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Nomad-like congressman hopes his next stop is Jefferson City

As Hulshof campaigns for governor, he tries to maintain the values he learned early in his political career
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 | 12:35 a.m. CDT; updated 9:17 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Kenny Hulshof, the Republican candidate for governor, relaxes after the debate between he and Jay Nixon on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008, at Fox 2 studios in St. Louis. The debate was telecast in St. Louis and Kansas City.

JEFFERSON CITY - Kenny Hulshof says his background is so rooted in rural Missouri and agriculture that he experienced "mini culture shock" when he came to Columbia to attend MU 32 years ago.

It was in 1976 that Hulshof moved from his family's farm in the southeast Missouri community of Bertrand to study agricultural economics .

Kenny Hulshof, What's the Job?, On the Web

HOMETOWN: Columbia

PERSONAL: 50. He and his wife, Renee, have two daughters, ages 8 and 5.

PARTY: Republican

CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: kenny08.com

OCCUPATION: Ninth District U.S. representative, attorney

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in agricultural economics, MU, 1980; juris doctorate, University of Mississippi School of Law, 1983.

BACKGROUND: Court-appointed public defender in Cape Girardeau 1983-86, prosector for Cape Girardeau County, 1986-89; special prosecutor for Attorney General Bill Webster's office, 1989-1993.

WHAT'S THE JOB?

The governor is the top elected official in Missouri. He or she appoints members to all boards and commissions and all department heads in state government, fills vacancies in public offices unless otherwise provided by law and selects Supreme Court judges and appellate court judges. The governor addresses the General Assembly on state priorities each year and submits a budget to the legislature. All bills passed by the legislature are submitted to the governor, who can sign or veto them. Governors serve four-year terms. The salary is $129,922.

ON THE WEB

For audio and video of the gubernatorial candidates, go to ColumbiaMissourian.com and smartdecision08.com.

 


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"There was 65 in my high school graduating class," Hulshof said. "In my government class or my econ class at MU, there were more students than (there were residents) in my hometown or the nearest town."

Although Democrat Jay Nixon's gubernatorial campaign has tried to paint Hulshof as a Washington insider, Hulshof is adamant he's nothing more than a chameleon, adapting to new environments while retaining his hometown values.

"Throughout my academic career and my professional career, it's been about the ability to pick up, go to a completely new place, sink your roots down and hopefully have success there," Hulshof said.

When the director of MU's Agricultural Economics Department persuaded Hulshof to take an internship in Washington, Hulshof was thrust, again, into a new environment.

The internship under U.S. Sen. Tom Eagleton, D-Mo., sparked Hulshof's interest in politics.

"I was so green. You know, a kid from the farm in Washington, D.C.," he said. "But it was a really positive experience that helped to shake me out of my little world."

After graduating from MU in 1980, he moved once again, this time to Oxford, Miss., to attend the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he earned his law degree.

Hulshof worked for a while as a public defender and then as a special prosecutor for the state attorney general's office from 1989 to 1996. It was during his time in court, where he helped get more than 60 felony convictions, that he learned about integrity.

"Leadership really requires unshakable moral clarity," he said. "You cannot compromise your principles of right and wrong."

Hulshof said when he entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996 as Missouri's 9th District representative, he put his principle of moral clarity into practice. He tried never to compromise his values.

Hulshof's battle for a congressional seat had been hard-won. When Republican nominee Rick Hardy dropped out of the race in 1994, Hulshof saw an opportunity to dive head first into politics.

"It was sort of unusual then, to just jump into a congressional race," Hulshof said. "I ran hard, but lost that year, and then came back two years later and beat a 20-year incumbent," Hulshof said of his victory over Rep. Harold Volkmer, D-Hannibal.

Hulshof said his parents were his greatest influence.

"You don't realize until you're a little older all of the sacrifices your family makes," he said. "Just the chance to go to college and finish college. I was the only one in my immediate family that got to do that."

When his father, whom he describes as the wisest, most hardworking person he has ever known, died in 2002, Hulshof decided to keep running the family farm in the Bootheel.

"At the time I thought about running for statewide office, then running for governor back then," he said. "But I thought it was more important to put personal ambitions or goals aside to try to make sure we hung onto our family business. The most important thing I could think of is to keep that legacy for my two little girls."

His family - his wife, Renee, and his daughters, Casey and Hanna - has been a visible presence throughout his campaign. All three have appeared in campaign ads, and Renee Hulshof stood alongside him during a news conference after the Oct. 18 debate.

Hulshof said his family is the light of his life and he hopes he is teaching his daughters about the values of respect and fair play during this election.

"We're trying through this campaign, you know with all the tough ads, they see them on television," he said. "And we try to help them understand that this is part of the process. We try to keep a very positive atmosphere at home, and as stressful as a campaign can be, we try to keep that stress out."

When asked what characteristics of his own he did not want his daughters to emulate, Hulshof became sober and pensive.

"Boy, that's a tough one," he said. "Sometimes I think I get a little too immersed in details. It's tough for me to trust the people around you to delegate things. Sometimes I'm like the bottleneck when things need to move through because I have to make sure I look at every single thing."

"I hope they would learn to have confidence in those people around them. To trust their judgment," he said. "Because sometimes that's hard for me to do."

Hulshof becomes more at ease when talk turns to his rock and country band, The Second Amendments. Since he started campaigning for governor, Hulshof has been unable to drum for the bi-partisan Congressional band that also includes Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., Jon Porter, R-Nev., and Dave Weldon, R-Fla.

Hulshof said the band has been a great way to have fun and raise money for charity. Plus, he gets to play with famous musicians and perform Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" on the White House lawn.

"Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter (of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers) has sat in with us on a number of occasions." Hulshof said. "I told him when I first met him that I taught myself to play drums by listening to 8-track tapes of The Beatles. And he shook his head and said, 'Man, you've just made me feel old.'"

Although the band members support the gun rights provided in the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, they avoid talking about issues that could cause arguments.

"Our slogan is 'No politics, just rock 'n' roll'," Hulshof said, noting the band's keyboard player, Jon Porter, is from Las Vegas. "So we can't talk about taking nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain because that's in his backyard."

The Second Amendments went to Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan to play for the troops during the 2002 holiday season, an experience Hulshof called a highlight of his Congressional career.

During a stay in Kabul, Afghanistan, heavy snow delayed the band's flight for a day. The band decided to play for a crowd of National Guardsmen that included some Missourians.

"We played in this makeshift tent," Hulshof said. "We didn't even have all of our music gear; it didn't make it. But we scraped together a drum kit, and the sound system wasn't great, but just the response!"  

Later, each member of the band was presented with an American flag that had flown over the base.

"That is something I very much cherish," he said. "A couple of years later, it turned out that a suicide bomber tried to get onto that same base and caused a lot of destruction. That struck me, too, because I'd actually stayed in the barracks there for those couple of days."

Hulshof said if he becomes governor, he'd consider forming a new band in Missouri.

"It's a great outlet," he said. "And if your expectations are low, I can meet those expectations as far as music is concerned. But you have to have these outside interests in order to be normal."

 


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