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Greitens casts himself as a renegade as he joins GOP crowd running for governor

Eric Greitens kicks off his campaign for Missouri governor at Westport.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

Billing himself as the “conservative outsider” that Missouri needs, Republican Eric Greitens has officially launched his 2016 campaign for governor by seeking to assure the GOP’s base that he’s committed to their cause.

Among his chief targets are the politicians in both parties who currently run the state Capitol:

“We have in Missouri a political class of corrupt consultants, well-paid lobbyists and career politicians who have been in Jefferson City for decades and they have produced nothing for us but embarrassment and failure,” Greitens said Saturday.

“This is not your government. It is our government, and we are here to take it back.”

Still, politicians and lobbyists were among those attending his elegant kickoff in Westport Plaza.

With a stage, piped-in music, singers and banners, the rally had a presidential quality to it, and was by far the most elaborate such event Missouri’s political activists have seen in years for a statewide candidate. 

It’s not unusual nowadays for a candidate to launch a campaign with a simple Tweet.

Greitens’ kickoff fit in, though, with the attention he has attracted since he launched his exploratory committee months ago. He has never run for office. But his huge donations from financial executives from New York, California and elsewhere have put the state’s Republicans and Democrats on notice.

Lays out conservative views

The rally sought to introduce Greitens by highlighting his personal background, from his work ethic as a teen to his eight-year stint in the military. He was introduced by a former fellow soldier, Mike Pereira, who served under Greitens in Iraq.

Greitens  laid out his commitment to "Mission Continues,'' a nonprofit he set up to help combat veterans acclimate to civilian life.

But Greitens also used his 30-minute address to appeal to the GOP’s social conservatives – prominent at Saturday’s event -- who might be wary of his background, which includes a dalliance with the Democratic Party a few years ago.

Greitens emphasized that he’s pro-business and blamed the state’s lagging economy and lost jobs, in part, on its lack of a “right-to-work’’ law that would curb union influence in the workplace. Such a law, which died during the General Assembly’s recent veto session, would have barred unions and employers from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues or fees.

He also emphasized that he’s pro-gun, pro-religion and anti-abortion. The crowd cheered when Greitens blasted Planned Parenthood, which operates Missouri’s only abortion clinic in St. Louis, and has come under fire for working to reinstitute abortion services at its clinic in Columbia, Mo.

“In a free society, no person should have their tax money taken from them and spent on an organization like Planned Parenthood that engages in activities that are quite simply barbaric,” Greitens said.  (Planned Parenthood receives no state money in Missouri, but does get federal money under the Medicaid program.)

Contends corruption rampant in Jefferson City

Greitens’ most passionate remarks appeared aimed at the climate in the Missouri capital. “Corruption hides in the creases and crevasses of complication,’’ Greitens said. “I know our career politicians cannot stand it when their practices are exposed to the light of day.”

He pledged to work for ethics reform, to end “the revolving door’’ that he says has encouraged politicians to become lobbyists, and to seek term limits for all statewide officeholders. Now, only the governor and state treasurer are limited to two terms.

Greitens did not call for any sort of campaign-donation limits. He has received individual contributions as large as $500,000. Some of his rivals, notably former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, have received even larger donations from an individual or group.

Greitens took no questions from the press or the audience.

So far, he has four Republican opponents: Hanaway, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, state Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield and state Rep. Bart Korman, R-High Hill.

Wealthy St. Louis businessman John Brunner, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2012, is expected to join the GOP group shortly. 

The only major Democrat seeking Missouri’s top job is state Attorney General Chris Koster, who ironically often is called a conservative outsider because he used to be a Republican.

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