JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Although it's the lowest paid of Missouri's executive offices, the lieutenant governor's position is shaping up to be one of the most sought-after in this year's elections.
State Sen. Luann Ridgeway and former state Rep. Judy Baker both said Monday that they will likely run for lieutenant governor, bringing the field of potential candidates to seven people with about seven weeks remaining before the official candidacy filing period begins. Missouri's primaries are Aug. 7.
Ridgeway is a Republican from the outer Kansas City suburb of Smithville who first took office in the Missouri House in 1993, advanced to the Senate in 2005 and is barred by term limits from seeking re-election this fall.
Baker is a Democrat from Columbia who served in the state House from 2005 to 2009 and resigned recently from a position in President Barack Obama's administration as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services. She lost a 2008 bid for Congress to Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer.
Neither has formerly declared her candidacy, but Baker said she is likely to run and her announcement may come in a week or two. Ridgeway also said she might run, adding: "I'm very committed to this race."
Should they both run and win a primary, it would create an intriguing matchup. In Obama's administration, Baker was part of the agency responsible for implementing the new federal health care law. Ridgeway has been an outspoken critic of the health care law, which she contends could hurt the state's budget and squeeze money available for senior citizens' programs and education through its mandate to expand Medicaid coverage to lower-income adults.
Besides being second in line to the governor, Missouri's lieutenant governor also presides over the state Senate, serves as an official advocate for seniors and serves on a couple of boards that award state tax incentives for development projects and low-income housing. The lieutenant governor's salary of $86,484 is by far the lowest of any of Missouri's six statewide executive offices.
The lieutenant governor's race already has experienced several shake-ups.
As recently as November, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder had been making plans to run for governor, and House Speaker Steven Tilley had built a sizable campaign account as the only announced Republican candidate to replace him. But Tilley dropped out of the race citing family reasons, prompting other Republicans and Democrats to start entering it. Then Kinder declared he would seek a third term as lieutenant governor instead of challenging Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Kinder's reversal does not seem to have discouraged others from challenging him.
State Sen. Brad Lager, of Savannah, who announced his lieutenant governor's candidacy after Tilley's departure, reaffirmed in December that he intended to remain in the race even if it meant a primary against Kinder. Ridgeway's entrance would make her the fourth Republican candidate. Also in the race is attorney Mike Carter, who is running as a Republican despite contending four years ago as a Democrat.
Two other Democrats also have declared their candidacies. They are former state Auditor Susan Montee, who stepped down from her position as state party chairman to run for lieutenant governor, and state conservation commissioner Becky Plattner, who also ran four years ago.
Ridgeway said she would bring a conservative philosophy to the office while opposing the implementation of the federal health care law and seeking to revamp tax credit programs overseen by boards on which the lieutenant governor sits. Ridgeway said she also supports legislation that would freeze property taxes for people age 62 or older.
"I've been a consistent conservative, and I want to make sure that message continues to resonate throughout our state," Ridgeway said.
Baker cast herself as somewhat of an outsider, suggesting that voters are tired of the status quo and that she could provide an alternative.
"I think the citizens are really fed up with a lot of partisanship and a lot of making decisions based on old solutions," Baker said. "I think they want someone who will think new thoughts and bring new ideas and bring people together."