contending he cannot claim the mantle of purity when he refuses to give back $1 million in campaign contributions from Michael Goguen, a California businessman being sued by a woman who claims Goguen sexually abused her for more than 10 years. Goguen denies the claims, and Greitens says he will let the legal process runs its course.
John Brunner, the St. Louis area businessman who is running a far more credible campaign than when he sought a U.S. Senate seat in 2012, says he has never been part of the inefficiency or corruption in Jefferson City. He contends his executive experience in the private sector demonstrates he could reform the sleazy business-as-usual system.
Brunner called the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning abortion limits in Texas “a despicable ruling.” Missouri has a similarly strict anti-abortion law that is likely to be challenged in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The candidates said they would support fighting to keep Missouri’s law in place, but Hanaway and Kinder question if Greitens is as opposed to abortion as he claims to be.
Hanaway called for more choices for parents seeking good education for their children, including home schooling. Greitens said more quality choices should be provided for parents, including in underserved rural schools. Brunner says there needs to be more control given to local school districts. Kinder said he does not support vouchers but does support increased choices for parents.
All four candidates claim to support ethics reforms.
Hanaway pledges to ban gifts from lobbyists and enact a law preventing lawmakers from going to work as lobbyists for four years after leaving office. Brunner says he would impose a ban on state employees accepting gifts from any source.
Greitens says if needed he would go over lawmakers’ heads by taking the reform on a ballot measure to the people. Kinder says he would support preventing lawmakers from going to work as lobbyists for “not less than two years.”
It’s worth noting that over the years many would-be officeholders have lamented the low ethics standards in Jefferson City and promised to make things better. Despite all their rhetoric, however, few things have changed.
In the final days of campaigning, look for more contentions by Greitens and Brunner that being an “outsider” is the best recommendation to Missouri voters. Greitens will contend Brunner is not “outside enough.”
Hanaway and Kinder will cite their records in elective office while demeaning the idea of nominating anyone who needs “on-the-job training.”
Hanaway can cite genuine accomplishments. As a woman in a good ol’ boys’ world she was well-organized and kept her word. She worked effectively across the aisle and moved important parts of the conservative agenda into law.
Kinder’s forceful presentations in a debate last week recalled his successes as the state senate’s top officer. As lieutenant governor he engineered a successful statewide bicycle race — canceled in a funding dispute with Nixon. Kinder has won statewide office twice when all other GOP statewide candidates lost.
Voters will need to determine if they believe anyone who has never worked in state elective office can immediately walk in and make government’s levers work. Missouri traditionally has preferred experience within government.
In the year of Donald Trump, however, voters might be more interested in change than in tradition.