The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 29, 2012

Three GOP gubernatorial aspirants making first bids for public office

In the Aug. 7 gubernatorial primary in Missouri, four Republican candidates are running to be their party’s nominee in what is, except for one, their first bids for public office.

Dave Spence, a former St. Louis plastics manufacturing executive, has put almost $3 million into his campaign. He recently stepped down as head of Alpha Packaging, which he bought in 1985.

Bill Randles, a North Kansas City attorney and investor, has lent his campaign about $50,000. He stepped down in 2008 as a partner at the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

Fred Sauer, a St. Louis anti-abortion activist, opponent of stem cell research and former candidate for U.S. representative, has put $350,000 into his race. He founded Orion Investment Co. in 1981.

John Weiler, a Peveley sales manager and former candidate for governor, has not reported raising or spending any money.

Democrat Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon, of Jefferson City, the incumbent governor of Missouri, will face two relatively unknown candidates Aug. 7. Nixon has $7.6 million in the bank for his campaign and has been courting independent and Republican voters by touting spending cuts, a balanced budget and a no-tolerance policy for tax hikes.

The two other Democratic candidates are William Campbell, of California, and Clay Thunderhawk, of Ellington. Not much biographical information is available on either candidate.

Polls suggest that Nixon, 56, a former state senator, four-term Missouri attorney general and frequent visitor to the Joplin area in the wake of the May 22, 2011 tornado, will be the party’s nominee and is considered a “solid favorite” in his re-election bid.

Two Libertarians are vying to be their party’s nominee.

Recent polls show that Spence, the presumptive GOP front-runner, has opened a substantial lead over Randles.

Spence, 54, of Ladue, has never held an elective office and has never been active in Missouri politics. His key campaign theme is job growth. He has been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. In one of his recent TV ads, Spence says: “We’ll create the jobs Jay Nixon promised but didn’t deliver.”

Spence sold his plastics company in 2010 for a reported $260 million. His war chest is among the largest of any Missouri Republican running for state office.

Spence served on the board of St. Louis-based Reliance Bancshares when it decided it couldn’t repay $40 million from the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP — a decision denounced by both Randles and Democrats.

Spence’s economic platform seeks to make Missouri a right-to-work state, where union dues cannot be a condition of employment. Spence has pledged to “take personal charge” of the Department of Economic Development, which he says has lacked steady leadership under Nixon.

“I will be our state’s No. 1 salesman,” Spence said.

Spence was arrested in a drunken-driving case in 2004 after attending a baseball game where he said he drank several beers. The state suspended his driver’s license for three months.

Spence and Randles were among those who spoke on July 23 at a candidate forum in Carthage, sponsored by the Carthage Lincoln Ladies.

Spence said, “We need someone with a business background to run the state. Missouri has a $24 billion budget — that makes it a business. It’s going to take someone from business to get people back to work in this state.’’

Among other priorities, he said he wants to boost Missouri manufacturing and make popular the phrase “Made in Missouri.”

Randles, 49, originally from Springdale, Ark., also has never held elective office. A graduate of Harvard Law School and an ordained minister, Randles in campaign speeches has said he aims to enact a comprehensive reform of Missouri government. He is anti-abortion, pro-gun rights and supports right-to-work laws. He wants to replace Missouri’s income tax with a so-called fair tax.

At the recent candidate forum in Carthage, he said state programs must be aimed at more than just business, because excessive regulation and current policies are “suffocating the ability to create jobs in the state.”

He said judicial reform also is needed, and Missouri must become a right-to-work state. He also wants “massive regulatory reform” that would strip agencies of their power to make new rules. He wants to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with an expanded sales tax. Randles also wants to require the partisan election of circuit judges in Missouri’s biggest cities, ditching the current approach in which the governor appoints judges from a slate of finalists submitted by a special committee.

The Libertarian candidates are Jim Higgins, of Creve Coeur, a computer systems analyst and former vice chairman of the party, and Leonard Steinman, of Jefferson City, a former salvage dealer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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