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Politics

Kinder joins crowd of Republicans running for governor

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announces he is running for the Republican nomination for governor.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announces he is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder says that this time, he really is running for governor.

After several almost-runs over the past decade, Kinder told supporters Sunday that he’s committed this time to capturing state government's top job. If elected, he says he'll improve the state, particularly when it comes to education, employment, ethics and health care. But his chief focus at this campaign kickoff on a hot parking lot near last summer’s unrest in Ferguson was to promise "No more Fergusons, never again.”

Kinder contended that state officials, especially Gov. Jay Nixon, failed the region and allowed last summer’s unrest to get out of hand, leading to looting, lawlessness and destruction of property. He was joined by Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones.

“At the heart of my campaign today, I will offer to the people of Missouri over the next 16 months a new covenant," Kinder declared. "And at the heart of that new covenant is this pledge: No more Fergusons, never again. Never again.”

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announces he is running for the Republican nomination for governor.
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announces he is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Kinder also plans to promote his longstanding vocal opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, and his support for "right to work." The latter is an anti-union measure that would bar employers and unions from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues. Kinder has been calling for public debates with Nixon over the issue, which likely will be a focus of the  General Assembly's veto session in September. Legislators passed "right to work" during its regular session, but Nixon vetoed it.

Kinder is the fourth official Republican candidate for governor, joining former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway of St. Louis County, state Sen. Mike Parson of Bolivar and former state Rep. Randy Asbury of Higbee, Mo.

Author/former Navy Seal Eric Greitens, of St. Louis, is expected to jump into the contest by the end of the month. Also testing the waters is St. Louis-area businessman John Brunner.

Behind in money, but ahead in election wins

Kinder begins the contest far behind, when it comes to money in the bank. His last campaign-finance report showed him with less than $57,000 in the bank, compared to just under $500,000 for Parsons and more than $1.2 million for Hanaway (who has collected the bulk of her money from wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield.)

The sole announced Democrat, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, reported $3.3 million in the bank in his last report, more than the combined tally for all of his Republican rivals.

Greitens could well be the GOP’s money leader when the next reports are filed this Wednesday. He outpaced all candidates from both parties with his contribution haul in June.

But while Kinder lacks money, he believes he leads all comers  when it comes to name recognition. Kinder has run statewide, and won, three times since 2004. He has never lost a statewide election and now is the only Republican holding statewide office in Jefferson City.

Referring to his GOP rivals, Kinder said in a brief interview, "There's not a statewide win among them."

Some of that name recognition comes from less-than-flattering stories in recent years. Kinder has come under fire over his travels and hotel bills, even though he spends less overall than other statewide officeholders.

Kinder, who is single, also faced an embarrassing scandal in 2011 over his longstanding friendship with a former stripper.

Kinder frequently steps aside

At 61, Kinder has been a major player in state politics for more than 20 years.

A native of Cape Girardeau, he served in the state Senate from 1993-2004.  When Republicans took control of the state Senate in 2001, he became the first GOP president pro tem of the Senate in 53 years.

Kinder considered running for state auditor in 1998, but deferred to party pressure to remain in the Senate.

He won his first bid for lieutenant governor in 2004, after briefly considering a bid for governor.

Kinder appeared to be planning to run for governor in 2008, but once again deferred to party pressure to stay put. Kinder gave a moving speech at the party’s statewide Lincoln Days that year, to declare he was stepping aside to avoid a primary fight with then-U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof.

(The GOP saw a nasty 2008 primary for governor anyway; it just didn’t involve Kinder.)

Kinder had been considered a likely GOP challenger in 2012 to Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who has never been on good terms with the lieutenant governor. But the scandals over the stripper and Kinder’s spending forced him to reconsider.

Kinder ran instead for re-election in 2012 and faced his stiffest GOP challenge ever, when many of the party’s top donors sided with then-state Sen. Brad Lager of Savannah.

Even so, Kinder defeated Lager and, later, Democratic rival Susan Montee.  The episode exemplified Kinder’s strength in attracting votes.

Sunday’s kickoff highlighted Kinder’s influence with urban voters and politicians. He long has had strong support in the St. Louis area, even from Democrats, because of Kinder’s longstanding efforts to reach out to minorities.

A few black elected Democrats showed up to cheer on Kinder, although the lieutenant governor told supporters that he didn't expected those Democrats to actually endorse him.  Kinder added that their presence on that hot parking lot was enough.

Kinder appeared unfazed by his campaign challenges, which included a mishap during his kickoff speech, when his makeshift lectern collapsed in the heat.  The lieutenant governor didn't miss a beat, as he juggled falling microphones while offering his vision for Missouri's future.

“I see a Missouri that is bright with promise. A bright future for us all if we work together," he said. Kinder got choked up as he added, "And this crowd today shows that we can work together and come together for a united cause.”

Copyright 2015 St. Louis Public Radio