JEFFERSON CITY — The Republican candidate for state treasurer says he learned his fiscal responsibility by watching his parents — his school-teacher mother and his father, who worked overtime at the battery plant — make tough financial decisions.
"I remember my mom and dad at the table, looking at what we have left. Those things have an impact on you," said Brad Lager, the 33-year-old state senator from Maryville. "Can we get through the month? I watched my parents prioritize their spending every month. They sacrificed to make sure their kids could have a little."
PERSONAL: 33. He and his wife, Stephanie Lager, have one daughter.
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: bradlager.com
OCCUPATION: 12th District state senator, small business owner
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in computer management systems from Northwest Missouri State University, 1997.
BACKGROUND: Member of the Maryville City Council since 2001; Fourth District state representative from 2002 to 2006; vice chairman and later chairman of the House Budget Committee; elected to the state Senate in 2006; member of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Maryville; member of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
WHAT'S THE JOB?
The state treasurer is Missouri state government's chief financial office. The treasurer's office manages $20 billion in annual state revenue, directs the state's banking services, and manages the state's $3.5 billion investment portfolio. The office safeguards more than $450 million in unclaimed assets that have been turned over by banks, businesses, insurance companies and government agencies, and it tries to find the rightful owners. The state treasurer also serves on the management boards of a number of public entities. State treasurers serve four-year terms. The salary is $104,608 per year.
Lager said he also learned the value of hard work on his family's farm outside Maryville, in Nodaway County. Although he described his family as "hobby farmers," when he was growing up, the family had hogs, cattle and a few hundred acres full of row crops.
"I was raised in a rural community where every dollar matters," Lager said. "It was an environment of personal responsibility to take care of yourself first, then those around you. Not looking to the government for a handout."
Lager stayed close to home for college after being one of 10 to receive a Presidential Scholarship to Northwest Missouri State University. The recipients were 10 of 120 interviewed and got a full-ride scholarship, contingent on keeping up their grade-point averages and working 10 hours a week on campus.
After active years on campus, Lager took his leadership skills to a telecommunications company. He started out as the first employee and headed up the wireless communications company with a few hundred customers. It wasn't long before there were more than 6,000 customers, 15 employees and a multi-million dollar company under Lager's control.
But in 2001, when Lager saw that the Maryville landfill was causing city finances to go into the red, he and two other business owners ran for, and were elected to, city council. The three vowed to apply business philosophies to government.
"You can't spend more than you have coming in. We made common-sense decisions and did what voters wanted us to do. That's how we brought the budget back to black, and that's how I learned to make a difference in government," Lager said.
Bryan Twaddle, who served with Lager on the Maryville council, described Lager as someone to whom he frequently looked for advice, even though Lager was considerably younger.
"That kid is intelligent financially," Twaddle said, listing off capital improvement projects in which Lager played an influential role. "He's probably got the best head on his shoulders of anyone in Jefferson City."
Lager left the council before completing his term in order to run for state representative. He knocked on doors, told people what he was about and in 2002 was elected to the House. Just four years later, he won a seat in the state Senate.
While in the House, Lager's passion for fiscal issues led to his selection in his first year as vice-chairman of the House Budget Committee that puts together the House version of the state's multibillion dollar budget.
Later, he became chairman of the committee, but not for long. Lager developed a reputation for legislative independence. In late 2005, he lost his job as Budget Committee chairman after making statements contrary to the budget predictions of the Republican governor and House speaker. He had held the post for less than a year.
This year, Lager joined two other Republican senators who agreed to resist any efforts by their fellow Republicans to shut off debate by Democrats in the Senate as had occurred the year before. Democrats were threatening a slowdown for the entire session without some sort of assurance protecting their filibuster rights.
With just two years in the Senate, Lager said it was after incumbent state Treasurer Sarah Steelman abandoned her re-election campaign to seek the Republican nomination for governor that he decided to seek the office himself.
Fellow state Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, described Lager as a senator who made his reputation in fighting what Lager considered excessive taxes.
"He's distinguished himself early on as someone who wanted to go after taxpayer-waste issues and taxpayer-waste programs," Loudon said.
Loudon spoke of a time that Lager took on 25 programs that he wanted to sunset or bring up for review.
"He worked his way around all the senators saying taxpayers were being rooked. They only work for a few people, and we have no way to measure how effective they are," Loudon said of the programs targeted by Lager.
State Senate Majority Floor Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, described Lager as hard-working.
"He gets up in the morning thinking about public policy and goes to bed at night thinking about public policy," Shields said.
State Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis County, who said he's donated a considerable amount to Lager's opponent, state Rep. Clint Zweifel, D-St. Louis County, described Lager the same way.
"He's very into talking about politics and policy," Smith said. "He works late, till 10 or 11 at night. He works hard to be responsive to his constituents."
Loudon also described Lager as friendly but focused.
"He's always a generally affable guy. He wouldn't pick a fight with anybody, but if he felt strongly, he wasn't afraid to stand firm," Loudon said. "He's very unapologetic about defending the taxpayers in the face of government waste."
Many describe Lager as a family man in his personal life.
Although Lager said he's enjoyed traveling across the state, he misses time with his family, his 1-year-old daughter, Addison, and his wife, Stephanie, who was his high school sweetheart.
Twaddle, the former Maryville councilman, described Lager as the kind of guy at the party who's "nursing one beer the whole night."
"He's just a clean-cut, all-American guy," Twaddle said. "He probably still owns the same vehicle he had his first date in, a Chevy Blazer."
Lager subsequently confirmed that he, indeed, still has that Blazer.
"He's a great friend. Unflappable. He never gets mad," Shields said. "No one would consider him a flashy person."
But his responsibility and restraint with money has made an impression on some people.
"I'd give him my wallet to hold on to," Twaddle said. "If I had a million dollars, I'd give it to him to invest instead of me. He's just a responsible guy whether it's his or somebody else's (money)."
*Brad Lager declined to participate in an audio interview.