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Parson switches to lieutenant governor, while Dixon discusses gay past

Republican GOP - RIGHT WIDTH - also avail. gopelephantleft

(Updated 2 p.m. Mon., July 27)

Missouri’s Republican contest for governor has gotten less crowded — at least for now — as state Sen. Mike Parson has decided to run for the state’s No. 2 post instead. And on Monday, he released a list of supporters, including the state Senate's leadership.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s newest gubernatorial candidate — state Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield — offered some details about his previously acknowledged past in the 1980s when he lived several years as a young gay man.

In an emailed statement to St. Louis Public Radio, Dixon blamed child abuse for what he called “teenage confusion.” He now is married, has three children and is a staunch social conservative who believes in traditional marriage.

Parson, from nearby Bolivar, announced his change of plans at a Saturday news conference.

Parson didn’t specifically address why he was changing the direction of his campaign, other than to observe that he and the other four GOP candidates for governor shared many of the same views.

The office of lieutenant governor, he added, is “the perfect platform to be the People’s Advocate for real ethics reform and reforming our state’s political system to make it worthy of the respect of Missouri’s citizens.”

Parson had been campaigning as the rural alternative in a contest that initially had been dominated by St. Louis-area contenders. But the Republican field includes at least two other out-state candidates.

Parson may have been influenced by the latest campaign-finance reports, filed July 15, which showed him a distant third when it came to money in the bank. He reported $726,729 on hand, compared to former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway’s $1.5 million, and not-yet-announced contender Eric Greitens’ $1.1 million. Hanaway and Greitens are from the St. Louis area.

Missouri Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar
Credit MoHorizonNews | Flickr
Mike Parson

Also running are Dixon and current Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau. Kinder reported less than $60,000 in the bank, but is widely seen as the best-known Republican in the field. St. Louis businessman John Brunner — who is expected to announce this fall — outraised Parson and Hanaway during the latest quarter, but had less than $300,000 in the bank.

Financially, all the Republicans are trailing the only announced major Democrat, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who reported close to $4 million in the bank.

Parson now will compete in the GOP lieutenant governor primary against Bev Randles, a Kansas City lawyer who had been head of the state arm of the Club for Growth, an independent conservative group.

Randles’ finances have relied almost entirely on a $1 million donation she received late last year from wealthy St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield. Randles had expected to compete against Kinder until he formally announced a couple weeks ago that he’s running for governor instead of seeking a fourth term as lieutenant governor.

Randles’ campaign said in a statement late Saturday: “We welcome Senator Parson to the race and look forward to contrasting Bev's successful record of conservative advocacy with Senator Parson's decade-long legislative record in Jefferson City."

On Monday, Parson sought to bolster his new candidacy by releasing a list of 13 GOP members of the state Senate who support his bid for lieutenant governor. They include state Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles; Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin; and Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Jefferson County.

So far, no prominent Democratic candidate has emerged for lieutenant governor. 

Dixon decries negative politics

Although Dixon had gone public about his past more than two decades ago, he has rarely publicly discussed it since.

But since his official kickoff last Monday, the matter has been a private topic among political activists. It surfaced publicly late Thursday when the Riverfront Times took note of the press coverage in the late 1980s and early 1990s about Dixon, as the son of state Rep. Jean Dixon, R-Springfield.

A rural blog also had posted details about Dixon’s past in 2009.

Dixon and his mother had acknowledged that he had struggled with his sexual identity, and that he apparently had lived five years as a gay man. His mother, a prominent social conservative, had told reporters in the late 1980s that her family was suffering over her son's struggles with homosexuality.

Missouri Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield
Credit Official photo
Bob Dixon

Bob Dixon spoke about the matter at a Springfield City Council meeting in May 1991, explaining that a “religious experience’’ a couple years earlier had changed his sexual orientation. He has been married for about 25 years.

In the statement that he sent late Friday to St. Louis Public Radio, Dixon did not get into the specifics about his past, but he did not dispute the earlier press accounts.

“Through the years, I have publicly spoken about being abused as a child and the confusion this caused me as a teenager,” Dixon wrote. “There are literally thousands of Missourians who will understand how heartbreaking childhood abuse can be — though few might be willing to acknowledge it.

“I have put the childhood abuse, and the teenage confusion behind me. What others intended for harm has resulted in untold good,” he continued. “I have overcome, and will not allow evil to win. From passing the Child Witness Protection Act, to protecting children from those who would do harm to them from the shadows of the internet, and to reforming Missouri’s Criminal Code — I have consistently worked to treat all people with respect, understanding, and compassion, and to bring people together, not divide them.”

Dixon also alluded to possible personal political attacks prompted by his past. “There are people who to this day try to turn politics into a blood sport. This sort of approach discourages many good people from public service,” he said. “While it is disappointing, I will have no fear of those who wish to tear down others for their gain. I will have no part of it.

“I began this campaign from my front porch surround by people I love and those who know me best, my wife Amanda and our daughters. I told those gathered there that my faith in an Almighty God who is full of love and compassion is at the core of all I do to help others, and daily helps me to set the compass.

“My faith in a loving and just God has helped to guide my approach with people. There are those who constantly seek to divide us, but I am committed to renewing the Spirit of Missouri and bringing people together with sensible conservative solutions.”

Monday afternoon, David Clohessy -- the St. Louis-based director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) -- weighed with his knowledge of Dixon's situation. Clohessy said he and Dixon have worked together for about a decade on issues dealing with predators who molest children.

Clohessy emphasized in a statement that neither he nor SNAP was endorsing Dixon or any other political candidate for any office. But in Dixon's case, he added:

"As best we can tell, he’s the first statewide candidate in Missouri history to disclose that he was molested as a child. We are sad for his trauma but grateful for his candor. Adults who have the courage to talk publicly about having been sexually assaulted, at any age by any predator, should be applauded.

"Second, several times, on key votes, Dixon helped protect kids from predators. Most notably, he backed our successful effort years ago to reform Missouri’s archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations – both civil and criminal. - so that more adults can expose and prosecute dangerous child molesters," Clohessy wrote.

"Many who were sexually violated as kids have struggled, especially in their teens and young adulthood, with relationships, sexuality, and trust. The wisest and strongest survivors of childhood trauma are those who disclose their abuse and acknowledge that it’s had serious impact on their lives.

"We hope Dixon’s disclosure of the abuse he suffered as a youngster will inspire others who have been assaulted as lids to open up, get professional help, face their demons and become more healthy adults."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.