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Greitens and gay rights generate only sparks at latest GOP forum

Clockwise from upper left: Eric Greitens, Catherine Hanaway, Peter Kinder and John Brunner

Eric Greitens, one of four Missouri GOP candidates for governor, sought Sunday night to clarify his position when it comes to a proposed Missouri law that would bar government penalties against “individuals and religious entities who refuse to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies due to sincerely held religious beliefs.”

During a candidate forum at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Greitens said his opposition to the measure — known as Senate Joint Resolution 39 — stems from its approach, not its aim. Greitens said he wants Missouri to avoid the economic backlash that has hurt socially conservative states like North Carolina and Mississippi, which recently passed laws deemed anti-gay.

“Unfortunately, our career politicians have put people in Missouri in this situation where they have to choose between protecting their religious liberties or protecting their jobs,’’ Greitens said in an interview after the forum. “As governor, we’re going to do both.”

“You sit down with the faith community, you sit down with the business community and you come up with conservative, common-sense solutions,’’ he said.

Greitens’ stance against SJR39 is, for the moment, the biggest difference between the former Navy SEAL and his three GOP rivals: St. Louis businessman John Brunner, former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

All three say they support the measure, which backers are seeking to get on this year’s statewide ballots.  Hanaway, for example, said the key issue is not the particulars of the legislation, but whether Missouri voters should have the right to decide whether it becomes law.

Some supporters of SJR 39 carried anti-Greitens pickets outside the Scheidegger Center, where the two-hour forum was held. The event, which almost packed the center’s auditorium, was sponsored by the St. Louis County and St. Charles County Republican organizations.  The moderator was Marc Cox of FM NewsTalk 97.1.

Credit Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio
Supporters of SJR39 protest Greitens' opposition before Sunday's forum at Lindenwood University.

Brunner told reporters afterward that the political heat directed at Greitens was of his own making.  “Mr. Greitens is a conundrum,’’ Brunner said. “I think he truly is trying to struggle to understand what he believes.”

Brunner contended that Greitens previously had been “a lifetime progressive Democrat. The transition is a little difficult for him.”

All three of Greitens’ rivals made veiled jabs at him on several fronts, fueled in part by the fact that he continues to raise more campaign funds than his opponents. Hanaway, for example, noted that Greitens' top donor, from California, faces a lawsuit accusing the donor of sexual abuse. 

Greitens didn’t response to any of the attacks during the forum. Later, he contended, “Our opponents are desperate.”

In any case, aside from SJR39, all four of the contenders to be the state’s next governor generally stuck to their standard playbook during Sunday night’s forum – the latest in a series held around the state.

All promise to create jobs, cut taxes and curb abortions. All also support requiring photo IDs to vote, pledge to protect property rights and oppose any settlement of Syrian refugees in Missouri. All four support an anti-union measure called “right to work,’’ which would bar employers and unions from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit pay dues or fees.

Brunner called himself “a lifelong constitutional conservative,’’ and told the crowd that his business background made him the candidate best equipped to create more jobs.

Hanaway emphasized her tenure as the U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri, where she led various federal prosecutions. She has promised to crack down on crime if elected governor.

Kinder, in his third term as lieutenant governor, noted that he was the only Republican candidate for governor who has won statewide.

Each also claimed to be the GOP's best hope for defeating the likely Democratic nominee, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who currently has outraised all of his GOP rivals.

Before Sunday's forum, several of the candidates observed that their frequent joint appearances have made them very familiar with their rivals' stock speeches and views.  Quipped Hanaway, "We certainly know each other's core message."

Missouri's four Republican candidates share stage at Sunday night's forum

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.