COLUMBIA — About the only thing Republican incumbent Peter Kinder and state Rep. Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, agreed about during Friday morning's first lieutenant governor candidate forum was that the office is vital for effective state government.
"The lieutenant governor of Missouri has real responsibilities," Page, an anesthesiologist and former city councilman, said, citing the second-in-command's advocacy role for senior citizens and economic development and his or her membership on numerous board's and commissions.
The lieutenant governor also is an ex-officio member of the Missouri Senate and would assume the governor's role in the event of death, conviction, impeachment, resignation or absence from the state.
Kinder, of Cape Girardeau, echoed Page's sentiments about the importance of the job. But beyond that, the two mainstream candidates' views diverged.
It didn't take long for Kinder to take the offensive in his opening statements, and throughout the forum - held at Stoney Creek Inn and hosted by the Missouri Press Association - he and Page clashed on health care issues, state-subsidized economic incentives and the handling of open records requests.
Libertarian Teddy Fleck, who sat between Kinder and Page at the debate, offered a viewpoint based on "lower taxes and smaller government."
Statutorily, as official advocate for the state and a member of the Missouri Rx Plan Advisory Commission, Kinder said he successfully advocated for "several million dollars more" for the Senior Meals Program without the need for a tax increase. The program offers nutrition centers and home-delivered meals for older citizens across the state.
"Almost 180,000 Missourians are getting assistance for their monthly prescription drugs," he added, whereas, according to him, prescription drug support for seniors was non-existent several years ago.
Page shot back that he is the only candidate who fought Medicaid cuts in 2005 that "took away health care for seniors, working families, people with disabilities and children."
Following the debate, Page noted his bipartisan efforts to improve the Missouri Rx program by offering generic alternatives to prescription drug coverage.
In response to a question from moderator and Associated Press reporter David Lieb regarding candidates' potential support of state subsidies for professional sports stadiums while serving on the Missouri Development Finance Board, Kinder defended a pending case that would turn a dilapidated shopping mall in southeast Kansas City into office buildings and a new stadium for Kansas City's professional soccer team.
He praised the $30 million redevelopment project that, he said, would transform an "awful sinkhole of blight and crime" into a "wonderful, beautiful corporate campus" that would provide tourism and tax dollars for the state.
Page countered. "I don't support public funds for sports stadiums," he said, adding that he does support economic incentives that lead to infrastructure improvements that otherwise would not happen.
Fleck said, living in Springfield, he should not have to pay for a stadium in urban centers of the state.
Regarding open records requests of both Page and Kinder, the candidates had conflicting stories on each other's willingness to cooperate with Missouri's Sunshine Law.
Kinder accused Page of writing an official letter regarding eminent domain proceedings in Creve Coeur and then failing to release that letter, instead opting to forward the request to the clerk of the Missouri House of Representatives, where it was thwarted.
"Representative Page wants to use the Sunshine Law as a sword against any and all who might have the temerity to stand up to him, but when it's applied to him, we're going to reach for this bogus exception, which is against the way of legal opinion," Kinder said. "... Sunshine Law applies to all governmental bodies."
He said his office repeatedly complied with open records requests within the required 72 hours, including 3,000 pages in e-mails that had been requested by Page directly.
Page, in turn, said that, upon request, he has released all documents in his possession, including a letter "identical" to what Kinder called into question, except for the recipient's name, which had been redacted.
He reiterated a call he made in July for Kinder to release government e-mails that were not made available by Gov. Matt Blunt.
That lawsuit, brought by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, is pending.
"If the lieutenant governor, as acting governor, can call out the National Guard, he can release the governor's e-mails," Page quipped Friday, referring to about 100 days over Kinder's term that he stepped in as acting governor.
In a rebuttal, Kinder called Page's request "a stunt."
Fleck offered his opinion that the Sunshine Law should apply to Missouri House and Senate members when a "government account e-mail" is involved but that personal e-mails should be kept off limits.
Given a chance to sum up his candidacy, Page said, "I'm running for lieutenant governor for the same reason I became a doctor - to help people."
"My priority is going to increase access to health care in Missouri, to protect Missouri jobs by carefully using economic incentives to businesses that create jobs and keep those jobs in Missouri."
In his closing remarks, Kinder characterized himself as an advocate of the Senior Meals Program, someone who will fight financial crimes on the elderly, a supporter of the Missouri Military Family Relief Fund and a catalyst for increased tourism and economic development dollars in the state.