JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Responding to criticism from challenger Claire McCaskill that he is a frequent flier, Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's office released figures Tuesday showing he has taken fewer state airplane trips than other recent governors.
Holden flew on state planes on 335 occasions since taking office in January 2001 through the end of this June, according to the figures supplied by his office.
That compares to 347 trips during the first 3 1/2 years in office by Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan in the 1990s, and 420 flights during a similar period by Republican Gov. John Ashcroft in the 1980s, Holden's office said.
Holden's spokeswoman, Mary Still, said the other governors might have flown even more, because Holden's figures include flights he took on any state plane while Carnahan's and Ashcroft's figures include only flights taken on the plane designated for the governor.
"It looks to me like it's a very comparable use of the state airplane, Ashcroft a little bit more," Still said. "But that's about how often you need the state airplane if you're a governor of a state this size."
A McCaskill spokesman criticized the purpose of some of Holden's trips, suggesting they were more personal than official.
McCaskill has been running a TV ad showing an airplane circling around the outline of the state of Missouri while an announcer proclaims Holden is "taking over 300 taxpayer funded trips on the state airplane."
Holden has responded with his own TV ad. Looking into the camera, Holden declares McCaskill's criticism is wrong. "I have never used the state airplane for anything but state business -- like recruiting jobs for Missouri," Holden says in the ad.
McCaskill's campaign contended Tuesday that Holden's ad was itself misleading.
The McCaskill camp pointed to a June 2001 story by The Associated Press revealing Holden had flown to such things as an NCAA women's basketball tournament in St. Louis (which featured his alma mater, Southwest Missouri State University) and to a public speaking specialist in Kansas City before delivering his first State of the State speech.
"Those are the kind of things that make taxpayers raise their eyebrows, and they fly in the face of him saying he's never used it for anything other than state business," said McCaskill spokesman Glenn Campbell, adding: "I don't believe you would see Gov. McCaskill getting on a plane and heading to ball games saying that's official state business."
Although she was not Holden's spokeswoman at the time he flew to the basketball game, Still said Tuesday that the governor was "representing the state in support of the team." She said Holden's office has been careful to only use the plane for state business.
During his first few months in office, Holden flew on 77 days, compared to 47 days by Carnahan and 48 by Ashcroft during similar first-term periods. But Holden flew less frequently after that and later approved the sale of the state jet as a moneysaving move. The state fleet still includes several propeller planes.