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As he accelerates his gubernatorial push, Kehoe showcases distinctions with Ashcroft

Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe speaks to the Senate Chamber before Governor Mike Parson gives his State of the State address on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, at the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City.
Daniel Shular
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe speaks to the Senate Chamber before Governor Mike Parson gives his State of the State address on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, at the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City.

After announcing last year he’d run for governor, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe is accelerating his bid for the job, holding a formal kickoff event and touting distinctions with his likely opponents.

Kehoe held a launch event in Mid-Missouri earlier this week, which included the release of a web video laying out some of his key priorities in the competitive governor’s race.

In that video, he notes at the outset: “Growing up, I didn’t have a famous father or a father at all. He left when I was 1, leaving a single mother to raise six kids.”

Kehoe said that was about trying to provide a counterpoint to the idea that his opponent’s name recognition, as a state office holder whose father is John Ashcroft, is an insurmountable hurdle.

“The point of us working with Missourians is that I want to make sure people understand this race is not about the name, it's about the person,” Kehoe said. “And if you look at the background and the path that I've had in life and the journey we've had, starting out very basic and working through several successful small businesses that still run and operate today, I think the differences between how I was raised and came through society is likely much different than any of my other opponents will be.”

Before he won election to the Senate in 2010 and became lieutenant governor in 2018, Kehoe was well-known in mid-Missouri for operating a successful Ford dealership. He added that some people still remember advertisements featuring the line “Mid-Missouri loves a Mike Kehoe deal.”

Beyond his name recognition in business and in politics, Kehoe is hoping that Republican voters find his message appealing. He said he wants to focus his governorship on fighting crime, building up the state’s agriculture industry and recruiting new businesses to the state.

“Me being able to sell Missouri is something I'm very comfortable doing,” Kehoe said. “I can deal with the largest companies or the smallest.”

Transportation spending

Kehoe’s first foray into public service came in the 2000s when then-Gov. Matt Blunt appointed him to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. As a state senator, he supported proposals that raised either sales or gas taxes to pay for major transportation projects.

Already, Ashcroft’s campaign has criticized Kehoe for these stances, pointing to how Ashcroft signed a pledge to not raise taxes.

“I ran for Senate to let Missourians know our infrastructure system is unbelievably underfunded,” Kehoe said. “And I'm the first guy to push for Missourians to vote to see if that is an appropriate way to fund transportation.”

He also said he’s been in support of legislation that would cut taxes, including a bill during last year’s special session that Parson signed into law.

“I've cut way more taxes and refunded way more money to Missourians than any of those initiatives have ever produced,” Kehoe said, referring to the gas and sales tax proposals to shore up transportation spending.


If Kehoe wins the GOP primary, it’s highly possible he would be running while an initiative to legalize abortion is on the ballot. Kehoe said he plans to help vigorously defend the restrictions Republicans have enacted.

“It's something that we're going to defend and defend until we don't know how to do it anymore,” Kehoe said.

Transgender care

While Kehoe said he was in favor of banning gender-affirming care for minors, he said he’s not in favor of putting up barriers for transgender adults to obtain hormone therapy and gender transition surgery.

He said he is for barring the state from paying for gender-affirming care.

“I think once a person is a certain age, in this case, I think 18 is the number that's out there, they should be able to make decisions for themselves,” Kehoe said. “My only caveat to that would be if they make that decision, then they shouldn't rely on state or federal subsidies.”

Anti-discrimination policy

One area of policy in which Kehoe and Ashcroft may diverge is legislation that would provide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

Ashcroft expressed strong opposition to that idea when he was a guest on Politically Speaking earlier this year. Kehoe voted for legislation that had language in it that allows people to sue if they were fired, denied housing or barred from public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

While Kehoe noted that the bill was a part of a “larger deal to move something through the Senate,” he said the Republican Party needs to be more aligned with younger people who support anti-LGBTQ discrimination. 

“We're not the judge or the jury,” Kehoe said. “And I really think that we as a party are going to have to start getting our arms around where younger people across this country are.”

“So I'm not sure I'm ready to say I’m 100% going to establish this position,” he added. “But it's something I think we should be absolutely watching.”

In addition to Kehoe and Ashcroft, state Sen. Bill Eigel is a possible GOP candidate for governor. House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, is considering seeking the Democratic nomination.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.