Missouri Gov-elect Seeks To Emulate Fallen Predecessor
By Stateline Staff
Missouri governor-elect Bob Holden, who won on Nov. 7 with less than 50 percent of the vote, can't claim a mandate to rally support for his agenda. Luckily for the Democrat, he didn't run for the job on a controversial platform.
Holden, the state's two-term treasurer, ran a stay-the-course campaign, asking voters repeatedly when stumping or debating, "Do you want to continue to move forward making progress in Missouri, or do we radically change course like my opponent wants to?"
A friend and admirer of late governor Mel Carnahan, Holden portrayed himself toward the end of the race as a candidate who would continue the popular two-term governor's legacy. Carnahan died in a plane crash Oct. 16 while campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
In contrast, Holden's opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., relentlessly sought to place Holden near the top of a failed establishment in Jefferson City that, he charged, couldn't teach its kids to read or keep them safe on its highways.
In the end, Holden rode a wave of urban votes into the governor's mansion, edging Talent out by a mere 21,000 votes out of the 2.3 million cast.
During the campaign, Holden did issue a few proposals, calling for a prescription drug benefit for older Missourians, smaller class sizes in early grades, and tougher testing standards for student promotion.
Talent based his campaign on a $10 billion dollar bonding plan for highway construction -- a proposal Holden called "risky." Holden offered nothing specific for the state's highway system, which is projected to fall $1.5 billion short annually. He said he preferred to study the problem after entering office.
Holden's promise of new spending to reduce class sizes is already in trouble because of a recent court ruling that the state owes taxpayers more than $250 million in late refunds under Missouri's revenue lid.
A former state representative, Holden has spent much of his political life behind the scenes. He served as assistant state treasurer and as U.S. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's district office manager.
His record of achievement reads like a policy wonk's resume. He initiated several programs as treasurer including tax breaks for parents who save for college and bank accounts for schoolchildren.
In his three terms in the Legislature, Holden sponsored bills providing public financing of campaigns. He says he no longer supports that position.
"I am very interested in campaign finance reform, but I am not sure that (public financing) is the proper mechanism," he said in an interview just before election day. "I haven't seen support for that. I want something that we can get done. I want to achieve a political system that's responsive to the political situation."
Ready to greet the new governor is a closely divided legislature. Democrats retained their slim four seat majority in the House in the recent election, but lost their one seatedge in the Senate.
Because of three vacancies caused by the resignations of two Democratic state senators and one Republican, the GOP now holds a 16-15 edge in the upper chamber. But that is bound to change when the vacancies are filled on Jan. 23. A probable 17-17 draw has leaders from both parties negotiating a power-sharing deal.
As one GOP senator said, "Nothing's going to pass that doesn't have consensus."
In the House, ill feelings remain from last year's partisan impasse over how to spend the state's share of the tobacco settlement. Republicans felt left out of the debate and jammed up the process with procedural maneuvers.
At his first post-election press conference, Holden said he was prepared to handle the challenge of working with the legislature.
"I am looking to reach out across party lines to anybody that wants to move the state forward," Holden said. "Now is the time for campaigning to end. Now is the time to lead."