Blunt spending more nights in Springfield than in capital

Sunday, October 2, 2005

By David A. Lieb

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A bit of a din rises as dozens of field-tripping fourth-graders and out-of-town tourists shuffle through the stately sitting and dining rooms of the Governor's Mansion -- right about the time the governor's baby typically is taking a nap.

But no need to worry. Gov. Matt Blunt and his family are gone -- again.

On this particular day, like many, the Blunts were in Springfield, staying in their private home while the governor was conducting a couple of hometown news conferences.

Since taking office in January, Blunt has spent more than half his nights in the comfort of his Springfield home and less than one-third of them in the governor's taxpayer-funded residence in Jefferson City.

"I think of the Governor's Mansion more as a public facility than a private home," Blunt said. "I don't think Missourians expect you to hole up in the Governor's Mansion and remain in an ivory tower."

Taxpayers spend the same amount on the mansion whether the governor is there or not. The executive chef and housekeeper still work. The Capitol Police still guard the 134-year-old Renaissance revival-style home filled with artwork and antiques. And the Department of Natural Resources still keeps up the grounds.

But a couple of highway patrol officers assigned to the governor's 10-person security detail must travel with him on the roughly 140-mile trip to Springfield, as they do everywhere he goes. And the patrol, which chauffeurs the governor, must pay for the gasoline at prices above what its budget projected.

The state Democratic Party suggests Missourians should be alarmed at the Republican governor's tendency to travel home.

"The taxpayers are paying more and getting less," asserted Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti. "Having the state executive of Missouri driving back and forth between Jefferson City and Springfield multiple times a week is an inefficient use of our governor's time, especially when the taxpayers are footing that bill."

At the request of the AP, Blunt's office provided a list showing where he has traveled and slept every day since taking office Jan. 10. Through the end of September, Blunt had spent 140 nights in Springfield and 81 in Jefferson City. That translates to 53 percent of his nights in Springfield and less than 31 percent in the capital. The rest were spent traveling for work, politics or pleasure.

Tabulating the public cost of Blunt's travels to Springfield is somewhat difficult. The patrol spent about $8,453 on Springfield hotel rooms for the governor's security detail from January through June. Based on the agency's daily meal allowance, it likely spent around $3,800 on Springfield food during that time.

But the patrol's overall expense for guarding Blunt -- $33,547 -- was just $46 higher than for Democratic Gov. Bob Holden during his first six months in office. That's because Holden's out-of-state travel expenses doubled Blunt's, while Blunt's in-state expenses doubled Holden's.

The cost of gas is another matter and is not included in those figures.

Even at its discounted rate of $2 a gallon, the patrol pays about $28 for each one-way trip the governor makes between Springfield and Jefferson City. But Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Chris Ricks said he was unable to provide a total for the governor's gas costs, because it was paid from a general agency account.

Blunt certainly is not the only governor to prefer his private home. Most recently, Govs. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, and John Ashcroft, a Republican, both liked to leave the mansion on the weekends -- Carnahan to Rolla and Ashcroft to the Lake of the Ozarks. But a statistical comparison of their time at the mansion is not possible, because governors' daily schedules are not among the official documents saved at the State Archives.

In contrast to Blunt, Holden spent nearly every night at the mansion. The Holdens liked Jefferson City so much that they decided to stay there when Holden's term ended.

"The mansion was our home," Holden said. "You're in a fishbowl in the mansion, but the people in Jefferson City, by and large, see that as part of their community, and they were very, very hospitable to us."

But "every governor's got to do what they feel is comfortable," Holden added.

When in Springfield, Blunt keeps in regular contact with his staff at the Capitol. Computers, e-mail, cell phones and Blackberries have made it technologically possible to govern from almost anywhere.

Blunt said he has no intention of moving out of the Governor's Mansion and turning it into a museum.

But he adds, "I bet I'm more productive in Springfield than I am in Jefferson City. There's just not as many distractions."

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