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In midst of re-election bid, Kinder returning his official car

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2012 - Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has announced today that he is returning his official state car "as part of his continuing efforts to cut costs" in his office.

Kinder, a Republican, is seeking a third term this fall and has several Republican and Democratic rivals.

A spokesman said this afternoon that Kinder's action had nothing to do with his re-election bid, and more to do with his view that "every office should do with less every year."

In a move to highlight his frugal finances, the lieutenant governor notes that his 2013 budget request made last week "calls for no increase in funding."

Since 2009, Kinder said, his office budget has declined 9.7 percent, from $451,361 to $407,557

"In spite of those decreases, I am happy to point out that during that span I still returned an average of 7.5 percent in unspent state funds to the state, highlighted by the almost 10 percent I returned last year," Kinder said.

"This is a trend I started when I was elected President Pro Tem of the Missouri Senate in 2001 and trimmed the Senate budget the following year by almost 10 percent," Kinder said. "While my office budget has been cut each year, I've continued to return unspent funds to the state."

As for his car, Kinder said he is asking "that the car be sold, and the proceeds be put in the state's General Revenue fund."

UPDATE: Kinder's action may not be much of a sacrifice. A spokesman said that the lieutenant governor did not use the state-issued Mercury Marquis, and that it had been used -- rarely -- by the office staff. Kinder currently drives his campaign car around the state, and does not charge the state for his mileage, said spokesman Jay Eastlick.

"Giving the car back is in line with his budget request,'' Eastlick said.

One of Kinder's Republican rivals, real estate lawyer Mike Carter of St. Charles, lauded Kinder for exhibiting a "Ron-Paul-like approach to government."

"It has long been my opinion that the office of Lt. Governor is overpaid and underworked. I am glad to see that my opponent has realized the dire state of our economy and is finally taking at least some limited action to end unnecessary government spending," Carter said. "I believe that all government officials should  stop taking advantage of their constituents. I applaud Kinder for taking this small step."

Carter did add a slight jab, noting that "Kinder has had the car since 2005." (End of update)

Kinder also doesn't mention the controversy last spring, when news outlets disclosed that he had spent more than any other statewide officeholder on hotel lodgings at taxpayer expense. Kinder maintained that all of his stays were for official business, although some coincided with his political activities as well.

He ended up repaying the state for those hotel stays.

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.