Holden involvement limited in campaign for Proposition B

Monday, August 5, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden's voice jumps an octave when asked if he has been active enough in support of Proposition B.

"I've been active," Holden insisted in an interview last week in his Capitol office. "I've made this issue high on the agenda to let the people vote on it from the very beginning of this administration. I've spoke out about it every opportunity I get."

Still, Holden's acknowledges that his role has been influenced by the group supporting the estimated $483 million tax increase for transportation on Tuesday's ballot.

Holden said he is "following the lead" of the Time for Missouri Committee, the main group supporting Proposition B, when it comes to getting the message out. And that message is not about any one person -- it's about improving roads and safety, he said.

"That's more important many times than who speaks out on the issue," Holden said. "You should keep the personalities out of it."

Still, the bully pulpit of the governor's office can be a powerful tool. Governors attract the media wherever they are.

Some supporters of Proposition B, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, say Holden hasn't been as engaged as they had expected.

"He hasn't been too active thus far and, obviously, the more support and publicity out there the better off the effort is," Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said two weeks ago.

Holden has done little publicly since then to press the issue.

Proposition B opponents suggest that perhaps Holden is concerned that a loss at the polls would hurt the governor politically.

"Maybe he's seen the polls showing it is was behind and doesn't want to waste time on a lost cause or be associated with anything that is going to lose," suggested Fred Lindecke, a spokesman for the No on B campaign.

Not so, according to Rodney Gray, director of the Time for Missouri Committee.

"He's been extremely supportive. He's been extremely helpful and extremely supportive," Gray said.

During his first year in office in 2001, Holden backed a transportation package that would not have gone to voters. While passed by the Democratic House, it failed in the final days of the session in the Senate.

This year, some Republican and Democratic senators pushed their own package and with cooperation from House Democrats, got Proposition B on the ballot. Holden played a less prominent role but supported the plan nonetheless.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, who has sparred with the Democratic governor for the better part of two years, said senators are the ones who should get credit for passing the bill authorizing the ballot measure.

Kinder said Holden doesn't appear to be working any harder on the issue than he did during the legislative session.

"The Missouri Senate did the heavy lifting," Kinder said. "People will make their decision without any heavy lifting from the governor."

But Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, conceded that he hasn't been actively promoting Proposition B either. Like Holden, he's left that decision up to others.

"I think we took some leadership by putting the issue before the voters," Kinder said. "I've left the rest to the folks who have formed the committee to push that."

Kinder said Holden has a greater obligation to promote the issue. "I don't believe that I command a bully pulpit like the governor does," Kinder said.

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