Smart Decision 2012 Candidate Profile: Gubernatorial Candidate Dave Spence
ST. LOUIS - KOMU 8 News spoke with gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence as part of our Smart Decision 2012 election series. A native of St. Louis, Spence is a Republican candidate who hopes to face Governor Jay Nixon in the November election.
Spence is a newcomer to politics as he has never held a public office. Spence graduated from MU in 1981 with a degree in home economics. In 1985, Spence bought the Alpha Plastics company. Spence told KOMU 8 News the company started with about 15 employees and now employs about 8,000 people. He was born and raised in the St. Louis area where he and his wife live with their four children.
Tell us a little bit of background. Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run for governor.
"Well, I'm a seventh generation Missourian, and I decided to run for governor, and the fact that Missouri's economic engine is not going and we are falling behind, and I started to look at life through my kids eyes. I have four kids, 14 and 19, and I looked at it and said what are we going to do to regenerate jobs, how are we going to keep that generation here, and I thought we were doing a very poor job of getting Missouri back to work, and also getting people to move here and expanding our economy."
What makes you the best qualified candidate for governor?
"Well I think the world is starving and certainly Missouri is starving for real world leadership, people that have actually done something, been out in the real world, have taken a company from 15 employees to 800 employees through 27 years of hard work, leadership, making tough decisions, and I would say the school of "hard knocks" so to speak, and I think people are tired of the career politician model, and I think they are tired of people that talk in theory but don't get things done, and as we know in the real world, you either get things done or you don't succeed.
What is the biggest issue facing Missouri right now?
"By far and away the biggest issue is the economy and the uncertainty out there, and with decisions made by our state government on Obama Care, or that lacking, that percolating out there what we are going to do. Yesterday the Supreme Court kicked out malpractice caps, which is going to effect every doctor in our state, it's going to effect how we pay insurance, and we just sent so many mixed messages on religious liberties, auto-tax loop hole fix. We just have so many question marks out there that I just don't think we are making good decisions in this state, and we are starved for leadership. I think people want to be optimistic, but they're struggling with it because of so many things, whether it be the drop that's certainly out of our control, but how many jobs have left our state, how many are coming in, and it's appalling where we find ourselves."
So what's your plan to bring more jobs to Missouri?
"Well, there's not one switch you flip, let's clarify that. The state government doesn't create jobs, but it needs to create the atmosphere for success, and so really what we need to do is, we need extensive tort reform, so we know Missouri has the backs of all businesses, whether small or large, we need ethics reform in our state to have confidence in our elected officials, but also our department of economic development has been asleep at the switch the last three years. Three directors in three years. I will take personal responsibility for that and hire someone to go side-by-side with me, that's what I've been doing for 27 years is building a business, and I know what businesses need to succeed, and what they really need is less government, and they need to know there is a clear runway for growth, and we just don't send that message in Missouri."
Describe Missouri's economic focus for the future and how you plan to take us there.
"Well I think people always want to be something they're not, let's concentrate on who we are. We have a 14-billion dollar AG industry, we have a big timber industry, between University of Missouri System and Wash-U, we're fifth most in the states for grants, so we have a natural life sciences, plant sciences, animal sciences, business, so it spawns a lot of growth, but we need to keep those people here. We have good higher education, we have good Interstates, we have good rivers, we have good population centers. Let's concentrate on what we do well, versus something, getting into a bidding war for something that we will lose, and so we've got a lot of great bones in our state, we just need to do more of them, and the number one issue we need to get going is we need to get 250-thousand Missourians going from an unemployment check to a pay check, and there's a great reversal of fortunes in our state by doing that."
The state's facing a lot of budget crunches in the coming years, how would you plan to meet those challenges?
"Well again it's tough, because in my opinion we are 500-million dollars short. We go in and out of the rainy day fund, and it's a matter of priorities, what are the priorities of the state. We need to review the tax credit situation, are they good for Missouri tax payers, is it return on investment, we need to look at everything we do as a state, lift up every rock, look at every department, everything we do, do we do it well, can we do it better, or should we do it at all, and I think it's a matter of we have not had a business person run our state since 1937. It's time. We have a 24-billion dollar budget, you can't tell me there aren't some savings out there, but again it's a business mind, it's fresh energy, it's a fresh set of eyes, and look at everything we do as a state, and get good people surrounding you. It's not about one person. It's a whole system, and the governors truly CEO the state, and we need to surround ourselves with good people with the right intentions and the right work ethics."
How would you work with the State Legislature to get some of those things done?
"Well I already have some what. I've gotten to know a lot of people in the House, in the Senate, and have gotten around to all 114 counties, and I feel I have a good pulse of the state. I have no issue with it, and again I think you need to work with versus against the Legislature, but in my administration the number one priorities is what's going to get Missouri's economic engine going and get Missouri working again, and I think some of these issues that we get sidetracked on need to be put to the side until we accomplish them, and I get that feeling from both the House leadership and the Senate leadership that that is important to them as well."
So as the Obama healthcare reform law goes into effect, how should the state of Missouri react to that?
"Well I think it's going to be the biggest mistake in the history of the country if it goes through. We already have 16-trillion dollars in debt on the national basis, and it confounds me when someone says, 'you're going to turn down federal money?' Who's the federal money? It's us. We are already 16-trillion dollars in debt. What, is 20-trillion too much, or have you decided when enough is enough. I don't think Missouri should help participate in the bankruptcy of America. First of all, we already know there's a problem with this country, we know there's a problem, but that's usually when America is at its best, and I think it's time to get all the people together at one point, knowing there's a situation, our backs against the wall, but we cannot go with a federal base solution. We don't do the post office well, we don't do Fanny May - Freddy Mack well. There's a lot of things we don't do well, and I don't think a federal solution is the answer."
What will be different in Missouri once you've served your first term in office?
"We're about 50th or 49th in every category from jobs to higher education, to K through 12 funding, to 45-thousand kids unaccredited. Really what I'd like to do is restore confidence and restore the lines of communication where when the governor of our state speaks, people know they're hearing the truth, and I'd like to restore confidence whether you're republican, democrat or independent, that there's a trust factor there and that we can actually hear the truth and what we need to do, because I really think people have the best of intentions to get Missouri going again. You know the people that don't, I really don't have time for. Let's get all these people with the right energy and the positive energy going in the right direction, and let's get Missouri going from a lagger to a leader. Wouldn't it be nice to not be last in jobs, wouldn't it be nice to not have close to a million people on food stamps in our state, wouldn't it be nice to restore higher education cuts, and it wouldn't it be nice if we created an opportunity for the next generation to be able to stay here, and wouldn't it be nice if our legacy wasn't where we are at right now?"
You made news a while back at the start of your campaign whenever you said you graduated from Mizzou with an economics degree, while it was home economics, you kind of caught some flack for that. How has your campaign rebounded since then?
"Well it was a seven day phenomenon. One of our staffers made a mistake on a piece of campaign literature. It was out for seven days, and I'll tell you how it happened. We just sponsored an entrepreneur alliance program in the Trulaske School of Business. One of our staffers just assumed I had an economics degree. It was brought to my attention. I've never denied the degree I have, and we quickly changed it, but you know that's a democrat distraction, and this race is about a referendum on what Jay Nixon is doing as governor, and when you have the deplorable statistics that we had in Missouri, of course they want to distract from what the truth is."
You've self-financed your campaign to about 3-million dollars, and some people think the politicians shouldn't be able to self-finance their campaigns. Why do you think it's okay to self-finance this campaign?
"Well let's look at it. Would you rather have a person with the best of intentions who was trying to get Missouri back on track financing with their own campaign, or would you rather have special interests like labor unions and plaintiff's attorneys influence, and that's who's dictates policy in our state with our governor, so in my mind common sense says, hey if someone's been successful, and successful because they've been a Missourian and the people they grew up with and we've had many blessings as a success, but with those blessings and success comes a great responsibility, and I feel it's my responsibility to help get Missouri back on track with help of all Missourians, so I have no issue with it, and to me it's the right thing to do."
You've never held an elected office before. How can your experience in the business world overcome some of your inexperience in the political sphere?
"You know I think it's a positive actually. I think the days of the career politician need to end. Look at the mess we are in, both on the federal and state level, and I think that needs to go. I think people who are real world leaders need to step up and say enough is enough, and that's what I'm doing, and you know I think my experience is more relevant than 20 years of a voting record or being 26 years on a Missouri payroll like our governor. I mean I'd rather have real world experience and street smarts every single day than a career politician trying to dictate what's right for us when they've never been in the real world."
You've answered all my questions. Anything else you'd like to add?
"No, you know, I'm a refreshing alternative. It's a fresh set of eyes, fresh energy. I want to get people in our state fired up about Missouri again. We've lost that edge, and we have a lot to be proud of in our state, and this is a time whether you're republican, democrat or independent, to put our differences aside, raise our level of communication and get Missouri going, because I feel we are rearranging the chairs in the Titanic, and we need to get away from the iceberg in our state, and we really have a lot to be proud of, but it's time to get Missouri communicating and going in the right direction."