Lieutenant Governor Debate
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Lieutenant Governor Debate

Date: September 12, 2008
By: Joel Walsh
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - About the only thing of agreement in the first debate for Missouri lieutenant governor was the importance of the office.

Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Rep. Sam Page, D-St. Louis County, faced off in Columbia at a debate sponsored by the Missouri Press Association.

The constitution assigns the lieutenant governor only two major tasks.  He serves as governor in case of the disability or death of the governor.  The last time a governor died in office was 2000, when Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson became governor after Gov. Mel Carnhanan's fatal plane crash.

The lieutenant governor also serves as the "president" of the Senate and votes in case of a tie.  Senate rules, however, strip the lieutenant governor of most of the major powers normally associated with a presiding officer.

"The lieutenant governor of Missouri has real responsibilities," Page said.  Page, an anesthesiologist and former Creve Coeur councilman, cited the second-in-command's advocacy role for seniors citizens, and the seat he holds on numerous board's and commissions and regarding economic development in the state.

Kinder, a former senator from Cape Girardeau, echoed Page's sentiments.  But from there, the two mainstream candidates' views diverged.

It did not take long for Kinder to take the offensive in his opening statements, and throughout the debate.  He and Page clashed on health care issues, state-subsidized economic incentives and the handling of open records requests. 

Libertarian Teddy Fleck, who sat between Kinder and Page at the debate, offered a viewpoint based on "lower taxes and smaller government."

Statutorily, as official advocate for the state and a member of the Missouri Rx Commission, Kinder said he successfully advocated for "several million dollars more" for the Senior Meals Program without the need for a tax increase. The program offers nutrition centers and home-delivered meals for older citizens across the state.

"Almost 180,000 Missourians are getting assistance for their monthly prescription drugs," he added, whereas, according to him, prescription drug support for seniors was non-existent several years ago.

Page shot back that he is the only candidate who fought health care cuts in 2005 that "took away health care for seniors, working families, people with disabilities and children."  Page was referring to the cuts in Medicaid the governor had urged the legislature to adopt that year.

Following the debate, he noted his bipartisan efforts to improve the Missouri Rx program by offering generic alternatives to prescription drug coverage.

The candidates took opposite positions on government financing for stadiums for professional sports team in relation to the lieutenant governor's seat on the Development Finance Board.

Kinder defended a proposal that would turn a dilapidated shopping mall in southeast Kansas City into office buildings and a new stadium for Kansas City's professional soccer team.  While in the Senate, Kinder had supported state funding to help construct the new baseball stadium in St. Louis for the Cardinals.

He praised the $30 million redevelopment project that, he said, would transform an "awful sinkhole of blight and crime" into a "wonderful, beautiful corporate campus" that would provide tourism and tax dollars for the state of Missouri.

Page countered, "I don't support public funds for sports stadiums." But Page said he does support economic incentives that lead to infrastructure improvements that otherwise would not have occurred.

Fleck said, living in Springfield, he should not have to pay for a stadium in urban centers of the state.

Regarding open records requests of both Page and Kinder, the candidates had conflicting stories on each other's willingness to cooperate with Missouri Sunshine Law.

Kinder accused Page of writing an official letter regarding eminent domain proceedings in Creve Coeur and then failing to release that letter, instead opting to forward the request to the clerk of the Missouri House of Representatives, where it was thwarted.

"Representative Page wants to use the Sunshine Law as a sword against any and all who might have the temerity to stand up to him, but when it's applied to him, we're going to reach for this bogus exception, which is against the way of legal opinion," Kinder said. " ... Sunshine law applies to all governmental bodies."

He said his office repeatedly complied with open records requests within the required 72 hours, including 3,000 pages in emails that had been requested by Page directly.      

Page, in turn, said that upon request he has released all documents in his possession, including a letter "identical" to what Kinder called into question, except for the recipient's name, which had been redacted.

He reiterated a call he made in July for Kinder to release government emails that were not made available by Gov. Matt Blunt.

The state attorney general has appointed a task force to investigate allegations that Blunt's staff destroy email records sought by the news media.  Blunt has refused to turn over the records, leading to a lawsuit by the task force.

Page said Kinder could have resolved the issue by simply releasing the records during those times that the governor was out of the state and Kinder held the powers of governor.

"If the lieutenant governor, as acting governor, can call out the National Guard, he can release the governor's emails," Page said Friday, referring to approximately 100 days over Kinder's term that he stepped in as acting governor.

In a rebuttal, Kinder called Page's request "a stunt."

Fleck offered his opinion that the Sunshine Law should apply to Missouri House and Senate members when a "government account email" is involved but that personal emails should be kept off-limits.

Given a chance to sum up his candidacy, Page said, "I'm running for lieutenant governor for the same reason I became a doctor Đ to help people."

"My priority is going to increase access to health care in Missouri, to protect Missouri jobs by carefully using economic incentives to businesses that create jobs and keep those jobs in Missouri."

In his closing remarks, Kinder characterized himself as an advocate of the Senior Meals Program, someone who will fight financial crimes on the elderly, a supporter of the Missouri Military Family Relief Fund and a catalyst for increased tourism and economic development dollars in the state.