JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s political season is officially under way.
Dozens of candidates for state offices lined the halls of the secretary of state’s office Tuesday so they could put their names on the 2008 ballot.
First in line was Richard Kline, 68, a four-time unsuccessful congressional candidate from southeast Missouri who this time is running as a Republican for governor.
Why is he running?
“It’s there,” he said simply. “Where else can you pay $200 and get to file for office and say whatever you feel like saying and not get in trouble for it.”
Republican Congressman Kenny Hulshof is expected to file for governor later Tuesday. Republican Treasurer Sarah Steelman also says she is running for governor.
Attorney General Jay Nixon was the only Democrat to declare his gubernatorial candidacy before Tuesday. But as the Republican front-runners discovered with Kline, anyone can enter the race after paying a $200 fee to their political party.
Filing for Missouri offices runs through March 25.
The governor’s race is the big match, especially since Republican Gov. Matt Blunt surprisingly announced Jan. 22 that he will not seek re-election this year. Others were filing Tuesday for Congress, the General Assembly, various statewide offices and circuit judgeships.
Traditionally, the first day of filing is the busiest.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan expected around 350 people to file for office on opening day — a little more than half of the expected total for the Aug. 5 party primaries. The winners there will go on to the Nov. 4 general elections.
“People are excited,” said Carnahan, who greeted several of those standing in line. “We’ve been talking for months about who might run for what offices, and finally today we’ll see.”
Carnahan, a Democrat, was among those planning to file for re-election Tuesday.
Being first to file no longer contains the significance it once did. Until the 1990s, people camped out at the Capitol for days to be first in line, because the first person got the first place on the ballot, and this was believed to be more attractive to voters.
The first-in-line practice still continues in some counties. But the state now uses a lottery system for the first day. Candidates draw numbers from 1-998 from a fish bowl, with the lowest numbers getting the highest spots on the ballot in each race. On subsequent days, candidates are placed on the ballot in the order they file.
Former professional football player Brock Olivo, who is running for Congress in the 9th District now held by Hulshof, said he showed up at the secretary of state’s office at 5:30 a.m. Yet Olivo said he drew one of the highest numbers possible, making him unlikely to be listed first on the Republican primary ballot if anyone else files on the first day.
“I was chomping at the bit to get going, and obviously very excited,” Olivo said.
Olivo acknowledged that he has never voted before. But that’s not a requirement to run for office. And Olivo said part of his campaign would be to encourage other younger voters not to be as apathetic about politics.
Among the many who showed up early to file for office was Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, of the 6th District in northwest Missouri. He’s expecting to face a tough challenge from former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, a Democrat.