KANSAS CITY — Giving both President Bush and Gov. Matt Blunt failing grades for their performance, Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon said Thursday that his Republican gubernatorial opponent would just bring more of the same Washington politics to office.
But U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof said Nixon's litigious ways would create a hostile business climate, and his policies on health care and education would bring more people under the government umbrella and probably mean an increase in taxes.
The two major candidates for governor debated Thursday for the second time, an hour-long exchange in Kansas City that was aired live on several radio stations statewide.
Both candidates gave few specifics on their health care and economic proposals, instead pointing listeners to their Web sites or previous policy statements to get the details. When pressed on taxes, Nixon declined to specifically promise he wouldn't raise them, though he repeated several times that he would "hold the line." Hulshof said he has already made the promise that he wouldn't raise taxes - ever.
Nixon sought to connect Hulshof, who represents Missouri's 9th Congressional District, to Bush and Washington politics. He painted himself as a leader who knows how to balance a budget and not "print money like they do in Washington."
Yet it was that Washington money that Nixon proposes to use to restore Medicaid to thousands of Missouri residents who lost their benefits under Blunt.
"We're clearly heading in the wrong direction," Nixon said. "There are 700,000 people in Missouri without health coverage. We're up 44 percent as far as the number of kids without health care coverage, and we've turned down $1.5 billion in federal money that Missourians paid in taxes that could be used for health care but is being used in other states."
Hulshof said Nixon's policies would mean either a tax increase or taking money away from education.
Both candidates touted their health care plans as vastly cheaper than the other's, but neither agreed with how his opponent came up with the numbers.
When asked to give Blunt and Bush a letter grade, Nixon gave both an "F." Hulshof was more generous, giving Blunt a "B" and Bush - who was in St. Louis on Friday to raise money for Hulshof - a "C-minus."
"There was no hand-wringing by the attorney general when the previous Democratic governor actually presided over the state's economy," Hulshof said. "When we lost more jobs at one point during Governor Holden's administration than the entire country, money was being held from public education every single year under the last Democratic governor. We had a million people who were on public assistance.
"Tort reform, we had lawsuits driving up the cost of doing business. We had small business owners being sued even though they weren't being injured on the job site, and the budget was a billion dollars out of balance, so some tough decisions had to be made."
Asked for specific proposals to help the Missouri economy, Hulshof proposed a public/private partnership to build an oil refinery in the state and work on alternative fuels through bioengineering.
Nixon proposed building a windmill plant in the state that would provide equipment and parts to wind farms. He also said he would push to make sure new flexible fuel cars were built in Missouri.
Hulshof also proposed public/private partnerships to modernize the state's highways without increasing the gas tax.
"If you wanted to have a parallel truck lane, the private sector might do that and lease it to the state," he said. Working with the private sector could pull in money from outside sources to help pay for the needed upgrades, he said.
Nixon said he would bring together experts after his first legislative session and work to lay out a clear transportation plan, but he said he didn't think the state would have enough money to help Kansas City build a light-rail system.
Hulshof jabbed Nixon on ethics, repeating GOP claims that the attorney general had received donations from Ameren Corp., even as he was investigating the company after the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse. He called it a "pay to play" mentality that had Nixon soliciting donations from three casinos as they were trying to get a state license.
He also accused Nixon of directing millions of dollars in legal fees to private attorneys who worked on such issues as the state's national tobacco settlement and said under a Hulshof administration, the state would have some of the strongest ethics laws in the nation.
"Kenny, you worked for me. You know better than that," Nixon responded. "You received one of those contracts. I restored integrity to the office of attorney general. Over the last 16 years, I've worked hard to restore the integrity of the office."