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Spence campaign confirms a flier - now history - misstated college degree

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 13, 2012 - For Dave Spence, a Republican candidate for Missouri governor, the hits just keep coming.

Spence's campaign thought it had weathered the worst of the fracas over reportsthat the economics college degree he obtained was in consumer economics -- also known as home economics.

The candidate and his spokesman repeatedly stated that Spence never claimed that he graduated from the University of Missouri's School of Economics. Rather, Spence has maintained that he accurately stated that he did have a degree in economics; he just didn't specify what kind, a spokesman said.

(A Beacon profile of Spence in November stated only that he was a Mizzou graduate and did not specify his degree.)

But apparently the campaign did circulate some misinformation, even though allegedly only briefly. The Beacon was among the news outlets that on Thursday obtained copies of Spence's campaign flier that did claim that he received a degree from the University of Missouri's School of Economics.

Campaign spokesman Jared Craighead initially was unaware of the flier but later confirmed that it had been written more than a month ago by some campaign staff members.

The flier was distributed at no more than five events in early December, Craighead said, but was withdrawn as soon as Spence read it and noticed a number of errors -- the reference to the School of Economics among them. Other errors dealt with the dates when Spence was honored with some business awards.

Craighead said there was no intent to mislead anyone. He added that the campaign has been working to correct the record, by revamping the economics-degree references on the Spence campaign's websiteto stipulate in detail what type of degree he had.

And no one is disputing that Spence ran a successful plastic-packaging business and made a fortune when he sold it to a private equity firm a few years ago for more than $200 million. It's also a fact that he is spending at least $2 million of his own money in his bid to replace Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

The episode has gained Spence some name recognition, although perhaps not of the kind he would like. At a cafe in Jefferson City, for example, an employee was overheard Thursday discussing the controversy with customers. The food worker volunteered that he thought Spence should not be ashamed of the home economics degree.

The Missouri Democratic Party continues to hammer at the matter. "David Spence recently admitted he didn't have the grades to get into Mizzou's Business School, but for the last 23 years, that hasn't stopped him from lying about it," said party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki. "If David Spence can't tell the truth about something as basic as his college degree, Missourians shouldn't believe a word that comes out of his mouth. This guy is just shameless."

On the upside, the controversy has shifted the debate away from Spence's board-member tenure at a bank that took federal bailout funds.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.