COLUMBIA — Religious groups and lobbying organizations that advocate on behalf of faith-based issues say their agendas will not change even though Gov. Matt Blunt is not seeking a second term.
While his decision has left the Republican gubernatorial nomination up in the air, David Tolliver of the Missouri Baptist Convention said it will not have a large effect on faith-based issues for the 2008 campaign.
“I assume most of the people that will step up will have much of the same issues that Gov. Blunt had,” Tolliver said.
Kerry Messer, a lobbyist for Missouri Family Network, said that Blunt’s announcement could cause concern for “values voters” because the state’s Republican Party has now lost the political advantage of incumbency.
Messer said that Blunt’s willingness to find common ground and work constructively with groups that disagree with his policies is an attitude Messer wants in the next nominee. “Blunt has been willing to say, ‘O.K., we disagree. But I’m willing to work on the things we agree on.’ So, we are looking for someone who will act much in the same way.”
Others are looking more for a candidate with similar personal views.
“We would hope and pray that Gov. Blunt’s successor would govern by and large by Judeo-Christian morality,” David Strand said.
Strand, executive director of the Board for Communication Services for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said that life issues are usually the only matters of public policy that the Lutheran church will weigh in on. “We don’t like to bind the consciences of our members,” he said.
Life issues, such as embryonic stem cell research and abortion, are in the forefront of the minds of “values voters” as they look ahead to the election in November, Messer said. “Most ‘values voters’ in Missouri would very quickly say life issues are the most important issues facing our nation today,” he said.
Blunt, a Baptist, has been an ardent opponent of abortion rights and an opponent of extending marriage rights to couples of the same sex throughout his term. However, many Christian and anti-abortion groups have expressed disappointment with Blunt’s record on faith-based issues in his three years as governor.
“We don’t agree with the governor on all things,” Patty Skain, executive director of Missouri Right to Life, said. Blunt’s decision to fund embryonic stem cell research with the proceeds of the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority has been at the center of much of the disagreement between anti-abortion and faith organizations, Skain said.
“He is obviously on the opposite of us on the cloning and embryonic stem cell research,” she said.
Larry Weber, executive director for the Missouri Catholic Conference, appraised Blunt’s term similarly.
“We respect his position to limiting the effects of abortion,” Weber said. However, the Catholic Conference also opposes his decisions to cut Medicaid and to fund embryonic stem cell research with proceeds of the sale of MOHELA. “We also oppose the general shelling out of the state’s higher education funds,” Weber said. The conference supports funding the state’s higher education budget from general revenue instead of the MOHELA sale.
Weber said that this disparity with the governor’s policy is nothing new. “As is the case with every candidate, it has been kind of a mixed bag,” he said.
The absence of a clear-cut Republican nominee coupled with Democratic frontrunner Jay Nixon having more public support than Blunt, according to polls, has brought Nixon’s views on faith-based issues to the forefront.
His record on abortion issues is troubling for Missouri Right to Life, said Skain. “We still consider him to be, and I’m sure his position is, pro-choice,” she said.
The Missouri Family Network also has problems with some of Nixon’s policies, Messer said. “With Nixon, we have issues we agree on and several issues we don’t agree on,” he said.
“We will continue to discuss with Mr. Nixon and other candidates the issues that affect Missouri voters,” Weber said. “We look forward to that dialogue with whoever is governor.”