Blunt has achieved his goals — now can the state recover?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 | 3:24 p.m. CST; updated 7:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

When Gov. Matt Blunt issued his surprising declaration of non-candidacy Tuesday, he explained his decision not to run again by saying that he has accomplished everything he set out to do as governor — and then some.

So he has. The question he leaves us with is how, and whether, Missouri can recover.

Of course, there’s a year left in his term. Maybe that will be time enough for him and his allies in the legislature to lift the state from our Bottom 5 standings in such things as job growth, infrastructure quality, school finance and support for higher education. Or maybe not.

Even as our no-longer-so-boyish chief executive was boasting about the fine shape in which he’ll leave the state, the Federal Reserve was reporting that Missouri’s economy actually shrank last month.

Analyses in both the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out Wednesday the dark side of Gov. Blunt’s achievements.

He cut Medicaid costs, as he promised, not by keeping his campaign pledge to weed out waste and fraud but by whacking 100,000 of the poor and sick from the rolls. Not even his new Insure Missouri program intends to restore fully those cuts.

He did indeed make it more difficult for those hated trial lawyers to file “frivolous” lawsuits, but the legislation also made it more difficult for people injured on the job to seek compensation.

He privatized license offices around the state, not by awarding contracts to nonprofits or even through open bidding but by handing out the lucrative monopolies to political allies.

He reduced the state’s payroll, but in many cases by hiring outside contractors to do the same work less efficiently and more expensively, the expense accruing both to taxpayers and to workers who lost pay and benefits.

He fired an aide who warned of Sunshine Law violations, selectively released personnel records to blacken the guy’s reputation and then — as the whistle-blower prepared to sue — announced an expensive new program to preserve the records his staff has been illegally destroying.

He has boosted education spending — almost back to its levels in 2002. He leaves us, though, with teacher salaries among the nation’s lowest and a level of support for our colleges and universities that ranks last in the Midwest.

That record has led some cynics to speculate that the decision not to run was based more on reading the poll numbers than on the results of prayer. I disagree. I think the governor is as sincere in his religiosity as he is in his wrongheaded policies. As we used to say about John Ashcroft, what makes him dangerous is that he actually believes what he says.

Now we look forward — beyond this legislative session, which offers little prospect of cheer — to the election, which has Democrats chortling. A word or two of caution seems in order. First, none of Gov. Blunt’s accomplishments would have been possible without the Republican majority in the Legislature. His departure alone doesn’t change that.

And it seems likely that whoever replaces him as a candidate will be stronger, less baggage-laden, than he. Gov. Hulshof, anyone?

Remember, be careful what we wish for.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian.

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