The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 7, 2012

ANALYSIS: Lieutenant governor incumbent facing heated contest

Lager, Kinder use ads to attack records

Republican candidates for one of the most low-profile offices in state government are engaged in what is becoming one of the most high-profile political clashes this summer.

State Sen. Brad Lager, of Savannah, is the leading candidate challenging incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder for the GOP nomination, and is giving Kinder his biggest primary challenge since being elected in 2004.

When Lager launched his campaign late last year, Kinder was readying to start his own campaign for governor. The “Kinder for Governor” T-shirts were being printed and the announcement event had been scheduled, but a week before he planned to kick off the campaign, Kinder decided against a run for governor.

In the months leading up to the announcement, Kinder faced repeated rounds of negative press coverage critical of his use of taxpayer funds for travel and detailing his alleged relationship with a former adult entertainer. Kinder downplayed the allegations, and ultimately paid back $50,000 in official travel bills from personal funds.

When Kinder announced he would forgo a gubernatorial bid and instead run for re-election as lieutenant governor, the political common wisdom was that the Republican candidates who had already announced their campaigns — including Lager — would back out of the race. But Lager stayed, and his campaign is hoping to reignite criticism of Kinder leading up to the Aug. 7 primary election.

Lager’s campaign has released two TV ads — both of which target Southwest Missouri — criticizing Kinder’s missed votes in the state Senate as lieutenant governor and his use of official state travel resources.

“Who’s the real conservative for lieutenant governor?” asks Lager’s first TV ad. “Not Peter Kinder.”

In an interview in Joplin late last month, Kinder denounced the ad as “misleading.” The ad said that Kinder was “forced” to pay back the $50,000 in official travel payments. Kinder said that is not true.

“There was no legal requirement to pay a nickel back,” Kinder said. “I did it out of my own pocket — the biggest check I’ve ever written — to remove any taint from my name. It is a shame that this is silly season and certain ridiculous allegations get aired.”

Nearly two weeks after Lager’s ad began airing across the state, the Kinder campaign fired back with an ad of its own, critical of Lager for voting in favor of a Republican budget that accepted federal funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus.

“Lager dodged the hard choices we need to make the state live within its means,” the ad said, stressing later that Kinder has been a “champion for conservative causes.”

For conservatives — particularly in Missouri — almost nothing is more of a pressing concern than the new federal health care law. In the Republican-heavy primary election in 2010, voters rejected the individual mandate provision of the law upheld by the Supreme Court. On the November ballot this year, voters will decide whether the governor should be allowed to establish state-level health insurance exchanges, as required by the health care law.

On Tuesday — just before the end of the business day ahead of the Fourth of July holiday — Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, D-Mo., announced language for the ballot measure, which stated, in part: “Shall Missouri law be amended to deny” Missourians “the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute?”

Republicans — including Kinder and Lager — were immediately critical of the language, and asserted that it does not meet the requirement of a 2003 law that ballot statements “fairly and accurately explain” what a vote would represent. Lager asked the governor and legislative leaders to call a special session of the state Legislature to opt out of all provisions of the health care law.

On Thursday, Kinder publicly denounced Lager’s suggestion as “completely unrealistic and irrelevant,” and, instead, announced that he would challenge the ballot language in court.

At a campaign stop in Joplin, Lager said he believes the health care law will not be stopped in the courtroom, making a subtle jab at Kinder’s current lawsuit, challenging the health care law’s individual mandate.

“My solution is one that can actually happen,” Lager said, “rather than these lawsuits that are filed that get dismissed and really do nothing other than they are political stunts by elected officials.”

In response to criticism of the ballot, Ryan Hobart, communications director for the secretary of state’s office, said the office is confident that the ballot language will hold up in court.

“This office has always followed our legal obligation to provide Missourians with fair and sufficient summaries of ballot initiatives, and this summary is no different,” Hobart said.

Unlike a ballot issue derived by initiative petition, this measure afforded the Legislature the opportunity to write the ballot language, although that was left to the secretary of state’s office.

On the ballot

Brad Lager and Peter Kinder will appear on the Republican ballot along with Mike Carter and Charles Kullmann. Eight Democrats — including front-runners Susan Montee, Judy Baker and Sara Lampe — are seeking their party’s nomination for the seat.

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