State Capital Bureau
JEFFERSON CITY - The race for Missouri's next lieutenant governor was kicked off Thursday with an unusual first debate at Lincoln University. In a forum generally known for mudslinging and accusations, the four candidates on stage were downright complimentary of each other.
Libertarian Phil Horras praised his fellow candidates, highlighting their military service. "We all gave. I'm glad to be on the stage with people who are giving right now."
Each candidate spoke about his own family, though Reform candidate George Weber, a proud great-grandfather, trumped the rest by talking about his six grown children.
Even Democrat Joe Maxwell and Republican Wendell Bailey, who traded challenges on a few issues, never resorted to personal attacks. After surviving a particularly vicious primary against Rep. Gracia Backer, Maxwell said he found the debate "clean and refreshing."
Bailey went so far as to compliment Horras directly. "Phil, I think you're winning the hearts of many people here this evening."
Of course, behind the kind-hearted words stood four men with vastly different ideas. But their main differences were not about their plans for specific policies or initiatives. Rather, they were mostly concerned with how the office of lieutenant governor ought to be run -- and whether it should exist at all.
The lieutenant governor is the successor to the governor and the advocate of the elderly and young children in a number of state programs. He also has the power to break tie votes in the Senate, except on the final vote.
Weber was the only candidate who believes the office should remain exactly as it is. "It works," he said.
Maxwell argued that the lieutenant governor's role should be expanded within its current statutory mandate. "The lieutenant governor needs to do more," Maxwell said. He promised that, if elected, he would earn the nickname "overtime Maxwell".
Bailey took the idea of expanding the office a step further. "We need to reinvent the office," he said, though he did not go into specific plans for how to implement that promise. He suggested that a panel be convened to study the lieutenant governor's role and responsibilities.
The most vocal candidate for reforming the office was Horras, who promised to abolish the office if he is elected. "After you hire me, we can both fire me," quipped Horras, who believes that the post is redundant and is useful only as a stepping stone for career politicians.
The candidates also touched on casino profits' role in supporting education, the tobacco lawsuit settlement, and prescription drug costs.
The Green Party candidate and Natural Law Party candidate did not participate in the debate.