Kinder, others consider gubernatorial run

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

See full coverage of Gov. Blunt's annoucement

The surprise announcement that Gov. Matt Blunt will not seek re-election has thrown the race wide-open for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau became one of the first to announce his interest.

In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, Kinder said he has been a "change agent my entire career."

While he will make a formal announcement in the coming weeks, Kinder said, his announcement indicated he was leaning toward the race. "I am the right person to deliver the positive change Missourians deserve," he said.

The issues facing Missourians, Kinder said, require leadership to provide a strong economy to deliver new, higher paying jobs, "a world-class education and affordable and accessible health care."

Kinder was elected to his current job in 2004 after 12 years in the Missouri Senate, where he served as both GOP floor leader and president pro tem.

Two other prominent Southeast Missouri Republicans did not rule out possible bids for the job. Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton of Marble Hill, Mo., had shelved his plans to run for statewide office in December but the announcement from Blunt could revive them.

And U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, said she must consider her options.

Jetton told reporters in Jefferson City that he had planned to complete this year in office and become a lobbyist, but said Blunt's announcement "changes everything." He said he would discuss his own prospects, including a run for governor, with his wife.

Emerson issued a statement praising Blunt as "a strong leader for our state, and he has a record of which he can be extremely proud. Missourians can be equally proud to have a governor who is dedicated to serving the people and our state in ambitious, forward-thinking ways."

In a statement relayed through spokesman Jeff Connor, Emerson noted she had considered running for statewide office in the past, "but this news comes as a such a surprise I am going to have to take a moment and think about it before making any kind of decision."

Lloyd Smith, Emerson's longtime political adviser and the manager of former senator Jim Talent's unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2006, said he had talked with Kinder, Emerson, Talent and U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia, about the now-open race for the nomination.

"I think if we can coalesce behind a good candidate early on, and no more than a couple of people run, we'll be OK," he said. "But we've got to raise $12 million and we've got only 300 days to do it."

Kinder would gain immediate strong support from his home area if he ran, Cape Girardeau County Collector Diane Diebold said. Diebold is vice-chairwoman of the county Republican Central Committee.

"I think it would be excellent," she said. "I have always been a very big fan of Peter."

Kinder's strength, Diebold said, is that he is clear about his political positions. "When you hear what he has to say about an issue, there is no double talk," she said.

Jetton, she said, would have to overcome doubts about his political judgment, specifically raising the issue of his actions toward Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, during a dispute over a provision placed in an anti-crime bill in 2006.

While Diebold said she likes Jetton's politics and would support him as the nominee, "I don't know if he has the statesmanship at this level of his career."

Other local Republicans expressed surprise at the announcement. John Mehner, president and chief executive officer of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, had been appointed earlier in the day to a Republican seat on the Missouri Development Finance Board.

"About my only reaction right now is surprise," Mehner said. "Basically what he said is he accomplished what he set out to do and has things turned in the right direction."

John Voss, county GOP chairman, said he was shocked when he heard of the announcement. He said he thinks "Gov. Blunt has done an admirable job of restoring the state financial picture. When he came into office it was on the magnitude of a billion in debt. He turned that deficit into a surplus. It took making tough choices."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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