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In debate, both Nixon and Hulshof claim to be candidate of change

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 11, 2008 - COLUMBIA, Mo. - Jay Nixon, Missouri's attorney general and the Democratic candidate for governor, said Thursday that if elected he would immediately release emails being withheld by Gov. Matt Blunt. Rep. Kenny Hulshof , the Republican candidate, sidestepped the issue, saying, "I'm not sure of all of the nuances" of the case. But Hulshof added a "hallmark of a Hulshof administration will be accountability, openness and integrity."

Nixon's office has sought the emails from the governor's office, while Blunt has claimed they are privileged from disclosure. "The public paid for the people typing ... it is the people's information," said Nixon. "When I am elected your governor, we will release the information. We will not continue this insanity of claiming privilege...We don't need to be paying five or six law firms to keep the email secret."

Hulshof said that his ethics proposals include the "Missouri Accountability Portal" to put the state's books on line so that they are available in real time for public inspection. He said he had shown "real courage" in Washington when he "censured my majority leader and suffered the repercussions for it." That was a reference to Hulshof's support for ethics charges against former House Republican leader Tom DeLay. Hulshof was later removed from the Ethics Committee.

The exchange occurred at a candidate forum held at the University of Missouri as the School of Journalism celebrated its 100th birthday.

Nixon followed up the email and ethics question with an attack on Hulshof's support of a new Missouri law ending limits on campaign contributions. "My opponent has opposed contribution limits so that checks can come flying into offices. You want to talk how about real enforceable ethics limits," you need contribution limits, he said.

Hulshof responded that he favored the law lifting the contribution limits because the old system had resulted in misleading transfers of money between political committees. To that, Nixon replied that maybe an answer like that is "the way things work in Washington," but Hulshof should be accountable for supporting the law ending campaign limits.

Hulshof opened the debate by promising "bold proposals" and a "new way," while accusing Nixon of "gloom and doom" and "old tired politics." "That's not the kind of change we need," said Hushof, expropriating Democrat Barack Obama's campaign slogan.

Nixon responded by saying that the anniversary of 9/11 was a day to "put partisan politics aside and focus not on what divides us but unites us. Today, Barack Obama and John McCain have agreed to put their attack ads and stump speeches on hold. Today is not the right day for personal political attacks." Nixon went on to say that Missourians were hurting because of cuts in health care, unaffordable education and lost jobs.

"We need change," he said. "We must start moving forward again."

In this exchange, the Nixon-Hushof race mirrors the presidential race where both parties seek to grab the mantle of change.

The two candidate returned to their tug-of-war over the change theme in their closing statements. Nixon said the state was "at a crossroads and we'll decide this November whether we will continue with the same failed policies" of the last four years of the Blunt administration. He said those policies had caused "constant anxiety" among ordinary Missourians" about how to pay the bills.

But Hulshof portrayed Nixon as the candidate of the past when 1 million Missourians were on public assistance and the state faced budget shortfalls. "I don't want to go back," he said, "I don't want to hit the reset button."

Alluding to Nixon's long service as attorney general, Hulshof added, "If you have been in Jeff City for 20 years and then say that you are a agent of change, that strains credulity."

Terry Ganey, a reporter for the Columbia Tribune, asked the candidates to address the health-care problems of Alice and Jeff Van Dyke, a Columbia couple forced into bankruptcy by the skyrocketing costs of care for multiple disabling diseases. Before Blunt's Medicaid cuts, the Van Dykes paid $125 a month for in-home care. Now they pay $850 a month, triggering the bankruptcy.

Hulshof responded that his HealthMAX plan would help low-income people get subsidized health coverage through a market-based system. Nixon responded by pointing out that the Van Dykes' problems resuled from Blunt's Medicaid cuts -- supported by Hulshof -- which had left hundreds of thousands of Missourians without health coverage, including 150,000 children. Nixon called the cuts "morally wrong" and foolish for turning away $1.5 billion in federal Medicaid dollars. He said he would reverse those cuts and extend coverage to children.

On higher education, Nixon said that the "newest graduation gift is debt." He said he had opposed Blunt's sale of MOHELA, the higher education funding agency. He pushed his Missouri Promise plan to give students four years of tuition-free education under an expansion of the A-plus program.

Hushof opposed Nixon's plan saying it would "push kids toward community colleges." Hulshof added that universities should be run "not as ivory towers but as engines for the new economy."

Hushof called for expanding the education of math and science teachers, noting that only one physics teacher was graduated by Missouri colleges and universities last year, and that teacher got a job out of state. Nixon's response was strong opposition to vouchers to fund elementary and secondary education.

The candidate forum included two minor party candidates, the Libertarian Party candidate Andrew Finkenstadt and the Constitution Party candidate Greg Thompson. Finkenstadt, 42, is a software engineer from St. Charles who operates the Webkahuna Internet Service. Thompson, 57, a school superintendent from Humansville, Mo., is an ordained minister.

Many of Finkenstadt's answers involved analogies to computers. Thompson favored putting the country back on the side of Jesus and ending the "systematic assault" on religion.

Reporters complained after the forum that the inclusion of the two marginal candidates made it hard to pin down Hulshof and Nixon on the issues.

William H. Freivogel is the director of the school of journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

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