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Columbia Missourian

Incumbent secretary of state has politics in her blood

By Sarah D. Wire
October 26, 2008 | 9:38 p.m. CDT
Robin Carnahan says, "I grew up in a family of public servants. At a young age, I saw that you can really make a difference."

JEFFERSON CITY — Being raised in a family of politicians led Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to her own life as a public figure.

"I grew up in a family of public servants," she said. "At a young age, I saw that you can really make a difference."

Robin Carnahan


PERSONAL: 47. She is married to Juan Carlos.



EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in economics, William Jewell College; law degree, University of Virginia.

OCCUPATION: Incumbent secretary of state since 2005, also runs a cattle ranch near Rolla.

BACKGROUND: Has worked as a corporate lawyer, as a consultant and as chairwoman of the Export-Import Bank; worked with the National Democratic Institute on elections abroad.


The secretary of state prepares all statewide ballots and certifies statewide ballot measures  proposed by the General Assembly. The office also has the responsibility to canvass, certify and publish election results. The secretary of state regulates securities and enforces state securities laws.  The office operates a division for maintaining corporation registrations and other corporate filings. The business division of the secretary of state's office commissions notaries public and registers all Missouri businesses. The office maintains various official records for the state, including the Missouri Register and Missouri Code of State Regulations. It also maintains the state's official archives. The secretary publishes the Official Manual of Missouri.
The State Library is part of the secretary of state's office. Secretaries of state serve four-year terms. The salary is $104,608.

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Carnahan belongs to the fifth generation of her family to be involved in public service. Her father, Mel Carnahan, served as governor of Missouri beginning in 1993. He held the position until he and Robin Carnahan's brother Randy died in a plane crash during a U.S. Senate campaign in 2000. Robin Carnahan's mother, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to fill the seat after Mel Carnahan won it posthumously.

Robin Carnahan's brother Russ Carnahan is also in politics. He serves as Missouri's 3rd District congressman.

Tony Wyche, who worked on Mel Carnahan's 1996 gubernatorial re-election campaign, said the Carnahans  instilled in Robin Carnahan the real meaning of public service.

"They taught her, you're not going there to serve yourself, you are going there to serve the people," Wyche said.

Robin Carnahan first gained statewide attention when, as the governor's daughter, she helped lead the successful campaign to defeat a statewide concealed weapons ballot proposal in 2000.

Carnahan won her first bid for elected office in the 2004 secretary of state race, defeating then-state Rep. Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, who was the first woman to serve as speaker of the House and is now the U.S. prosecutor for the eastern district of Missouri.

“My first term has been about common sense and results," Carnahan said. "That’s what I want my next term to be about, as well.”

Before running for office, Carnahan practiced business law at the St. Louis firm of Thompson & Mitchell. She also served as an executive at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

In 2005, Carnahan was selected as a "true rising star" of American politics by the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan political think tank.

"She's actually changed the office," Wyche said. "Her goal was to get past the partisan nonsense we see so often coming out of there."

Since becoming secretary of state, Carnahan has focused on improving customer service, ensuring fair elections and protecting consumers, according to her biography on the Web site of the secretary of state's office.

"She is somebody who has the unique ability to grasp policy and also drill down and see the people they affect," Wyche said.

Carnahan's Republican opponent, Mitch Hubbard of Fulton, has criticized her work in writing ballot language and summaries for statewide issues. Carnahan said that her office has written dozens of ballot summaries since she took office and that most haven’t resulted in problems. She said that Hubbard’s complaints about her ballot summaries aren’t valid because he worked to oppose one of the petitions.

“We’re in litigation all the time, and quite frankly, both sides are often unhappy,” she said. “We get sued by both sides, and so I think we’re doing the right thing.”

Carnahan supports allowing Missourians to vote by mail or cast absentee ballots without having to show an inability to make it to the polls on Election Day.  She opposes requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID to be allowed to vote.

“We need to be thinking about how to make it more convenient to vote,” she said.

Carnahan said her office has been aggressive in going after securities fraud. Earlier this year, Carnahan’s office agreed to an $8.5 billion settlement with Wachovia Corp. The North Carolina-based company agreed to buy back billions of dollars in auction-rate securities throughout the nation and pay a $50 million fine among all 50 states.

Carnahan said she also has worked to make state historical documents such as property records and Civil War muster sheets more accessible.

Asked about hobbies, Carnahan sighed. "I wish I could remember free time," she said.

Carnahan still runs the 7,000-acre cattle farm near Rolla that her brother Randy, who died in the 2000 plane crash, began 25 years ago.

"I love to ride the horses and go out and work the cattle," Robin Carnahan said.

She is an avid runner and has completed five marathons. Carnahan said she also enjoys floating on Missouri's rivers.

"They are unparalleled to anywhere else in the world," Carnahan said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.