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Missouri GOP has singular message at Lincoln Days: It’s time to get to work

Gov. Eric Greitens speaks at Lincoln Days in Springfield, Missouri, on Feb. 25, 2017.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Eric Greitens speaks at Lincoln Days in Springfield, Missouri, on Feb. 25, 2017.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Missouri’s top Republican leaders, who now control most of state government, said this weekend that it’s time to move past applauding the November victories. Rather, they exhorted supporters at their annual Lincoln Days festivities, it’s time for action.


“We won the election. Now, we have to win the agenda,’’ state Republican Party chairman Todd Graves told St. Louis Public Radio on Saturday. “It doesn’t do any good to be elected if we don’t implement the agenda.”


The Kansas City lawyer was part of the crowd that packed a hotel ballroom Saturday morning to listen to Gov. Eric Greitens recap his actions to date to promote the conservative cause. Among those, he cited his review of tens of thousands of state regulations, with an aim of getting rid of many of them.


“Because of you, conservative change is happening in Missouri,’’ said Greitens, wearing his trademark outfit — jeans and blue blazer. He then reinforced his commitment to “a strong, common-sense conservative agenda,” and said to cheers, “We’re just getting started.’’  

Other prominent Republicans held court Friday night and Saturday, including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who lives in the Springfield area and was the unofficial host for many of the weekend’s events. The longtime politician was able to give a Washington perspective, repeating in speeches and in an interview that congressional Republicans’ key focus, as well as President Donald Trump’s, is to undo and repeal government policies and regulations, not create new ones.


“A lot of what needs to happen and will happen, and is happening, is undoing things that Congress believes wouldn’t work,’’ Blunt said.


Blunt ignited cheers at Saturday night's closing banquet when he claimed that the debates in Washington and the protests at home reflected the tensions between Republicans who support "freedom,'' and Democrats who seek "free stuff."


Greitens' speech


But it was the new governor, who beat out more established Republicans in last year’s primary, who took center stage, if only for 15 minutes on Saturday.

Greitens said his overall economic focus was to “let business know that Missouri is open to business again.” He highlighted the “right-to-work” legislation he signed earlier this month, which he says has translated into companies that are committed to moving to Missouri or adding jobs to existing operations.

Under the law that will take effect in August, unions and employers are barred from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues. Labor leaders say it will lead to lower pay, while Republicans say it will attract more jobs.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner (left) of Ballwin speaks with a Lincoln Days attendee on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017.
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner (left) of Ballwin speaks with a Lincoln Days attendee on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017.

But the strongest crowd reaction came when Greitens zeroed in on two social issues important to rural Republicans — guns and abortion.


“You can always count on me to protect and defend the most vulnerable people, and the lives of the unborn,” the governor said. “That’s why you’ve seen us take a strong stance that we will not allow St. Louis, Missouri, to become an ‘abortion sanctuary city.’ Not on my watch.”


Greitens was referring to a law recently signed by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay that bans employers and landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use birth control or have had an abortion. A House bill filed on Tuesday would seek to reverse the law in St. Louis, which also has Missouri’s only abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility.

As for guns, Greitens spoke of a short-lived policy that banned people with concealed-carry licenses from bringing firearms into the Capitol, which he said “was a rule that was put in place before we got there.” Democrats have said no such ban was in place under former Gov. Jay Nixon, and have implied that Greitens’ team was behind the initial change. The new governor says that’s not the case.

Overall, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said, the governor's speech was in line with the basic GOP pitch of the weekend: “It’s time to start planning to get things done.”

No questions, please


After his speech, Greitens mingled with the crowd and posed for photos, but didn’t take questions from reporters.

Greitens came to Springfield from Las Vegas, where he had joined Vice President Mike Pence and others at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Prominent Clayton businessman Sam Fox, a top GOP donor, is a member of that coalition. Greitens is Jewish, and spent time Wednesday at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, where more than 150 headstones were toppled. Pence joined him.

The governor headed for Washington after his speech to attend a gathering of the National Governors Association.

Greitens’ arriving and departing flights were on private planes; he has declined to identify the aircrafts’ owners.

Health care concerns


U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has a chat during a Lincoln Days banquet on Feb. 24, 2017.
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has a chat during Friday night's Lincoln Days banquet.

Blunt and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, both noted the continued debate over what to do with the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature health insurance policy.

Since Trump’s election, Republicans have said they wanted to repeal and replace the law. But recent town hall meetings across the country have turned tense, with constituents expressing concern over what happens if the ACA is repealed. Missouri hasn’t had any such town halls.


Wagner and Blunt promoted the longstanding GOP idea to allow health insurance to be purchased across state lines, and Wagner emphasized that Congress will seek to phase-in the ACA’s repeal, so the public can adapt.


Wagner said one of the aims of Lincoln Days is to keep supporters energized. “We’re thanking the grassroots, we’re thanking the activists,’’ Wagner said. “And now we go to work. We have to deliver.”

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft hosted the ice cream social on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, a tradition begun by his dad, John Ashcroft (left), who is a party icon. John Ashcroft has served as Missouri's governor, a U.S. senator and U.S. attorney general.
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft hosted Saturday's ice cream social, a tradition begun by his dad, John Ashcroft (left), who is a party icon. John Ashcroft has served as Missouri's governor, a U.S. senator and U.S. attorney general.

Looking ahead to 2018 U.S. Senate race


Wagner’s name is among several being floated around as possible Republican contenders to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the GOP’s top target in 2018.

Wagner said she was flattered by the encouragement she has received, but emphasized that she’s currently focusing on her job in Washington.

Other names in the mix include new Missouri Attorney Josh Hawley – the state’s top GOP vote-getter in November – and state House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. In interviews, both men chuckled about the idea of running, saying it was too early to discuss another election bid. But, like Wagner, neither Richardson nor Hawley flatly dismissed the idea.

St. Louis lawyer David Wasinger, husband of St. Louis County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, also indicated to the weekend’s attendees that he was considering a Senate run.

At the moment, there appears to be less Republican attention for the 2018 election involving the only Democrat still holding a statewide office in Jefferson City: Auditor Nicole Galloway. 

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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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