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While foreseeing 'bumps in the road,' Kinder continues to push 'right to work'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 1, 2013: When Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder spoke at this weekend’s regional Conservative Political Action Conference, he contended that part of "staying on offense" included trying to make Missouri a "right to work" state.

Peter Kinder spoke at Saturday's CPAC STL event.

“I am here to tell you 2014 -- I believe if we unite and again stay on offense -- this is the year we can make Missouri a right to work state, the 25th state in this union,” Kinder said.

Still, Kinder told the Beacon after his speech that getting the issue up for a vote – and approved by voters – isn’t a sure thing.

“Nothing worthwhile is easy,” Kinder said.

“Right to work” is shorthand supporters like Kinder use to describe laws that say that workers do not have to join a union or pay dues or a representation fee, even when a majority of employees have voted to organize a union. 

Proponents say that companies are more attracted to states that adopt the policy. Kinder attributed neighboring states’ economic growth to, among other things, adopting "right to work" policies. But detractors often call the proposal “right to work for less,” arguing that the goal of the policy is breaking organized labor's clout and lowering worker pay. They also say it would allow "freeloaders" to get the benefits of union representation without paying for it.

Earlier this year at a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, Kinder predicted that the Missouri General Assembly would put the issue on next year’s ballot.

But "right to work" is considered a “fall on the sword” issue for labor-aligned legislators, meaning any move to institute the policy – whether through a statutory change or a ballot initiative – could face a difficult-to-overcome filibuster in the Missouri Senate.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Mike Louis told the Beacon earlier this year that “many members of both parties recognize that these proposed laws are unnecessary and allow the government to interfere unfairly in the freedom of businesses and their employees.”

When asked about that potentially potent legislative obstacle, Kinder responded: “Will there be challenges? Will there be bumps in the road? Sure. Can it be done? Yes.”

He also said that Missouri’s neighbors – such as Kansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma – are at a competitive advantage over the Show Me State because they are right-to-work states.

He added, “Our policies in Missouri are the best economic development tool that Johnson County, Kansas, has ever had.”

Kinder is among the right-to-work proponents who blame  the state's pro-union policies, in part, for Missouri's slower growth in population, compared to other states.

“We lost a congressional seat for the second time in my adult life,” Kinder said. “Tennessee had the same number of seats – nine – they didn’t lose one. Texas won four seats, while we lost one. What is going to take for Missouri to wake up and realize? Is it going to take a loss of another congressional seat after the next decennial census?”

“I’m sounding the alarm now,” he added. “ 'Right to work' is right morally.”

Even if the legislature does place the issue on the ballot, it may face an uphill battle at the polls. After all, the issue failed decisively when it was put up for a statewide vote in 1978.  There’s also the possibility that a ballot initiative could galvanize union members to come to the polls – which in turn could hurt GOP legislative candidates.

Kinder said it was possible that a ballot initiative could turn out union members – but he thought that could be countered by conservatives angling to vote on the issue.

“There is always risk. And it’s a calculated risk,” Kinder said. “But I believe we must be prepared to take it. And I believe Missourians will respond to bold leadership. And will it galvanize conservatives and freedom to work people? You bet it will.”

State Rep. Eric Burlison – a Springfield Republican who sponsored a right-to-work bill in the Missouri House – said he would prefer to pass a statutory change through the legislature. But with Gov. Jay Nixon – a Democrat – likely to veto any proposal, he added that a ballot proposal might be the only option until a Republican governor is elected.

Burlison said, “The longer that we wait, the more that we’re going to lose jobs.”

He added, though that he doesn’t “ever pretend to understand the (state) Senate.”

“They are a completely different animal and you never know,” he added.

No timeline on 8th District decision

Meanwhile, Kinder said that he doesn’t have a timetable to decide whether to enter next year’s GOP primary in the 8th Congressional District, which would put him on a collision course with U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem.

Kinder did add that he’s “getting encouragement to do so.” 

The Southeast Missourian reported on Tuesday that Kinder was planning to launch an exploratory committee to run for the 8th District seat.

He told the paper that "we're going to have to send our most proven candidates to fight in Washington."

Earlier this year, Kinder was the runner-up in a committee process to choose the Republican nominee in the southeast Missouri-based district for the June 4 special election to choose a replacement to Jo Ann Emerson, who resigned last winter to head the Washington-based Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Smith won the GOP nomination, and then handily defeated Democrat Steve Hodges.

Kinder told the Kansas City Star earlier this summer that he was giving a serious thought to running for the congressional seat next year, even if that meant challenging Smith.

Kinder used to represent a big chunk of the 8th Congressional District while he served in the Missouri Senate – including the population center of Cape Girardeau. His experience running, and winning, difficult statewide match-ups likely gives him high-name recognition. 

Kinder is beginning his third term as Missouri's lieutenant governor.

Smith, though, may have greater access to fundraising resources as an incumbent member of Congress. Like Kinder, Smith possesses a reputation as a hard worker.

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