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After cliff-hanger win, Kander's ready to become Missouri's secretary of state

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 7, 2012 - After winning an election that went down the very last precinct, it wouldn’t have been surprising if state Rep. Jason Kander was a little tired.

But the Kansas City Democrat said on Wednesday he was still “running on adrenaline” after besting House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, for secretary of state.

After trailing for most of the night, Kander pulled ahead for good after the state’s urban areas started to report their tallies. Results for the race showed that Kander's numbers in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas were enough to counteract Schoeller's edge in outstate Missouri.

“I believed this whole campaign -- and I believed it all night long -- that our message of running an office that was nonpartisan in its approach and was focused on serving all Missourians would win the day,” said Kander, an attorney. “And I also knew that whether I won or lost that I would spend Wednesday knowing that we had done absolutely everything we could possibly do to win this race. When you know that, it’s a very good feeling. It allows you to handle the ups and downs of the returns coming in much more easily. Because you know you’re not going to have any regrets.”

[Schoeller posted a message on his Facebook page congratulating Kander on his victory. He added he was "thankful for the experiences this journey brought. From my family, a heartfelt thank you...God has a plan and I look forward to His guidance as we move forward.”]

Schoeller had made requiring a government-issued photo identification at the polls a major plank of his campaign. While Republicans have pushed photo ids as a bulwark against fraud, Kander and Democrats contended the measure could disenfranchise poor and elderly Missourians without a photo ID. They also questioned the existence of widespread voter fraud.

Kander told the Beacon he doesn't plan to press for the requirement.

“I am never going to advocate for any policy that would disenfranchise any eligible voters,” Kander said. “I can’t advocate for something like that. I think one thing we can see from these results is that issue – photo ID – was clearly not most important issue in the minds of Missourians. I said throughout the campaign Missourians care about creating jobs. And they want their state officeholder to focus on that.”

Regardless of who won, the path to implementing a photo identification requirement would be challenging. For one thing, voters would need to approve a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to pass a statutory change. Any corresponding law could face Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. Of course, both chambers of the legislature have enough Republicans to override the Democratic chief executive.

The other major plank of Kander’s campaign was reforming the state’s ethics and campaign finance systems. Kander said that he is still prepared to push the issue, even though many Republicans are wary of limiting political donations.

He noted that Schoeller received hundreds of thousands of dollars from retired financer Rex Sinquefield and a political action committee aimed at electing Republican secretaries of state.

“We still won, but that doesn’t change the fact that the system is clearly broken,” Kander said. “As I have spoken in the last few months with legislators who are both Democratic and Republican, there is a real sense now that this has become out of hand. And that something must be done. I believe that the state’s chief of election officer is in the unique position and has the unique responsibility to advocate for truly clean elections. And I believe clean elections don’t start on Election Day.”

It should be noted that Attorney General Chris Koster took nearly the same amount of money from Sinquefield as Schoeller’s campaign, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Nixon almost assuredly benefited from the Democratic Governors Association donating around $2 million directly to his campaign.

When asked if his message was undercut by some Democratic statewide candidates, Kander said, “I have never believed that the need for campaign reform or ethics reform was greater on one side of the aisle or the other. This is a bipartisan problem. It is a Missouri problem. And we need to come together and address it as Missourians.

“I don’t believe that the designated hitter rule is good for baseball, but that doesn’t mean that I believe the Royals should put their pitcher in the lineup every night either,” he added. “You work within the rules as they exist, but you also have an obligation to fix those rules when they’re broken.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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