Candidates spar during GOP governor debate
COLUMBIA - A debate between Republican candidates for governor grew contentious at times Thursday night. (Watch the complete debate and post-debate analysis below.)
Candidates strayed away from topics several times while answering questions on topics such as bringing jobs to Missouri, funding state roads, race relations, university funding, term limits and campaign reform.
Candidates included St. Louis businessman John Brunner, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and former Missouri Speaker of the House Catherine Hanaway.
When asked a viewer question about minimum wage, Hanaway quickly swerved to the topic of one of Greitens's campaign donors who was accused of sexual assault in Silicon Valley. She said Greitens should have to give that money to abuse shelters for women.
In response, Greitens said Hanaway's actions were "desperate." He said decisions should be made only when the facts of the case are determined. He then went on to question Hanaway's support for concealed carry.
"She was against concealed carry in 2002. She was against concealed carry in 1999," Greitens said. "Her record on protecting your Second Amendment rights was so bad that the NRA gave her a D - a rating lower than Chris Koster."
Hanaway said the NRA endorsed her as the "best choice" last time she ran for office, and she said the concealed carry law wouldn't have happened without her. She then returned to Greitens's donor case.
"Nice diversionary tactic, Eric," Hanaway said. "But I don’t want to walk away from this issue of an abused woman that you won’t take her word for it."
Later in the debate, when asked a viewer question about marijuana legalization, Kinder returned to the accusations of Greitens's donor.
Greitens responded by bringing up Kinder's previous involvement in a strip club scandal, and said Kinder had no room to discuss "tabloid" sexual accusations.
Here are the candidates' responses to other topics throughout the debate:
Candidates first discussed their plans for bringing high-paying jobs to Missouri. Although the unemployment rate was at its lowest since June, 2001, the state's poverty level was above 15 percent.
"We need strong leadership to take Missouri on a U-turn from the course we're on," Kinder said. "We are surrounded by tax-cutting states, and we need to get with the program."
Brunner highlighted his history with job creation in his response.
"As a CEO in Missouri to other CEO's, I gotta bring business back to this state," Brunner said.
Hanaway and Greitens instead said it's not up to the government to create jobs.
Hanaway said "hard-working Missourians" create jobs and government regulations were "crushing" small businesses. She also said Right-to-Work would benefit Missourian workers because it would increase wages and job positions faster.
Greitens added the government must create the conditions for job growth.
"We need to simplify the tax code and make it fair for people around Missouri," Greitens said.
Another topic for debate was the state of Missouri's highway system. A 17-cent-per-gallon gas tax helps fund the transportation system, but it hasn't increased in 20 years.
Brunner said he didn't intend to increase taxes or tolls to help increase road funding, but he said Missouri roads are "so far behind," they need to be a top priority for lawmakers.
Hanaway said Missourians don't trust MoDOT to spend their tax dollars efficiently. She recommended a three-part plan for highway funding that would track spending. The measures would include MoDOT is spending the money efficiently, making sure dollars collected in the gas tax are spent on roads and bridges, and possibly shifting the taxing priorities and increasing the gas tax.
Greitens said he wouldn't raise taxes for Missourians, but the solution to highway funds wasn't "magic."
"We have a major problem with roads and bridges here in Missouri," Greitens said. "This requires a leader who will change business as usual in Jefferson City."
Kinder said he was in favor of regional transportation districts in the state.
Another area addressed by candidates was race relations in Missouri. The topic gained national attention after the events in both Ferguson and the November protests on the University of Missouri's campus.
Greitens said his history as a Navy SEAL and his support of law enforcement officers could've prevented some of the results of the Fergsuon protests.
"I went out to Ferguson," Greitens said. "The great tragedy of Ferguson was having a leader who didn’t address it with calm and clarity...we could've had peace by the second night."
Kinder said the actions of Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster in Ferguson was “the worst betrayal of leadership” and a reason for failed race relations. He said unification starts with supporting law enforcement.
Hanaway also questioned the governor's leadership.
"Nixon gave an open invitation for rioters from all over the country to come to Ferguson," Hanaway said. "Part of the problem is that he didn't have relations with that community."
Brunner said he didn't need to visit Ferguson to see what was happening.
"It’s been happening for 30 years," Brunner said. "Dealing with racism is about being engaged and caring."
Greitens, who had previously been silent on the University of Missouri protests, said the actions were a result of failed leadership.
He said what happened on campus was about a small number of people on campus saying “today, life on campus is too tough."
"If you’re concerned with social justice then go out a do something about it," Greitens said.
UM System funding
On a similar note, candidates discussed how they would address funding for the University of Missouri if elected as governor. Lawmakers have been considering a $7.6 million cut to the university's system.
Brunner said cuts would be justified. He said taxpayers want to see more students learning and less protesting.
Hanaway said it would be difficult to rebuild the state's flagship institution until leadership was accountable to donors and taxpayers. She said she would ensure that, "teachers will teach, scholarship athletes will play and students will attend class without 'muscle' being called in.'”
Hanaway previously said scholarship students or athletes shouldn't have the right to boycott their responsibilities if they disagree with campus policy. This was a contested topic in November when a number of the university's football players boycotted activities during the protests on campus.
Kinder said he would fight for the university's budget.
The candidates also touched on term limits in the legislature. Some lawmakers had recently proposed the idea of adjusting the limits so legislators could serve longer for more continuity. The candidates all said they disagreed to a certain extent.
Kinder said he had supported term limits for Missouri government officials for decades, but he doesn't support implementing limits on officials who don't currently have them.
Hanaway and Greitens said they support term limits for all officials.
"Diapers and politicians should be changed frequently and for the same reason," Greitens said, quoting Mark Twain.
When addressed with the question of campaign reform and political gifts, Hanaway said she "absolutely supports" a ban on all gifts from lobbyists. She received $750,000 from a single donor in her campaign, but she said she was transparent about it. She said she wanted to expose what happens behind closed doors.
"Sunlight and transparency will clean the system," Hanaway said.
Greitens has received a large amount of his campaign funds from resources outside of Missouri. When asked how that plays into representing Missourians in his campaign, he said strong conservatives want to invest in a campaign like his, and he said he was able to make those connections within the state, as well.
Brunner was asked about his alignment with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. He said no matter how he answered, he would upset half the room.
Kinder has been criticized for hotel bills in the past. When asked about limiting the use of taxpayer money for travel expenses, he said he wrote the biggest personal check he had ever written, $53,000, to remove any taint from the scandal.