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Parson and Carnahan vie for Missouri lieutenant governor

The candidates for lieutenant governor are Republican Mike Parson, left, and Democrat Russ Carnahan.
File photos | St. Louis Public Radio
The candidates for lieutenant governor are Republican Mike Parson, left, and Democrat Russ Carnahan.

For the first time in 12 years, someone besides Peter Kinder will be lieutenant governor of Missouri.

Kinder jumped into the governor's race and lost in a crowded Republican primary, coming in third in a contest won by Eric Greitens. The major party candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot are Democrat Russ Carnahan and Republican Mike Parson.

Russ Carnahan may be more familiar to Missouri voters, having served in Congress and being the son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan. He's also the brother of former Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

Parson has served nearly six years in the state Senate. Prior to that he served six years in the Missouri House and is the former sheriff of Polk County.

The contest for lieutenant governor has been low key, with only a few TV ads mostly visible online. So far, Carnahan has spent $825,510.27 on his campaign, while Parson has only spent $95,923.76.

The interviews with both of them came at the Missouri State Fair in August and are included below. The transcriptions have been edited for clarity.

Russ Carnahan

Russ Carnahan, Democratic nominee for Missouri Lt. Gov.

This could be a bit of a political comeback for you; would that be a fair assessment?

"I grew up around politics and campaigns; I was 8 when my dad was running for the state legislature. I really hadn't planned for this, but I was encouraged to run for this open lieutenant governor seat; it's the first time it's been open in many years. I think this is a really critical election year in terms of the direction of our state. I've found that voters really want somebody who's going to listen to them. That's probably the most concise message I’ve heard from folks; they want somebody who’s going to listen and learn and really work to get things done, instead of be part of a food fight and a dysfunctional legislature in Jefferson City."

A lot of people may not realize what a lieutenant governor does, of course fill in for the governor if something happens; you'd (also) be president of the Missouri Senate. What do you hope to bring to that office if elected?

"The office was created to have someone that was prepared and ready to serve as governor if called upon. But the lieutenant governor in Missouri runs independently and has his own independent duties: One would be to work with the governor when needed, but also preside over the Missouri Senate, to be someone that does that job fairly. Other duties involve key roles in economic development in our state, to be sure that rural and urban citizens have opportunities, also responsibilities for seniors and veterans. (I've been very involved in veterans issues in my career, I served on the Veterans Affairs committee in the U.S. House.) and finally tourism, to be sure that we're telling the story about Missouri and getting folks to come here. We've got some amazing tourist attractions here, large and small."

Speaking of tourism, the current lieutenant governor (Kinder) at one time was the keynote person behind the Tour of Missouri bicycle race, but that went away when its funding was eliminated (by Gov. Nixon), do you have any particular idea that you would like to do for tourism in Missouri, something that that's not currently going on?

"Sometimes people in Missouri and the Midwest are a little too humble about telling their story. We have so many things, large and small, whether it's a resort or major attractions like Branson or the Lake of the Ozarks, but a lot of even small communities have very unique things, our natural beauty in this state, the parks, the scenic riverways. We just have tremendous opportunities to really showcase this nationally and internationally. We need to, in a comprehensive way, tell our story."

If you're elected, most likely you'll be working with a very large Republican majority in the Senate. Any particular ideas for working with the opposite party?

“I’ve always been very engaged with people in both parties. In Congress, I co-chaired the bipartisan center aisle caucus with my Republican colleague, (former U.S. Rep.) Jo Ann Emerson, and I've co-sponsored legislation with Republicans. I think no one candidate or no one party has a monopoly on good ideas. You can have the division and food fight that we've seen too much of in legislative bodies in Jefferson City and Washington, or you can really make the effort to find common ground and ways you can work together."

What would you do differently as lieutenant governor than Peter Kinder has done, or that Mike Parson might do?

"I don't want to compare myself to current or former lieutenant governors. Obviously I would do the official textbook duties well. I have experience in terms of working in and representing (both) rural and urban Missouri. Again, being sure that we work closely with our veterans, but also taking on some of the big issues of the day, (like) infrastructure (and) expanding broadband access. Finally we need to reform our broken political system. We are the only state in the country that has unlimited political donations, unlimited lobbyists gifts and has few restrictions on the revolving door of legislators becoming lobbyists."

Some other lieutenant governors have used the office as a stepping stone to something bigger. Any chance that you might only be a one-term lieutenant governor?

"You do the job you have first, and to borrow a great piece of advice from my grandmother, 'You peel one potato at a time.' That's the way I look at it, and if you do your job well, that can recommend you for other things down the road, but I look at that as you do one job at a time."

Since we're at the state fair, is there anything you would do for agriculture as lieutenant governor?

"The transportation infrastructure issues dramatically impact agriculture — promoting opportunities for Missouri agricultural products, not just nationally but internationally. Expansion of agricultural products going to Cuba is a good example. Being able to expand broadband internet (access) makes a major difference in our smaller rural communities, so you can be in the smallest community in our state and be doing business nationally and globally. We've held a number of rural roundtables across the state to really listen and prioritize what needs to be done."

Mike Parson

Mike Parson, Republican nominee for Missouri Lt. Gov.

We've seen the working relationship, or lack thereof, between (Missouri's) current governor and lieutenant governor. How would you work with our next governor, especially if it's someone from a different party ?

"Whoever wins, I'm going to figure out a way to work with him. I think that's important that we figure out what we disagree on, but what is it you can move forward on? You talk about agriculture: It's not a Republican or Democrat issue, it's the number one industry in the state of Missouri. Hopefully myself and the governor will be working on ways to improve agriculture. How do you work and how do you get things done, and I think that's going to be crucial in these elections coming up in November. I think people are going to take a look at you and say 'Are you really going to do what you say you're going to do, are you going to get along on the issues you can get along on, and can you get things accomplished?'"

Why are you running for lieutenant governor? Did it have anything to do with the climate of politics in light of what happened last year with the tragic death of (state auditor) Tom Schweich?

"It had an impact on me getting into a statewide race, but I do think the tone of politics needs to change. We've gone way out of bounds to try to describe one another in a political arena, and there's a huge difference in trying to show a contrast between one another, and just trying to destroy people to win an election. I went through that in this primary election, and we felt like we kept our heads up."

You've got a fairly well-known opponent in the Democratic nominee, Russ Carnahan. If necessary, would you use a negative ad in your race for lieutenant governor, or if he uses a negative ad against you, would you retaliate in kind?

"It won't make any difference what he does. I will show a sharp contrast between me and Russ Carnahan. Everything you'll see come out of our campaign will be a factual basis of what his record is, what he's done and hasn't done. But I'm not going to go after him or his family on personal attacks on things that are not true. Everything that we come after him with will be on a factual basis."

If Eric Greitens is elected governor, he has said he'd come to you for advice on agriculture. What type of advice would you offer him in that arena?

"When you know your weaknesses, you get people around you that do know and can help you in those arenas. I think he can put a team together and be very successful (at agriculture). From a lieutenant governor's point of view, I'm going to do everything I can to promote the number one industry in this state whoever the next governor is, and if it's Eric Greitens, I'm going to be in there giving him all the support I can and teaching him as much as I can teach him about agriculture."

When I interviewed Russ Carnahan earlier, he talked specifically about tourism. Is there any particular area of tourism you think needs to be championed or have more of a focus on?

"Definitely. Right here in Sedalia the state fairgrounds can be a great resource of tourism in the state. I think agri-tourism will be big — Branson, St. Louis, Kansas City. What I look forward to doing is coming up with new programs to promote tourism and businesses that support tourism. I think we can do a great deal of good by having a plan. They had a huge BMW rally here (in Sedalia) several years ago, (and) those are the kind of things that you've got to market and target out there that would bring people to Missouri."

(Parson changes the subject to veterans)

"The other thing for me, as a U.S Army veteran, one of the things the lieutenant governor does is advocate for veterans. The sad truth is there's 2,200 veterans (in Missouri) with no place to go, yet we have bed spaces in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. There's no reason we can't find places for these men that have served their country and take care of them with dignity, and the only reason we don't is because of the bureaucracy of the federal and state governments. Those are the kind of things that I want to work on."

The lieutenant governor has a voice and seats on the state's development finance board and the housing development commission, and others. What do you hope to bring to those roles?

"Urban or rural, it doesn't matter, either one: There is a need for housing in this state. For some of us that started with pretty humble beginnings, housing is a big deal to people. I will do whatever I can to promote that, as long as it's within reason and there's a need for it, and put the priority on the consumer rather than the developer. There are very successful development projects around the state. I'm going to support that, but I'm going to look at every case and judge it on its own merits."

Anything else you want to throw in that we didn't cover?

"Traveling across the state for the last 15 months (as of August), the one thing I've learned is that the people out there want to trust somebody. They want to trust a candidate that they feel (1) will tell the truth, and (2) will attempt to do what he says he's going to do. They're trying to find somebody that will stand up for them and will put their priorities above all else, people do care (and) they need somebody that's looking out for them."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.