JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden is going more places by ground these days, fulfilling a pledge to reduce the frequent flying that marked his first six months in office.
Holden flew an average of every other day during the first half of 2001 -- a pace faster than any of his recent predecessors.
After public criticism, and partly in response to growing budget concerns, Holden said in late June he henceforth would fly less.
Indeed, Holden cut his use of the state plane by two-thirds, flying on just 26 days during the second half of 2001, compared to 77 during the first half, according to state flight records.
His flights were about half those of Govs. Mel Carnahan and John Ashcroft during the second halves of their freshmen years.
"He absolutely is a man of his word," Holden spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said Monday. "He said that, he followed through on it."
Monday was an exception.
Instead of taking the highways, the Democratic governor was flying to Lebanon, Mo., for the funeral of a state trooper. But that's in part because Holden needs as much time as possible to prepare for his State of the State and budget speech Wednesday.
Holden's own office expenditures have been trimmed by 18 percent for the fiscal year that began last July, Nachtigal said.
Whereas taxpayers spent $84,500 for Holden's state plane use during the first half of 2001, the cost of his July-through-December state flights was $28,300 -- a two-thirds reduction.
Some Republicans praised Holden's more grounded travel approach, which they viewed as a response to public pressure and budget constraints.
"It is very clear that people are watching air travel on state airplanes to see if it's appropriate," said Rep. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who through the House Republican caucus has tracked state airplane use for years.
Holden's reduction in air travel shows that the governor's office has begun to evaluate whether a flight makes good sense or is efficient, Shields said.
'That's a good sign'
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girar-deau, was more blunt.
"There's nothing like getting caught," Kinder told the Columbia Missourian. "If he's reformed, that's a good sign."
On several occasions during the last half of 2001, Holden used a state plane for only part of his day's travels.
On Dec. 14, for example, Holden returned to St. Louis from a meeting in Washington, D.C., on a commercial jet. The state jet flew him from St. Louis to Jefferson City, where he announced the latest round of state budget cuts.
Holden flew back to St. Louis later in the day to attend a board meeting of the Hawthorn Foundation, but his state plane costs were paid by the nonprofit organization, which promotes economic development in Missouri, Nachtigal said. Holden returned to the Capitol from that meeting in a vehicle.
The Sept. 11 attacks, which temporarily grounded plane travel around the nation, may have forced Holden to drive on a couple of occasions he might have otherwise have flown, Nachtigal said. But overall, the aftermath of the attacks did not had much effect on Holden's flights, he said.
One reason for Holden's reduced flight schedule is that the Legislature was not in session during the second half of the year, save for a brief September special session, Nachtigal said.
"You have to sell an agenda, not only in Jefferson City but across Missouri," Nachtigal said. "Once he got past that first session, it was a natural that he would be traveling less."