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Robin Carnahan: Traveling and taking on insurance companies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2009 - Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, so far the only announced Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate next year, on Monday dismissed Republican contentions that she's been hiding from the public.

She also rejected any talk that she's avoiding any stands on major issues.

"I'm traveling all the time around the state," Carnahan said Monday, after a news conference in St. Louis to promote careful investment tips. Carnahan said she's recently traveled, or soon will be, to Jefferson City, Rolla and Kansas City on office business.

From July 1 through July 12, she said, she was on vacation with her husband in Cyprus and Jordan. "It's going to be a long campaign, and my husband and I wanted to take a break,'' Carnahan said. They picked the two countries in the Middle East because of the historic sites and the weather, she added.

The overseas trip marked the end of campaign fundraising quarter where Carnahan raised just over $1 million -- not bad, but less than the tally of the only announced Republican, state Rep. Roy Blunt, who raised $1.4 million.

Carnahan said she wasn't surprised to hear that she's a target of Republican-aligned groups, such as the SOS Ballot group that's seeking to defeat a pro-labor bill in Congress that would make it easier for unions to organize. At an SOS gathering in Sunset Hills last week, a national SOS consultant said Carnahan's defeat was a key objective.

Carnahan has been seen as generally supportive of the measure in question, officially called the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check. A key provision would allow workers to approve a union if a majority sign cards; now, a secret ballot election is required.

Carnahan took note of recent indications that the card-check portion may be dropped from the bill now before Congress. "It seems to be like this issue is still being discussed,'' she said.

What's her stand? "I think employees should be the onces to decide whether to be unionized, without pressure'' from their company or union organizers.

Carnahan, a breast cancer survivor, also took note of her keen interest in the health care debate now underway in Washington. She is the sister of U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, who held a spirited forum on the issue earlier Monday.

"I think we have got to do something health care,'' Carnahan said. "There's no doubt the escalating costs are having a terrible impact on families and are devastating for small business. The cost projectory for the federal government is unsustainable."

What's her prescription? "I'm in favor of figuring out a way to get competitive price pressure in the market,'' Carnahan said. "As a consumer (during her cancer treatment), I was never asked about or told about price.''

But she emphasized that rising costs aren't just affecting health care providers, such as hospitals and physicians.

"The profit margin of insurance companies is escalating dramatically as well,'' Carnahan said.

She rejected the critics' assertion that the government shouldn't get more deeply involved in health care, and that such involvement could lead to rationing. Carnahan said change doesn't have to lead to rationing.

"I know there's somebody standing between me and the doctor today,'' Carnahan said. "It's the insurance company. They have a financial incentive to limit coverage."

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.