Thursday, September 25, 2008
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau has recently been serving as acting governor, a job he's done over 100 days in his duty as lieutenant governor. Recently he's been the subject of bipartisan praise, which is unusual in an election year.
The St. Louis Beacon newspaper recently focused on Kinder's commitment to the African-American community in Missouri. The article was titled "A different kind of Republican: Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder cultivates black voters."
In commenting on Kinder, who has attended numerous black community functions, the article said: "Though among many strangers, Kinder seems comfortable, at ease as if surrounded by people he's known for years."
"What I like about him is that he's engaging, he's involved, he's on the scene, and he speaks out on issues relevant to black people, whether it's housing, kids, the elderly or education" says James Buford, head of the local Urban League.
Then on Sept. 22 in a Kansas City Star article, Kit Wagar reported:
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican in a hotly contested re-election campaign, got a boost last week from an unlikely source: the Service Employees International Union.
The union, which represents workers in a variety of low-wage industries as well as government workers, praised Kinder for persuading Gov. Matt Blunt to pay $4.75 million in back wages to Missouri probation and parole officers.
"We faced many roadblocks over the last four years," said John Cross, political director for Local 2000, based in St. Louis and Kansas City. "We contacted Lieutenant Governor Kinder, and he was eager to help. He said he would try to make it happen."
The unusual aspect of those works of appreciation is that the SEIU has endorsed Kinder's opponent, Democratic state Rep. Sam Page of St. Louis County, for lieutenant governor.
Kinder said he became an advocate for the parole officers after union representatives told him about the situation last December.
He said the wage cut that the parole officers suffered was particularly unfair because Missouri's probation and parole is among the best in the nation.
By working with offenders to find jobs and turn their lives around, parole officers have helped Missouri keep its prison population manageable, Kinder said.
The issue began in 2004 when lawmakers who opposed public-sector unions stripped from the budget a $1,200-a-year pay raise for parole officers because some had joined the union. All other state employees received the raise.
The union sued, and the Cole County Circuit Court ruled in December 2005 that the decision was unlawful discrimination.
The ruling was upheld on appeal in April. But the state refused to pay. The court ruled that, under previous rulings, Missouri courts could find the state at fault but could not order the state to spend money.
Kinder said he pressed the case for the state to pay the back wages with the House and Senate budget chairmen. But he was unsuccessful.
In early May, after Kinder continued pressing for a resolution, Sen. Gary Nodler suggested that the back wages could be paid out of the Corrections Department budget without a specific authorization, Kinder said. However, budget writers provided enough money for the governor to pay the judgment by leaving extra funds in the Corrections Department's equipment and expense budget, he said.
"We gave clear legislative intent that the money was available if the governor wanted to pay it," Nodler said. "We crafted a solution that allowed the governor to resolve this issue without appropriating to a court order."
Blunt approved paying the back wages two weeks ago, Kinder said.
The settlement will provide 1,398 current and former parole officers with payments averaging $3,000 to $4,200, plus about $200 in interest, depending on their length of service since 2004.
Cross said efforts to persuade Blunt to pay the back wages had gone nowhere until the union recruited Kinder.
"We decided not to play politics with this issue," Cross said. "We reached across the aisle and found an advocate in Peter Kinder."
Last weekend St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat, praised Kinder in an open letter in the St. Louis Business Journal for many areas of support Kinder had given to projects for the people of St. Louis.
Then Sunday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published its most recent poll showing Kinder 16 points ahead of his opponent, Sam Page.
All of this positive news will probably tempt Page to go hard negative in his campaign, as he has little hope to defeat Kinder on the issues and bipartisanship.
Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.