© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Greitens, Koster highlight their differences in first forum

Eric Greitens, left, and Chris Koster
Carolina Hidalgo and Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Eric Greitens, Missouri’s Republican nominee for governor, launched a barrage of aggressive attacks against Democrat Chris Koster during the duo’s first joint appearance. But it’s unclear if any of those verbal shots did political damage.

The two were among all five Missouri candidates for governor who participated Friday in a one-hour forum in Branson hosted by the Missouri Press Association.

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and author, took aim at Koster’s 20-year political career as a county prosecutor, state senator and currently Missouri’s attorney general. Greitens contended that Koster was part of the “serial corruption’’ in state government.

Greitens also accused Koster of “lying’’ about why he voted against a bill in 2007 that largely was intended to aid victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Koster pointed to a provision that he said would have made it easier for murderers to get out of prison “on manufactured evidence.” Greitens contended that Koster was referring to language that would allow domestic-violence victims who killed their spouse to get out of jail after 15 years, under certain scenarios.

Koster later shot back that he had no doubt that Greitens, who has never held political office, “knows how to blow up government’’ and cited the Republican’s ad that shows him firing an assault weapon that sets off an explosion. Koster added that he does doubt his rival “knows how to put it back together.”

But Koster’s biggest counter jab came when Greitens said that, if elected governor, he’d first appoint a chief operating officer to oversee state government and its spending. Koster retorted that’s the job of the governor.

Greitens then characterized Koster as "a deeply confused'' politician who knew nothing about business.

The two also tangled over:

  • Medicaid expansion: Koster reaffirmed his longstanding call to expand the health insurance program for the poor, citing the closing of cash-strapped rural hospitals because legislators have declined to accept about $2 billion a year in federal money.

Greitens faulted the proposal as part of the failed “Obamacare’’ federal health insurance changes, which he said is “a broken program with broken promises,’’ and is hurting individuals’ pocketbooks while putting financial pressure on the states who’ve expanded Medicaid.

  • Transportation: Koster repeated his promise to seek a bipartisan agreement to get more money to the state’s Department of Transportation, which has been downsized, and fund a way to finance needed improvements to state roads and bridges. Greitens called instead for re-examining other state spending and shift priorities to find money for such repairs.
  • Public Education: Greitens and Koster both promised to increase spending on teacher pay and couple it with higher standards. But Koster also called for fully funding the state’s “foundation formula,’’ the chief aid program to public schools. Greitens once again pledged to revamp state spending.
  • Right to Work: Greitens reaffirmed his pledge to sign “right to work’’ legislation, which would curb union rights in the workplace. He cited statistics that show job growth in other right-to-work states. Koster emphasized his opposition to the measure, and cited statistics showing that worker pay averages about 15 percent lower in right-to-work states.

Greitens pointed to Koster’s hefty donations from labor. Democrats have countered by focusing on the aid Greitens have received from wealthy businesspeople around the country.

From left, Independent Lester Turilli Jr., Libertarian Cisse Spragins, Democrat Chris Koster, Republican Eric Greitens, and Don Fitz of the Green Party
Credit Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Independent Lester Turilli Jr., Libertarian Cisse Spragins, Democrat Chris Koster, Republican Eric Greitens, and Don Fitz of the Green Party

The forum also featured Green Party candidate Don Fitz,  Libertarian Cisse Spragins and Independent Lester Turilli Jr.

Fitz called for revamping the state’s income-tax system and Spragins affirmed Libertarians’ quest to trim government. Turilli, whose family runs Meramec Caverns, said he sought compromise solutions.

Marshall Griffin contributed to this report.

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.