Democrats held onto the Missouri Secretary of State’s office last month, although it will be occupied by a different Democrat. State Representative Jason Kander will take over for Robin Carnahan, who chose not to seek a third term. The lawmaker and Army veteran sat down recently with St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin and talked about the road that took him from Kansas City, through Afghanistan and eventually to Jefferson City.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My mom was a juvenile probation officer and my dad was a cop…we grew up in a public service-oriented household, my folks took in kids whose families were struggling and they became by brothers…(I) married my high school sweetheart & went to school on the east coast…9/11 happened while I was out there and (I) decided to join the Army, (was placed in) an infantry unit…(I) then went to law school and during law school pursued a commission as an intelligence officer…I became an intelligence officer and volunteered to go to Afghanistan…I did anti corruption work over there in the Afghan government…came home, started practicing law, got elected to the (Mo. House), and got to Jefferson City and found out (there’s) plenty of anticorruption work to do (there), too, so I focused a lot of my time on campaign and ethics reform…(I then) ran for Secretary of State, and won.
In your TV ads during your campaign you cited your military background…how does that experience prepare you to run a wing of the state government?
The Secretary of State’s office is all about having the courage to stand up and do what’s right regardless of who’s on the other side, sometimes that’s people who supported you and sometimes it’s people who didn’t…my goal is to do what’s right & what’s fair, to take a nonpartisan approach in this office, and in politics these days that takes courage…once you’ve frankly gone overseas and served your country and been in a place that truly was dangerous, making decisions in public service that some consider tough just don’t seem as tough.
Should photo ID’s be required for voting, and if so or if not, how will your office combat voter fraud in Missouri?
I found that this was not the top issue that people wanted to talk about…they’re gonna bring up jobs and the economy…my focus (as) Secretary of State is on doing everything we can to make sure the Business Services Division takes a proactive approach and helps entrepreneurs be in a position to create jobs…on the issue of photo ID: I’m not gonna support anything that would disenfranchise a single eligible voter…there are states that have done this in a way that doesn’t disenfranchise voters and is reasonable…Idaho has a program that requires a photo ID, but if you don’t have it you can sign a sworn affidavit, but that’s not what’s been proposed in Missouri…what’s been proposed here has been extreme & unfair…I’m always willing to talk to people, but I’m never gonna support anything that would disenfranchise an eligible voter.
Your (soon-to-be) predecessor has been heavily criticized by Republicans and conservative groups, and even sued on several occasions, for the language that she’s used for a number of ballot initiatives…will you use the language initiative sponsors submit to you, will you write your own language, or will there be some other type of approach?
My approach is gonna be to make sure the language is fair, straightforward and nonpartisan…people need to know how an issue affects their everyday lives…I’m not interested in just using poll-driven language that’s submitted by one group or another…my focus is always gonna be on writing language myself, in terms of taking responsibility for this process and making sure it’s fair, straightforward and nonpartisan.
How did your stint in the legislature prepare you for this job?
I know the people over there…I was able to have some real bipartisan successes on issues like ethics reform by working with a Republican co-sponsor, and I was able to do that by building relationships centered around respect for one another…my approach is not gonna change in that regard…it’s about respecting that branch of government and respecting the individuals in it, and I think having served in the legislature gives me a great ability to continue that work.
You’re young (Kander is 31 years old), you’ve got four years ahead of you in this office…do you plan to seek re-election or anything (else) further down the road?
I’m not really thinking about that right now…I acknowledge that when you’re young and you run for and win office, people frequently ask you about your plans…for me, I have learned that if you’re not doing a good job in the job you’re in, then it’s pretty silly to think about what you might do next, because if you don’t do a good job, people are not going to ever be interested in you doing any other job…I ran for Secretary of State because I want to be Secretary of State…I think it’s an incredibly important job that touches the lives of all Missourians.
Have you had a chance to visit with Secretary of State (Robin) Carnahan, and has she offered you any advice?
We have a good relationship, and one of the things we talked about was something that she emphasized a lot during her time here, which is customer service…this is a job (where) you touch a lot of lives, it’s a division of state government that has a lot of different responsibilities…we talked about the work she has done to make sure to improve customer service, and I think overall if I were to imply advice from that, it was to continue that.
Will there be anything that you do differently than Robin Carnahan has done for the past eight years?
One area where her work has created a real opportunity for us is in the Business Services Division…she’s done a great job in making that process a lot more smooth…that creates a great opportunity for us to focus some of the energy on a more proactive approach in regards to people starting a business…instead of just filing their paperwork for them, we can take that next step and build relationships with innovation centers, incubators, universities all across the state that can be a resource to them and help them avoid common pitfalls that new businesses encounter.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
I’m married to my high school sweetheart, we met when we were 17, got married almost 10 years ago…my folks live in Kansas City, so do my grandparents…with the campaign over, I get a little bit more time to spend with everybody.
(Kander brings up ethics reform again)
One other thing I think that’s very important is campaign and ethics reform…you asked earlier about the issue of clean elections…I am a very big believer in the idea that clean elections don’t start on Election Day, and if we’re really gonna talk about fraud, let’s talk about true fraud in our elections, and that’s (Missouri’s) campaign finance laws…we’re the only state in the country that has the combination of unlimited lobbyist gifts to legislators and unlimited campaign contributions…we have a system that has almost no rules…I think as chief elections officer it’s my duty to make sure that people are aware of those problems, and I ask people to talk to their legislators about it.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport