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Missouri's governor candidates differ greatly

November 01, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The differences between the two leading candidates for Missouri governor could not be greater.

One comes from rural Missouri, the other from the state's urban population center.

One proposes dramatic new programs to address some of the state's biggest problems, the other argues for maintaining the course of the Carnahan administration.

Bob Holden

JEFFERSON CITY - Democrat Bob Holden's gubernatorial campaign has urged Missourians not to change horses in midstream.

Throughout the campaign's debates, stump speeches and commercials, Holden has asked Missourians, "Do you want to continue to move forward making progress in Missouri, or do we radically change course?"

That question is a retort to his opponent's efforts to include the State Treasurer as part of "a failed establishment in Jefferson City."

The Treasurer's office, which Holden has occupied for two terms, is not the loudest pulpit in state government. Nonetheless, Holden has intitiated several programs that have earned him recognition.

Holden started the Missouri Savings for Tuition program, or MO$T, in 1998. The program offers parents federal and state tax incentives if they save for college. Holden said the plan, 7,000 accounts strong, is flexible; parents can use the money for any school in country.

Throughout his campaign, Holden has boasted that he earned the state more than $1 billion in interest revenue from investments. He said changes he made -- "streamlining the process internally" and seeking higher yield investments -- contributed "to a limited extent" to the revenue.

"The major factor was the strong economy," he said.

The Dollar$ and $ense program works with banks to allow students to set up savings accounts at school. Holden said more than 300 banks and more than 12,000 students participate at no state expense.

In his time in the state legislature, Holden, a 51-year-old from tiny Birch Tree, Mo., sought changes in the campaign finance system and brought proficiency testing to schools.

Representing Springfield in the legislature, Holden sponsored bills that would have provided public financing of campaigns. The bills failed, and Holden now says his views on public financing have changed.

"I am very interested in campaign finance reform, but I am not sure that (public financing) is the proper mechanism," he said. "I haven't seen support for that. I want something that we can get done. I want to acheive a political system that's responsive to the political situation."

Despite the fact he has raised and spent more than $10 million in this campaign, he said he favors limits on contributions and bans on so-called soft money.

"I take a great deal of pride in that I've had over 27,000 contributors to my campaign," he said.

Holden co-sponsored the Excellence in Education Act of 1985. That law, he said, provided the state's first proficiency testing for elementary and secondary students and established a minimum salary for teachers.

Under the law, local schools must periodically test students in reading, language arts, math, science, social studies and civics. Standards for promoting students are left to the district to determine.

As a candidate, Holden has proposed using the state's tobacco money to provide a prescription drug benefit for aging Missourians. On education, he has proposed more state money for recruiting and retaining teachers.

Holden's opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., has based his bid on a plan to fix the state's roads. Holden, for his part, has offered nothing specific for the state's highway system estimated to fall $1.5 billion short annually.

Holden said he wanted to get into the governor's office and study the problem before proposing a "broader" transportation plan that includes airports in addition to roads.

He is even less clear on how a plan would be funded, saying he doesn't "want to lock himself in" to one source of money.

"I want to see if we have the money internally," he said. "But if not I'll seek external funds. I am hopeful to get more federal funds, but before we decide on funding we have to decide what our priorities are."

Holden has portrayed Talent's $10 billion bond proposal as "risky" and said it would threaten the state's high bond rating.

Holden served as assistant treasurer from 1976-1978. Between that post and his time in the legislature, he worked as a political consultant to Mel Carnahan and to the Missouri Merchandising Association.

In the late 80s and early 90s, he managed U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt's St. Louis office, overseeing the office's "non-political stuff."

He serves on several boards and commissions and is a dean of the American Legion Missouri Boys State Legislative School.
Name Bob Holden
Age 51
Occupation state Treasurer
Family wife, Lori, and two children
Education Bachelor's degree in political science, Southwest Missouri State University
Political experience state Representative 1983-1989; state Treasurer 1993-present.

Jim Talent

JEFFERSON CITY - Republican Jim Talent has centered his gubernatorial bid on a $10 billion bond plan aimed at fixing Missouri's roads.

He acknowledges the roadblocks the measure could face in the legislature, but said an election day victory would give him the momentum he needs.

"One reason I've been pushing the roads so hard is, if I win, when I win, I am going claim a mandate," Talent said.

Roads may dominate his campaigning, but Talent has focused much of his political career -- a span that began in the state legislature in 1985 and continued to his current place in the U.S. House of Representatives -- on aiding business and reducing the number of single moms on welfare.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying group representing business and industry, has given Talent a perfect rating for four in of his first six years in Congress. Those ratings measure how often a congressman votes in-line with the pro-business organization's position.

As chairman of the House Small Business Committee, Talent, 44, has pushed legislation for eight years in Congress that would give businesses tax breaks for investing in impoverished areas.

That bill, once again before Congress, faces a promised veto by President Clinton.

He said the political squabbling over the measure "reminded me of why I don't want to go back" to Washington.

Talent has sponsored proposals that would cut welfare benefits to single moms under age 21 and to require welfare recipients to work 25-35 hours a week.

"I haven't made (welfare reform) a big issue in the campaign, but there are a few things I'd like to address" as governor, Talent said.

Among those, he said he still wants to reduce the number of children born out of wedlock. To this aim, he said he wanted "to gently but truthfully confront kids with the reality of being a single mom" by cutting unwed mothers' benefits.

Talent represents the state's wealthiest congressional district, spanning the bulk of St. Louis County and parts of St. Charles County. He grew up in affluent Kirkwood and attended Washington University in St. Louis, finishing with a degree in political science. He got a law degree from the University of Chicago.

In the legislature, Talent rose to the position of Republican floor leader in 1988. Once in that position, the bills he sponsored transformed from mundane technical matters to meatier issues like tax cuts and ensuring local control over the education.

As a Republican in a Democratic chamber, the bills he sponsored didn't pass -- something Talent said he learned to get around.

"In the minority, you can still get things done through the amendment process," he said. "So you can get things done in a way you don't get credit for."

He also holds a leadership position in the U.S. House, assistant majority leader. Majority Leader U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, chose Talent in part as a reward for supporting Armey's run to be re-elected majority leader.

That tie to the GOP leadership in Congress is an area Talent's opponent, state Treasurer Bob Holden, has attacked, linking Talent to fiery former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

In addition to the roads proposal, Talent has put forth proposals aimed at making schools safer and has vowed to meet with municipal leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City to devise a plan to salvage those struggling school districts.

Although not mentioned in the Republican's campaign, he supports school vouchers, the controversial idea that would give state money to families living in poor performing districts to send their kids to private schools.

Much of Talent's campaign rhetoric has sought to paint Holden as part of a "failed establishment in Jefferson City."

Although that would seem like a touchy subject after the top of that establishment, Gov. Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash, Talent said that his basic campaign approach would not be changed because of the governor's death.

"The basic strategy doesn't change at all," he said. "I've talked about a leadership network that has failed. See, we have real people who get hurt when kids don't learn to read the way they should and when we're second in the country in production of meth. If we're gonna help those real people we have to confront the failures."

Talent, an attorney, got into politics after clerking for a federal judge in Washington, D.C.

State Sen. Franc Flotron, R-Chesterfield, a friend of Talent's from Washington University, suggested that Talent move to suburban Ballwin after the clerkship because the state representative there was preparing to retire.

Talent said he ran with the intention of serving for a few terms then "returning to a normal life." But, he said, positions kept opening up that he felt he was the man to fill.

He said it was unclear what impact, if any, the drama unfolding in the U.S. Senate campaign would have on his own race.

"I don't know if anybody knows the impact, even on the Senate race, much less any other race," he said. "To have the effect, which was appropriate and necessary, of causing a parentheses in the campaign (created) a time which very significantly limited our campaigning. What impact that's going to have I don't know, for good or for ill."
NameJim Talent
Age 44
Occupation U.S. Representative
Wife Brenda, three children
Education Washington University in St. Louis, political science; University of Chicago, law degree
Political experience state representative 1985-1993, served as minority leader 89-93; U.S. Representative, Missouri's 2nd District 1993-present.