by Bill O'Malley
The Missouri Governors race took center
stage at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City on
Monday night as Republican Matt Blunt and Democrat
Claire McCaskill took off the gloves in the third
of four gubernatorial debates.
If cordiality was the prescription coming into
the debate that covered a host of issuesincluding
litigation reform, health care, education, highway
funding, abortion, gay marriage, and jobsthose
sentiments quickly vanquished in the ensuing exchanges.
The two candidates for governor traded shots on
each others stances, values, and experience.
During the debate, both candidates accused the
other of making baseless accusations and contorting
the truth about each other's true records.
McCaskill, age 51, wove a consistent theme throughout
the hour long debate, declaring that she was better
equipped to lead the state than her younger rival
because of her age and experience. McCaskill,
who currently serves as state auditor, pointed
to her 20 year record as a public servant compared
to Blunts six year record as a state representative
and Missouris current secretary of state.
Blunt, age 33, ceded her assertion that experience
is a pivotal issue. But he cast aside her assumption
that the number of ones years in public
office is a true measure of the type of experience
that matters most.
Blunt said: I will be the more effective
because of the depth and diversity
of my experience.
He scoffed that McCaskill was selectively dismissive
of his experience as a naval officer and small
business owner, from which he claims to have acquired
broad-ranging leadership abilities and a multi-dimensional
perspective on the issues that Missourians will
confront in the next four years.
McCaskill continuously chided Blunt on his age
throughout the debate. At one point, she took
an opening to congratulate Blunt and his wife
on expecting their first child.
Its something we have in common,
McCaskill added, I was expecting my first
child when I was 33 years old.
When given the opportunity to ask a direct question
of her Republican opponent, she criticized his
performance as the state's chief election official
and closed her questioning by asking: Was
the job too big or too complicated?
Blunt dismissed McCaskill's charges and said
that the problems were the result of mistakes
made at local election authorities but that his
office was working closely with the authorities
to minimize mistakes.
McCaskill's premise was echoed by her supporters
and staff. Information distributed to the media
during the debate was subtitled Matt Blunt:
If elected, Blunt would be the second youngest
governor in the history of the state. United States
Senator Christopher S. Kit Bond was
younger than Blunt when he was first elected to
the governors mansion in 1972. Bond served
two terms as governor and is now vying for a fourth
term in the senate.
Blunt challenged McCaskill and her husband, Joe
Shepard, for refusing to release their tax records
as Blunt and his wife had done. McCaskill and
her husband, who is a St. Louis developer, have
contributed more than $1.6 million to her campaign.
It has been reported that Shepard has considerable
financial dealings with the state. Blunt said
that the couple's failure to make anything less
than a full disclosure creates a potential conflict
of interest and at least leaves the appearance
McCaskill fired back that she filed a lengthy
disclosure of her husband's business dealings
and accused Blunt of unfairly attacking her family.
Responding to a question on what role faith would
play in her administration; McCaskill said Its
not something I wear on my sleeve. Its not
something we talk about.
She doesnt want to talk about values,
Blunt retorted If I had hers, I wouldnt
Blunt questioned McCaskills moral clarity
on value-oriented public policy like same-sex
marriage, taxpayer financing of abortions, and
partial-birth abortion, insisting that her views
were not consistent with mainstream Missouri.
McCaskill pointed to her traditional family as
evidence that she believes marriage is between
a man and a woman. But she explained that it is
important to not be judgmental on the issue of
gay marriage. She also said that she supports
banning partial-birth abortion with a health exception
for the mother. Such an exception would include
a mental health provision.
These are matters of conscience,
Blunt responded It is very disingenuous
to say that she opposes gay marriage but also
opposes the amendment.
Medical malpractice reform is a centerpiece of
Blunts campaign. Missouri doctors have witnessed
medical liability premiums skyrocket in recent
years, prompting many to move their practices
to the refuge of other states with laws that are
more amenable to their practices.
Missouri lawmakers twice passed litigation reform,
but the bills were vetoed by Governor Bob Holden
on both occasions. Blunt champions the legislation
and believes that its enactment is essential to
end the exodus of Missouri doctors to Kansas and
other states thereby assuring Missourians greater
access to health care. The legislation would impose
limits on damages, make it more difficult to sue
doctors, and would curb frivolous lawsuits.
McCaskill supported Holdens vetoes. She,
however, explained Im for litigation
reform. But, Im not just for the big corporations.
She accused Blunt of adopting the same stance
on litigation reform that is promoted by the Missouri
Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has endorsed
Blunt, who has received the wide financial support
from Missouri doctors and health care professionals,
charged that McCaskill had reaped more than $3
million in campaign contributions from trial attorneys.
He further criticized McCaskill for remarking
to a group of doctors at a St. Louis forum that
the reason that reforms are not passed is that
for every 1 dollar that a doctor makes in political
contributions, a trial attorney gives $1,000.
McCaskill said that Blunt had taken her words
out of context. She explained that she was trying
to get them involved in the political process.
Blunt said that a citizen should not have to give
money to be part of the process.
The candidates quibbled over their education
records. As he has consistently throughout his
campaign, Blunt vowed that he would never withhold
money from education that was appropriated by
the legislature as Governor Holden did this year.
He insisted that in a Blunt administration Missouris
school children will never be pawns in a
political battle. He said that administrators
need to know how much money they are receiving
from the state and be able to plan with it.
Blunt also promised to never send fewer dollars
to Missouris classrooms than the previous
year. McCaskill, however, charged that Blunt,
while in the state legislature, twice sponsored
legislation that would have reduced funding for
education in exchange for tax relief for businesses.
McCaskill said that her audits have demonstrated
how to reduce waste in education and redirect
those dollars to the classrooms. She specifically
referred to excessive travel expenditures by school
officials as well as golden parachutes given to
Blunt further criticized McCaskill for opposing
a requirement that all state lottery proceeds
go directly to education, while she was in the
general assembly. He opposes the diversion of
the states gambling proceeds from education.
Regarding the erosion of Missouris jobs
over the last four years, candidates agreed that
the trends were moving in the right direction
but that more could be done. Blunt cited tax,
litigation, and workers compensation reforms
as being at the core of creating an entrepreneurial
climate in the state that is more conducive to
While she disagreed with Blunts specific
remedies, McCaskill too agreed that Missouri could
do much better but promoted no specific plan in
the debate to grow Missouris job base. Both
candidates have detailed job recovery plans posted
on their websites.
Both support Missouris Amendment 3. It
would require all proceeds from Missouris
gas taxes to go for highway construction.
McCaskill said that her audits exposed highway
tax proceeds being used for programs in other
state agencies. Blunt ridiculed McCaskill for
taking credit for uncovering the practice, which
has been widely known and contentiously debated
It doesnt take an audit to show money
is being diverted he countered. Its
in the budget.
Until recently, McCaskills office accepted
tax dollars that were diverted from the Department
of Transportation. She said that she believed
that it was legitimate to use transportation dollars
to audit the department.
The statewide televised debate was sponsored
by KMBC-TV, The Kansas City Star, KCPT-TV, and
KCUR-FM. The last scheduled debate between the
two gubernatorial hopefuls will be held in Springfield