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Kehoe touts experience - but not being tied to the establishment - in run for governor

Mike Kehoe, Lieutenant Governor of Missouri, Wednesday June 12, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe is one of three main candidates seeking the GOP nomination to succeed Gov. Mike Parson, who is not running for reelection due to term limits.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe has worn a lot of different hats over the years: mid-Missouri car dealer, highways and transportation commissioner, state senator and lieutenant governor. He’s even donned an actual cowboy hat in his ads while working on his farm.

But during an appearance on the Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air, Kehoe, who was appointed to his current post in 2018, brushed aside criticism that he’s too much a part of the Jefferson City establishment.

“I've considered myself a 35-year small-business person. That's what I've done my entire adult life,” Kehoe said. “Public policy is something I enjoy speaking about for future generations, but I would certainly not consider myself part of the inside.”

Kehoe’s main competition is Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and state Sen. Bill Eigel. He’s raised the most money and has already been running television ads. And he’s picked up the endorsements of key agriculture and public safety groups, including the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Fraternal Order of Police.

He also pushed back against the idea that he's not conservative enough to be the GOP nominee, pointing out his support for abortion restrictions, gun rights and tax cuts.

Kehoe touts experience - but not being tied to the establishment - in run for governor

“I believe that you represent the party's values and you move forward,” he said. “And that's what I have done in my mind and my heart very well since I've been elected into the Senate.”

Kehoe’s critics have derisively highlighted his voting record, including his support for sales tax or gas tax increases for transportation projects. Kehoe has often pointed out that he’s backed scores of tax cuts throughout his time in the legislature but added that investing in transportation infrastructure is a necessary part of state government.

“We've seen a lot of infrastructure Republicans: Ronald Reagan, Kit Bond, Roy Blunt — I could go on,” Kehoe said.

Kehoe’s rivals have also pointed out his vote in 2013 to allow foreign ownership of farmland. Lawmakers wanted to authorize it after a Hong Kong-based company purchased Smithfield, which has a large presence in Missouri.

He said that vote needs to be looked at in context of when it occurred.

“You have to be in the seat when that vote happens,” Kehoe said. “And you have to understand the jobs that were impacted in northwest Missouri that would have never been recovered in an area that is very low on job opportunities. It was 450 employees. Our relationship with China was much different than it is today. Today's vote would be much different for me personally, based on what China has done as a national threat.”

Police respond to a deadly shooting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023 at Lindell and Spring, just off the campus of St. Louis University, in St. Louis. The shooting left one victim dead, with another person transported off the scene.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Some Republicans want the state, instead of the mayor's office, to oversee the St. Louis police department.

State control of St. Louis police department

Like Eigel and Ashcroft, Kehoe supports having a board that the governor largely appoints to oversee the St. Louis police department. That’s something that St. Louis leaders, like Mayor Tishaura Jones, strongly oppose.

But Kehoe said local control overall hasn’t made the city safer — and it’s time to change course.

“I think that the state should have a say in what that police board makeup looks like,” Kehoe said. “I am a big fan of Chief Robert Tracy. He's doing a fantastic job. I want him to stay and work here. Even though I know he is outwardly against it, I think this would be a tool that would ultimately help him.”

Kehoe also said he would bolster both local and state-based tools to remove prosecutors who aren’t effectively going after criminals. That could include providing more power to the attorney general’s office, which can bring what’s called a quo warranto motion to remove local officials who have abandoned the duties of their office.

“St. Louis city residents wanted somebody in there who was going to be tough on crime. I'm born and raised in the city. You know that people in the city want their city back,” said Kehoe, who grew up in north St. Louis. “They don't want the criminals running it. And you have to have a tough prosecutor in order to do that.”

One of the issues on which Kehoe differs from Ashcroft and Eigel is that he won’t rule out state help to keep the Royals and Chiefs from going to Kansas.

Kehoe said it’s unwise for Missouri policymakers to announce they won’t consider incentives while Kansas officials try to lure the teams across the border.

“It's not about giving subsidies to a sports team, in my opinion,” Kehoe said. “It's about: Let's look at the economic impact that that organization is making to our community and to our state. And then, what do people want to do to make sure they stay here?”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Ulaa Kuziez, Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr and the production intern is Roshae Hemmings. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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