Let’s get something out of the way: Missouri’s lieutenant governor doesn’t have a lot of power or many defined responsibilities.
The lieutenant governor is charged with presiding over the Senate, serving on boards and commissions, and assuming the governorship if the state’s chief executive dies. That reality has often under whelmed people elected to the office: The late U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton once quipped that the lieutenant governor’s office is only good for standing at an office window and watching the Missouri River flow by.
But that hasn’t stopped a lot of people this cycle from running for the office, especially because incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is running for governor. And the somewhat paltry powers of the lieutenant governorship haven’t prevented the aspirants from making big promises. Whether they can actually translate rhetoric into reality depends on a lot of factors, including whom Missourians choose for the job.
In some ways, it would be more significant if a Democrat captured the lieutenant governor’s office. That’s because the Missouri Senate is almost certainly going to remain in Republican hands. And as the Senate’s presiding officer, a Democratic lieutenant governor could gum up the procedural works to bedevil the GOP majority.
But the three Democrats running for the office have more expansive ideas in mind than legislative havoc.
Former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan may have the most insight into how the office works. The St. Louis resident’s father — Mel Carnahan — was lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1992. Russ Carnahan said he wants to use the lieutenant governorship to bridge rural and urban divides — and make changes to how the Missouri legislature operates.
“I’m optimistic about our state. But I’m pretty stubborn about the fact that we should be better,” Carnahan said. “And I think a lot of people feel that way: that, in many ways, our legislative process has gotten off the rails — and we’re in really critical need of some reforms that have really made it difficult for the will of the people to be exercised through our elected government.”
State Rep. Tommie Pierson is pastor of a church that became a central meeting place during the unrest in Ferguson. The Bellefontaine Neighbors Democrat is forgoing likely re-election because he said the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death showed that “demonstrating and marching bring attention to the problem — but it doesn’t solve the problem.’”
In order to solve problems, Pierson said, “you’ve got to get elected and become a policymaker.”
He explained that as a young person, he “didn't have much. And so I’ve been through the ranks. And I know how it feels like to not be able to pay your rent. I know what it feels like to make a decision between eating and putting gas your car so you can get to work the next day. So I understand that. That’s what I bring to the table that they perhaps don’t bring.”
The third Democratic candidate, Winston Apple, sees the lieutenant governorship’s political value.
Apple said he hopes a Democratic lieutenant governor can barnstorm the state and help the party gain some ground back in the Missouri General Assembly. That way, he said, the legislature can enact sweeping economic and environmental initiatives.
“If you’re happy with the way things are, the status quo, the system that’s in place, Russ or Tommie either one of them will do a fine job of managing the office in this system as it exists,” said Apple, who was recently elected to a four-year stint as a Democratic National committeeman. “I’m in this to change things. I’m in this to see Republicans voted out of office in huge numbers, to help the Democrats get back in the majority.”
Spirited Republican contest
The Democratic contest has remained somewhat quiet, especially because Carnahan has much more money in his campaign bank account than Pierson or Apple. The more vigorous and expensive contest is on the Republican side, where Bev Randles and Mike Parson are duking it out. (The GOP primary also includes Arnie Dienoff, a perennial candidate who lives in St. Charles County.)
Randles is an attorney who has been active in Republican politics for a number of years. She is the former chair of Missouri Club for Growth. She sees the lieutenant governor’s office as a way to move conservative economic policies across the finish line.
“I personally see the lieutenant governor’s office as a bully pulpit,” Randles said. “I think it affords anybody in that office a huge platform to talk about promoting the issues that they think are important. And to me, the state’s economic climate is central.”
Randles’ husband, Bill Randles, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2012. And Bev Randles said that experience taught her that, without a lot of money, running for statewide office in Missouri is very difficult.
Randles got a big financial boost early on in the 2016 election cycle when financier Rex Sinquefield donated $1 million to her campaign. She said that she “didn’t make an ask of anything. I just said ‘if I run, would you want to support me?’”
“And when we decided that I definitely was going to run for office, my husband and I made that decision, and we found out that he was definitely willing to support us in a huge way,” Randles said.
Parson is a former Polk County sheriff who has served in the Missouri House and Missouri Senate. He said he was deeply affected by former state Auditor Tom Schweich’s suicide, and was particularly upset over negative ads against the Republican officeholder.
“I thought ever since my career has started and as long as I’ve been around in life, we keep pushing the envelope and pushing the envelope,” Parson said. “We keep pushing to where we’re starting to try to talk about people’s character, their honor and their families — and really just trying to destroy them to win elections. And that’s not what elections are about.”
Initially, Parson announced a gubernatorial bid. But Kinder’s decision to run for governor compelled him to look at the lieutenant governor’s contest. He said he’s well suited for the office, especially because part of its limited duties includes advocating for veterans and the elderly.
“I wanted to stay on ‘positive politics’ and I thought if I was in a five-way race for the governor, no one’s going to care. Nobody’s going to want to have this conversation,” Parson said. “It’s going to be multiple other things with the governor’s race. And as time went by, I really felt in my career I’m very well-suited for the lieutenant governor’s race.”
Tangle over abortion, race
While neither the GOP nor Democratic primaries have reached the level of rancor of other statewide contests, they have featured some give-and-take.
Among other things, Randles has contended Parson hasn’t been aggressively opposed enough to embryonic stem cell research. While Missouri Right to Life endorsed both candidates, Parson voted against a measure in 2007 that would have effectively repealed a 2006 constitutional amendment aimed at protecting stem cell research.
“Overall as between us, I am the more conservative candidate — just on my philosophy on government and government’s role,” Randles said.
For his part, Parson said he is opposed to embryonic stem cell research. As for the measure repealing the 2006 stem cell research amendment, Parson said he was concerned about “taking the steps forward where you start putting people in prison for research.”
“Look, there’s no doubt in my mind where my Christian values are,” Parson said. “I’ve never supported cloning and I don’t know of anybody in Missouri that’s doing cloning. If they are, I don’t know it. But I don’t support it, and if they were I would try to stop it.”
Even before Carnahan got into the race, Pierson contended that other Democratic statewide candidates might have problems winning other elections if they don’t have African-Americans on the statewide ticket. (Missouri has never elected an African-American statewide officeholder before.)
Pierson noted that Kinder has often done better getting African-American votes than other Republican candidates. If Kinder can beat three other strong GOP contenders for governor, Pierson said likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster could be in trouble.
“The only way he’s going to win is I keep those votes at home,” Pierson said. “And so, they’re going to have to embrace me whether they want to or not.”
After being drawn into the African-American-majority 1st Congressional District, Carnahan lost a bitter 2012 Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay. Some black elected officials around St. Louis were upset that Carnahan sought a seat that had been held for decades by an African American.
But Carnahan said he has “very good and long-standing relations across the community, including the African-American community.”
“I’m well-known. They know my record and where I stand on issues that are important to them in terms of fair and equitable treatment, making sure we have diverse opportunities in the workforce,” he said. “Again, when you talk about records, I’ve got a very strong record in regards to those issues and they’re well-known. And I have a lot of good personal relationships in that community.”
- Age: 59
- Raised in: Rolla
- Job: Attorney
- Elections: Missouri House, 2000; U.S. House 2005
- Quote: "We’re in really critical need of some reforms that have really made it difficult for the will of the people to be exercised through our elected government.."
- More information: russcarnahanformissouri.com/#bio
- Age: 70
- Raised in: Tennessee; moved to St. Louis at 17
- Job: Auto worker, pastor
- Elections: Missouri House, 2010
- Quote: "I know what it feels like to make a decision between eating and putting gas your car so you can get to work the next day. So I understand that. That’s what I bring to the table that they perhaps don’t bring."
- More information: www.piersonformissouri.com/meet-tommie
- Age: 67
- Raised in: Independence, Mo.
- Job: teacher, singer-songwriter
- Elected: No previous elected office
- Quote: "I’m in this to change things. I’m in this to see Republicans voted out of office in huge numbers, to help the Democrats get back in the majority.”
- More Information: appleformissouri.com/
- Age: 43
- Raised in: Sikeston, Mo.
- Job: Attorney, former chair Missouri Club for Growth
- Elected: No previous elected office
- Quote: "I think (this office) affords anybody in that office a huge platform to talk about promote the issues that they think are important. And to me, the state’s economic climate is central.”
- More Information: www.bevforlg.com/
- Age: 61
- Raised in: Wheatland, Mo.
- Job: Law enforcement, farming
- Elected: Polk County sheriff, 1992; state House, 2005; state Senate, 2010
- Quote: "Look, there’s no doubt in my mind where my Christian values are. I’ve never supported cloning and I don’t know of anybody in Missouri that’s doing cloning.”
- More Information: http://www.mikeparson.com/