Governor’s race heads toward the finish line
Editor’s note:West Newsmagazine reporter Jim Erickson requested interviews with both gubernatorial candidates to discuss the same set of questions; however, only contender Dave Spence sat down with Jim to talk about the issues. Gov. Jay Nixon did not reply to interview requests, however, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine reporter Mary Ann 0′Toole Holley was able to catch the governor at a campaign stop in St. Peters in July. Both reporters share their stories here.
The contender: Dave Spence
By JIM ERICKSON
Dave Spence has never run for political office. Instead, he has spent his career in business, running Alpha Plastics. He bought Alpha at age 26, and when he stepped down to run for governor, the company reportedly had more than 800 employees and almost $200 million a year in revenue. Today, Spence is seeking to bring his business acumen to Jefferson City.
In September, Spence sat down with West Newsmagazine to share his views on a variety of issues, including support for ethics, transportation concerns, selection of judges, prescription drug monitoring and caps on medical malpractice. Due to space constraints in print, replies to these last four issues can be found online at newsmagazinenetwork.com.
Given Missouri’s apparent political polarization, what steps are you proposing to move the state’s economy forward?
Right now there’s a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, and it appears it’s going to stay that way. I’ve already met with the incoming leadership of both the House and the Senate, and we’re completely in line on what needs to be done. We’re prepared to work together.
The top three things I think that will get Missouri’s economic engine going again are, first, tort reform. Instead of the “Show Me State,” we’re now the “Sue Me State.” Next would be workman’s comp reform. What the existing system does is raise the cost of doing business in the state. I’m all for justice for people hurt on the job, but let’s not have fraud with it and let’s not have excess compensation. Third, we need to be a right-to-work state. What that means is you wouldn’t have to be a member of a union as a condition of employment. I’m not anti-union, but when you are 50th in job creation since 2008 and 48th out of 50 states in economic development, your business plan obviously isn’t working. We’re simply not growing, and the state is lagging behind almost every neighboring state in economic development and job growth.
At a time when tax increases are unpopular, what steps will you take to boost state support for public schools, including colleges and universities?
Our overall budget is $24 billion, and the governor has cut higher education three years in a row. I don’t think that’s good. There’s no doubt schools can tighten up, and I think they have. But it’s a matter of priorities. We give away $620 million in tax credits, and I’m not sure we are running a tight ship there. I think we should be looking at everything we do in Missouri and asking ourselves if we can do it better or if we should be doing it at all. Let’s run Missouri like a business. The overall theme is that we need more taxpayers and more people getting a paycheck versus an unemployment check. We’ve got 216,000 on the unemployment rolls and that’s in addition to 106,000 people who have left the workforce.
What specific areas of ethics reform do you think need to be addressed and would you take a leadership role to gain support for those actions?
My overall theme is that we need to keep honest people honest. For instance, I don’t think we should have a revolving door so that you can go right from being an elected official to being a lobbyist. Common sense says that could lead people to start altering their behaviors toward the end of their term. That’s not healthy.
Transportation is viewed as a key factor in economic development. How do you view issues such as light rail and improvements to I-70, including the possible implementation of toll roads to finance road construction and maintenance?
Our budget (for transportation-related purposes) is about $2.5 billion and one would think that would be enough to do what we want to do. But we’ve taken on some big projects like the I-64 rebuild, the Daniel Boone bridge and the Mississippi River bridge. We just don’t have enough to sustain those projects long term. Part of it is a revenue issue. We have a flat gasoline tax of 18 cents a gallon and as gas mileage has gone up, it has hurt our revenue. 75 percent of our revenue is federal set-aside money that’s all designated for projects. I just sat down with MoDOT and went through the budget. I can see why it’s tight. You know light rail sounds great. Rebuilding of I-70 sounds great, too. It all comes down to whether we have the proper funding. Roads are in decent shape right now, but you have to be thinking five, 10 and 15 years out. Good roads are part of economic development and if we want to move our state forward, you’ve got to have great roads. I-70 should be six or eight lanes. Light rail certainly is a part of that, too. Someone asked me awhile back what I thought about high speed rail across Missouri and I said, “Boy, it sure sounds sexy but who’s going to pay for it?” We just can’t be everything to everybody.
What is your position on the current Missouri plan for selecting and retaining judges?
It worries me with someone like Jay Nixon who has the Missouri trial attorneys in his pocket. I think the judicial picks should reflect our population. We are a very conservative state, and we’re not appointing judges who are (conservative). I think we need to have more citizens involved versus trial attorneys picking who they want as judges.
Missouri is the only state in the nation without a drug monitoring program to spot abuse of prescription drugs, including both users and prescribers. What is your position on this issue?
I’d like to learn more about that. The concept makes sense. We’ve also got to put the clamps down on meth. I think we are number one in meth production. I think it’s “all hands on deck” to figure out this issue – whether it be prescription monitoring or other steps. We need to join with neighboring states and really attack the problem. If you look at the financial implications of the meth problem in our state, it’s probably close to a billion dollars between incarceration, judicial costs and lost families who may be part of a drug culture and probably living off the state somehow.
The Missouri Supreme Court’s recently struck down caps on medical malpractice awards, what is your position on that?
On my first day in office, I would get the legislature to put something in place to reinstate medical malpractice caps. Our governor has taken more than $2.4 million from personal injury attorneys and they don’t want it (malpractice award caps). They want the awards to be bigger. As I go around Missouri – and I’ve gone to all 114 counties – they are scared to death they are going to lose their doctors and hospitals. We finally brought sanity to the malpractice issue under the Blount administration in 2005. And I think it’s ludicrous (that the caps were struck down). I think we need to protect the backs of doctors and hospitals and keep medical and health insurance costs in our state lower. And the only way to do that is to put the caps back on medical malpractice.
In regard to TV commercials, what criticisms made by your opponent do you think are inappropriate – either due to their unfairness accuracy or lack thereof?
For him (Nixon) to take credit for the state’s triple-A credit rating that we’ve had since 1962 and for him to take credit for the balanced budget that’s part of our Constitution–that’s disingenuous. I know for a fact – because I’ve met with the House Budget Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee – that Jay Nixon didn’t give one sentence of input on the budget. And for him to say he lowered taxes? It was Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) who put together the bill to lower the franchise tax and ultimately get rid of it. When I talked to him (Schmitt), he said he didn’t have any idea whether Gov. Nixon was going to sign it. Until the very last minute, nobody knew.
In the other ad that’s been running (about Spence’s bank ties), he is flat out lying. It’s amazing that a 26-year career politician can’t run on his record and has to flat out lie about me. For him to say I’m a St. Louis banker, I’m not a St. Louis banker. I ran a plastics company. Did I invest in a bank? Yes. Did I try to help it out? Sure. I lost my tail on the investment and I resigned from the board. For him to put that other stuff at my doorstep, that’s just flat out lying.
Reporter’s note: On Oct. 12, Spence took his objections to Gov. Jay Nixon’s attack ads targeting Spence’s bank ties a step further by filing a defamation lawsuit against him.
In a written statement, Spence stated, “If the standard for truthfulness in political campaigns is there is no standard, our state and country will continue to erode because good people won’t run for office.”
Oren Shur, Nixon’s campaign manager, called Spence’s lawsuit “frivolous, misguided and desperate.”
The ads say that Reliance Bancshares received $40 million in federal bailout money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and that Spence subsequently used his position as a member of the board to get from the bank a $1.1 million mortgage on a Lake of the Ozarks vacation home. As noted above, Spence has denied any connection between the federal funds and the loan. He also maintains he did not participate in the bank board’s review and approval of the loan.
The incumbent: Jay Nixon
By MARY ANN O’TOOLE HOLLEY
Gov. Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon’s bid for a second term as governor has him traveling the state to remind citizens of the strides made during his first term, but he says his work is not yet finished.
On job creation
In July Nixon visited Zoltek Corporation’s new facility in St. Peters, announcing that the manufacturer of carbon fiber material is expanding its operations and plans to create 155 new jobs.
“Missouri’s manufacturing sector continues to move our economy in the right direction, and this $15 million local investment by Zoltek is another example of that positive momentum,” Nixon said. “My administration will continue to work every day to hold the line on taxes and give businesses the tools they need to create jobs and grow our economy.”
Early this month, Nixon announced that a state economic incentive package will help create 100 new jobs as LMI Aerospace expands its headquarters and manufacturing facilities over the next five years. LMI Aerospace will get the incentive only if it meets job creation and investment criteria, Nixon said.
Nixon has worked “across the aisle” to balance the state’s budget and in the past three years, has helped stall college tuition increases making education more affordable. According to the College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center, Nixon has guided Missouri’s four-year public colleges to become tops in the nation in keeping a lid on tuition and fee hikes.
Nixon also expanded the state’s A-Plus two-year scholarship program that provides free tuition to community colleges. More than 150 schools are now participating with more than 65,000 new students eligible for the program.
“We’ve focused on what’s good for Missourians, and it’s beginning to pay off,” Nixon said in his report of the State of Missouri’s economic health.
Bi-partisan economic development
Nixon says Missouri is moving forward as a result of bi-partisan efforts between Democrats and Republicans working under very difficult economic conditions.
He says he has focused in areas where the potential for new growth is the greatest, pointing to the auto industry where Ford is investing $1.8 billion in Kansas City to build a new car previously built in Europe and GM is investing $380 million at the Wentzville Plant that will create 1,600 new jobs to build the new Chevy Colorado.