Kenny Hulshof
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Kenny Hulshof

Date: October 20, 2008
By: Valerie Insinna
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Republican candidate for governor stresses his rural, agricultural roots. Such a rural background that he describes his transition to the University of Missouri in Columbia as a"mini-culture shock."

It was in 1976 that Kenny Hulshof moved from his family's farm in Bertrand in 1976 to begin college at MU as an agricultural economy student.

"There was 65 in my high school graduating class," Hulshof said of his home in rural southeast Missouri community. "In my government class or my econ class there were more students than in my hometown or the nearest town."

Although Attorney General Jay Nixon's gubernatorial campaign has tried to paint Hulshof as a Washington outsider, Hulshof is adamant that he's nothing more than a chameleon -- adapting to a new environment while still retaining his hometown values.

"Throughout my academic career and my professional career, it's been about the ability to pick up, go to a completely new place, sink your roots down and hopefully have success there," Hulshof said.

When the director of MU' agricultural economics department convinced Hulshof to take an internship in Washington, Hulshof was thrust, again, into a new environment.

The internship under Sen. Tom Eagleton, D-Mo., would be the catalyst that sparked Hulshof's interest in politics.

"I was so green. You know, a kid from the farm in Washington, D.C.," he said. "But it was a really positive experience that helped to shake me out of my little world."

After graduating from MU in 1980, he picked up and moved once again to the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he obtained his law degree.

Hulshof worked as a special prosecutor for the state attorney general's office from 1989-1996. It was during his time in court, where he helped convict over 60 felony trials, that he says he learned about integrity.

"Leadership really requires unshakable moral clarity," he said. "You cannot compromise your principles of right and wrong."

When he entered Congress in 1996 as the representative of Missouri's 9th congressional district in central Missouri, Hulshof said he put his principle of moral clarity into practice. Whether or not he was able to come to a shared conclusion with the rest of Congress, he said he endeavored to never compromise his own values.

Hulshof's battle for the Congressional position had been hard-won.  When Republican nominee Rick Hardy dropped out of the race due to heath problems in 1994, Hulshof saw an opportunity to dive headfirst into politics.

"It was sort of unusual then, to just jump into a Congressional race," Hulshof said. "I ran hard, but lost that year, and then came back two years later and beat a 20-year incumbent," Hulshof said of his victory over Rep. Harold Volkmer, D-Hannibal.

Hulshof said his greatest influence has been his parents.

"You don't realize until you're a little older all of the sacrifices your family makes," he said. "Just the chance to go to college and finish college. I was the only one in my immediate family that got to do that."

When his father, whom he describes as the wisest, most-hardworking person he has ever known, died in 2002, Hulshof decided to keep running the family farm in the Bootheel.

"At the time I thought about running for statewide office then, running for governor back then," he said. "But I thought it was more important to put personal ambitions or goals aside to try to make sure we hung onto our family business. The most important thing I could think of is to keep that legacy for my two little girls."

His family has been a visible presence throughout his campaign, his daughters, Casey and Hanna, appearing in campaign ads, and wife Renee Hulshof appeared along with him at a press conference after the Oct. 18 debate.

Hulshof said his family is the light of his life and that he hopes he is teaching his daughters about the values of respect and fair play during this election.

"We're trying through this campaign, you know with all the tough ads, they see them on television," he said. "And we try to help them understand that this is part of the process. We try to keep a very positive atmosphere at home and as stressful as a campaign can be, we try to keep that stress out."

When asked what characteristics of his own he did not want his daughters to emulate, Hulshof became sober and pensive.

"Boy, that's a tough one," he said. "Sometimes I think I get a little too immersed in details. It's tough for me to trust the people around you to delegate things. Sometimes I'm like the bottleneck when things need to move through because I have to make sure I look at every single thing."

"I hope they would learn to have confidence in those people around them. To trust their judgment," he laughs. "Because sometimes that's hard for me to do."

Hulshof shows an obvious enjoyment when talking about his rock and country band, The Second Amendments -- his countenance slides into conversational, almost playful ease.

Since he started campaigning for governor, Hulshof said he has been unable to drum for the bi-partisan Congressional rock band that also includes Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Thaddeus McConnor, R-Mich., Jon Porter, R-Nev., and Dave Weldon, R-Fla.

Hulshof said the band has been a great way to have fun and raise money for charity.

Plus, he gets to jam with famous musicians and play Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" on the White House lawn.

"Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter (of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers) has sat in with us on a number of occasions." Hulshof said. "I told him when I first met him that I taught myself to play drums by listening to 8-track tapes of The Beatles.  And he shook his head and said, 'Man, you've just made me feel old.'"

Although his band's members support the gun rights provided in the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment , the band stays away from talking about issues that could cause arguments.

"Our slogan is 'No politics, just rock 'n' roll'," Hulshof said. "One of our members, Jon Porter, play keyboards from Las Vegas.  And so we can't talk about taking nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain because that's in his backyard."

The Second Amendments went to Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan to play for the troops during the 2002 holiday season, an experience Hulshof said was one of the highlights of his Congressional career.

During a stay in Kabul, Afghanistan, the band's flight was delayed for a day because of heavy snow. The band decided to play for a crowd of National Guardsmen that included some Missourians.

"We played in this makeshift tent," Hulshof said. "We didn't even have all of our music gear; it didn't make it.  But we scraped together a drum kit and the sound system wasn't great, but just the response!"  

Later, each member of the band was presented with an American flag that had flown over the base.

"That is something I very much cherish," he said.  "A couple of years later it turned out that a suicide bomber tried to get onto that same base and caused a lot of destruction. That struck me too, because I'd actually stayed in the barracks there for those couple of days."

Hulshof said if he becomes governor, he'd consider forming a new band in Missouri.

"It's a great outlet," he said.  "And if your expectations are low, I can meet those expectations as far as music is concerned. But you have to have these outside interests in order to be normal."

 


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