In the shadow of governor's race, Kinder and Page battle for No. 2 | St. Louis Public Radio

In the shadow of governor's race, Kinder and Page battle for No. 2

Oct 3, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 3, 2008 - The presidential election will make history either way. The governor's race features two hard-charging candidates who don't seem to like each other very much. Voters will decide proposals on volatile issues ranging from mass transit to casino loss limits to making English the official language of government.

Then there's that problem about an entire economy on the verge of collapse and no one in Washington being able to agree on how to fix it.

So how do you make voters care about who will be lieutenant governor of Missouri for the next four years?

"You don't," says Peter Kinder, the Republican incumbent who will face Democratic challenger Rep. Sam Page on Nov. 4. "We're very much under the radar screen. It's like a teaspoon in the ocean."

But that assessment hasn't kept Kinder and Page from trading barbs over the limited number of duties in the portfolio of the lieutenant governor. They have clashed over health care, the welfare of senior citizens, even a bicycle race that Kinder takes great pride in and Page brands a mismanaged, misguided priority.

To them, the choice is not just clear but important. Do you want someone who will continue to fight for the safety and welfare of older Missourians, or do you want someone who sees the errors of the last four years and will work to reverse them?

SENIORS, VETERANS AND CYCLISTS

As I pulled up to the Chase Hotel to interview Kinder, the incumbent was on his way across Lindell Boulevard to pump more coins into the parking meter alongside his Missouri-made Ford pickup. He hates to pay those valet parking fees, he explained.

Settling down in the lobby, in an open-collar shirt, slacks and loafers with no socks, Kinder talked about how 2008 has been a political "year like no other." So he was taking little comfort in a newspaper poll that morning that showed him leading Page 51-35 percent.

His own poll, Kinder said, showed a single-digit lead, and in any case, he was working as hard as he can so that his campaign didn't have to rely on any other for success.

"I have never believed that if as I expect McCain carries Missouri, it would necessarily mean anything down ballot," he said. "So I am furiously paddling my own canoe."

That includes trying to free himself from any negative baggage left over by the one-term tenure of Gov. Matt Blunt. Discussing Blunt's surprise decision not to seek four more years -- and his own short-lived campaign to become to replace him -- Kinder said he thinks Blunt's record on the economy and Missouri's business climate will help him, but he added:

"I'm able to go forward and talk forthrightly about my own record."

In that record, he points proudly to three areas:

Advocacy for seniors: Kinder said he played key roles in expanding a meals program for seniors, in helping more older Missourians get subsidies for prescription drugs and for Project MOSAFE, to stop the financial exploitation of seniors.

Advocacy for veterans: He pointed particularly to efforts to help support the families of Missouri soldiers who are deployed overseas.

Tour of Missouri: The statewide bicycle race, which completed its second year in September, had an economic impact of more than $26 million from an investment of $1.7 million in its debut, and Kinder expects even more from the 2008 edition.

"People in Sweden, France and China are watching this race who have never heard of Missouri before," he said. "It's the best opportunity we've ever had to rebrand our state nationally and brand it internationally."

Though Kinder says "I hope and expect that Kenny Hulshof will prevail" in his race for governor against Democrat Jay Nixon, he is quick to point out that Missouri has a history of political odd couples in governor-lieutenant governor pairings:

Joe Teasdale and Bill "Full Time" Phelps, Christopher Bond and Kenny Rothman, John Ashcroft and both Harriett Woods and Mel Carnahan.

Add his experience as Senate president pro tem, where he said he had to work with members on both sides of the aisle, and Kinder says he has proven he can get along with Democrats just fine.

His campaign website is teamkinder.com.

RESTORE MEDICAID CUTS

On a rainy Monday morning, Sam Page arrived with a campaign aide in tow at 7:30 a.m. -- doctor's hours -- at a St. Louis Bread Company in Creve Coeur, the city where he has served on the City Council and which he currently represents in the Missouri House.

That morning's headlines had included a story not as favorable to Kinder as the one about his lead in the polls. This one was about workers in the lieutenant governor's office being paid extra when colleagues went on leave for political work.

What did the story mean to Page?

"I don't think he sees the line between the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do," he said tersely, quickly adding two specifics that he frequently returned to during our interview:

Kinder backed Matt Blunt's Medicaid cuts. Kinder supported a $100 million tax credit that would benefit one person.

He also sought to knock down the areas that Kinder cited as proud accomplishments.

On seniors: "He cheered on the governor as he cut health care for many of those seniors."

On protecting seniors from predatory investment practices: "He's taken a polar opposite position to mine."

On the Tour of Missouri: Money that should have been used for job creation instead went to help support the race because Kinder failed to find all the sponsorship money needed. The race will continue next year under contract, but Page said that "if we decide to continue it beyond 2009, we need to make sure we get the sponsorships we need."

An anesthesiologist, Page said his background has prepared him well for what he said would be his top priority as lieutenant governor: full restoration of the Medicaid cuts made by the Blunt administration.

He noted that because people who show up in emergency rooms without insurance still need to have their care paid for somehow, the reduction in Medicaid affects far more than those directly involved.

"Those cuts didn't just hurt people with disabilities or seniors or kids or the working poor," Page said. They hurt everyone by increasing health-insurance premiums for working families."

He also criticized actions involving the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, saying that cuts in its loan forgiveness program would restrict access to college for the state's students.

"We need to make sure that every child in Missouri can go as far as their mind and ambition takes them," Page said. "One of the worst things to do as a society is take away opportunity for our kids."

Page says he expects the presidential race in Missouri will be a one-point result either way, without much impact on voting for lieutenant governor, but the Nixon-Hulshof race will have a huge effect.

"A lot of young people are excited about this race," he said. "A lot of urban voters are excited about this race."

His campaign website is sampage.com.

URBAN SUPPORT

The excitement by urban voters that Page cites is one area where the lieutenant governor's race diverges from the standard script. Kinder has built what some many see as surprising support from urban leaders, including some African-American politicians who would normally be expected to back a Democrat automatically.

But kind words and common aims don't necessarily translate into support at the polls come November.

Consider, for example, a letter to the editor written by Mayor Francis G. Slay to the St. Louis Business Journal last month.

After expressing his gratitude for Kinder's efforts "to advance the city's revitalization during the past four years" and saying that his actions "have demonstrated he understands that the future of St. Louis is important to the future of the state," Slay concluded: "This important understanding may not get Mr. Kinder my vote, but it certainly should not earn him attacks by opponents and their partisans who will also need urban goodwill to get elected."

The biggest symbol of Kinder's support for St. Louis may be the issue where Page tends to attack him the strongest: a tax credit bill that Page portrays as benefiting one man, developer Paul McKee, but Kinder paints as an effort to make it easier to assemble significant tracts of land to spark large-scale revitalization in a city that sorely needs new development, new investment and new hope.

"I don't apologize for my efforts for trying to move new investment into the poorest, most blighted neighborhoods," Kinder says. "Block-by-block redevelopment simply doesn't work. It is not sustainable. It is not large enough to be transformative."

Former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. thinks the criticism of tax credits that would largely benefit McKee is "a tempest in a teapot. People are using it as a political football."

"You have some people, the town criers, saying that they are displacing African-Americans and taking housing from poor people. But if you take a closer look, you'll see there isn't anybody there. They haven't been there for years, and there are more leaving.

"You're not going to rebuild the community by building five or six houses at a time. You're going to have to have larger projects to have an impact. Ten or 15 houses -- that was me in 1993. Ten or 15 years later, you can't keep doing the same thing."

Page dismisses the kind words for Kinder and his urban policy, saying that Slay and others need to say positive things about someone in Kinder's position if they want help from Jefferson City.

"If the mayor doesn't say something nice about those projects, the tax credits can be held up," Page said. "I don't think anybody recognizes those as an endorsement of Peter Kinder."

ALSO ON THE BALLOT

In addition to Page and Kinder, the lieutenant governor's race also includes Teddy Fleck, candidate of the Libertarian Party, and James C. Rensing, candidate of the Constitution Party.

Fleck supports smaller government, less taxes, Second Amendment rights and school choice. He opposes abortion, ethanol mandates, tax increases and mandatory sentencing.

His campaign website is Teddyfleck.com.

Rensing favors a return to limited government, enforcement of immigration laws, stopping abuse of eminent domain, protecting the right to bear arms and the right to life and withdrawal from harmful international trade agreements.

His campaign website is rensingforltgovernor.com.