McCaskill urges outstate debate with Holden

Friday, July 23, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State Auditor Claire McCaskill on Thursday renewed her challenge to Gov. Bob Holden to debate her in outstate Missouri prior to the Aug. 3 Democratic gubernatorial primary election. However, a Holden spokesman called a third debate in the race "extremely unlikely."

Holden and McCaskill squared off Monday in Kansas City and Tuesday in St. Louis. Both televised debates were carried live in several other Missouri media markets.

During the Kansas City event, McCaskill called on Holden to show his commitment to rural Democrats by agreeing to a debate outside of Missouri's two main urban areas. She repeated that sentiment Thursday during a conference call with reporters from rural Missouri media outlets.

"For too long the Democratic Party has believed that there are no Democrats outside of St. Louis and Kansas City," McCaskill told reporters.

McCaskill said that if any ruralMissouri community wants to sponsor a debate in the final week before the election, she will be there.

Holden campaign spokesman Caleb Weaver said insufficient time remains to arrange another debate, noting, "It takes weeks to put these things together."

Southeast Missouri State University held a gubernatorial debate between Holden and Republican Jim Talent prior to the 2000 general election and has actively pursued other high-profile debates. However, Southeast board of regents president Don Dickerson said it likely would not be possible for the university to put together a quality event in the few days remaining before this year's primary.

Donation complaint

Also, McCaskill complained Thursday that donors to a not-for-profit group that promotes Missouri's economic development are not public. But within an hour, state officials released to The Associated Press the names of contributors and the amounts given.

The Hawthorn Foundation was established in 1981 as a not-for-profit group to help with economic development efforts, from wooing new businesses to marketing Missouri products overseas.

The foundation pays for such things as trips abroad and receptions for visiting dignitaries.

It also pays for some business promotion activities by governors. For example, the foundation paid for Holden and others to travel to Mexico in 2002 to promote Missouri products.

The Hawthorn Foundation depends on donations, largely from businesses, and operates from a state office building, where two state employees spend part of their time working for it.

During the recent debates, the candidates touted their visions for improving public education, commitment to core Democratic Party values and fitness to lead the state. McCaskill said important questions related to agriculture and the special transportation, health care and education needs of rural Missouri went unasked by the urban media panelists.

"That's part of the problem when you have panels of questioners from St. Louis and Kansas City," McCaskill said. "Those types of questions aren't on their minds."

Weaver said that as governor and a candidate for office Holden has been actively involved in promoting rural issues.

"He wants to engage as many people as possible, not just in cities but across the state," Weaver said.

The two other Democratic candidates for governor, Cole County Auditor Jim LePage and Jeffery Emrick of suburban Kansas City, were not invited to participate in the recent debates.

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