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Spence cites Chrysler closing as Nixon's failure; unions note decision made under Blunt

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 29, 2012 - Dave Spence, the Republican nominee for Missouri governor, stood on a bluff Monday overlooking the empty site of what used to be the north Chrysler plant in Fenton, part of a complex that – with suppliers – employed 45,000 people.

A businessman, Spence said the lost jobs reflected the bad governmental policies that he contended are to blame for Missouri's economy lagging behind.

“We’ve got to lower the cost of doing business,” said Spence. “We’ve got to get factories in our state. … We’re simply losing jobs every single day.”

Among other things, Spence called for lawsuit reform and for changes in Missouri’s labor laws to make it a "right-to-work" state, which bars closed-union shops, in which all workers must pay union dues if a majority vote to join a union.

Standing with Spence were several area legislators, including state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and state House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. Schmitt praised Spence’s success as a businessman.

“We need a governor who understands what this site could be, emblematic of a new economy,’’ Schmitt said. “We need a governor who will not ignore the St. Louis region.”

Spence said he offered “real world common sense leadership.”

Spence also said that Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, deserved some blame for Chrysler’s closing in early 2009, throwing 6,300 people out of work. Spence asked why Nixon hadn’t been as active in protecting the Fenton operations as he was in providing state tax breaks that encouraged General Motors and Ford to remain and expand their operations.

Several union members standing nearby provided the answer: The first phase of the plants’ closings were announced in February 2007, almost two years before Nixon took office. The next round was announced by 2008. The governor at the time? Republican Matt Blunt.

Darin Gilley, former union president at a now-defunct firm supplying parts for the Chrysler plants, blasted Spence for “empty photo ops” and getting his facts wrong.

“It’s Matt Blunt’s failure,” Gilley said. “All of this happened long before Jay Nixon came in. Ford (in Hazelwood) closed under Matt Blunt’s leadership.”

Gilley, who now works at the GM plant in Wentzville, also cited statistics showing that many "right-to-work" states have higher unemployment rates than Missouri. Nixon has highlighted the state's unemployment rate, which is under 7 percent.

Nixon is campaigning Tuesday in Wentzville and Liberty to promote his actions in expanding the Ford and GM operations.

“On his first full day in office, Gov. Nixon made clear that rebuilding the automotive industry would be a top priority by signing an executive order to establish the Missouri Automotive Jobs Task Force,” his campaign said in a statement. “Over the next two years, he made multiple trips to Detroit to meet with senior leaders from major automotive manufacturers and suppliers and the UAW. In 2010, he called a special session of the General Assembly to pass the Missouri Manufacturing Jobs Act, which provided innovative tools to attract next-generation manufacturing jobs to Missouri.

“As a result, Ford and GM are investing nearly $1.5 billion in Missouri and bringing 3,200 new automotive jobs to the state. In addition, major automotive suppliers, such as Magna, are investing in new technology and jobs.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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