JEFFERSON CITY — St. Louis businessman Dave Spence said Tuesday that he will run for Missouri governor, setting up a likely Republican primary for the right to challenge Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon in next year's elections.
Spence, who declared his candidacy in an interview with The Associated Press, becomes the first prominent Republican to officially enter the governor's race. But Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder also is expected to announce his gubernatorial candidacy soon. They would meet in an August primary.
"I am 100 percent committed to running for governor in 2012," Spence said Tuesday.
Spence, 53, is the president and CEO of Alpha Packaging, which makes plastic bottles for pharmaceuticals, vitamins and personal care products, among other things. He also is chairman of Legacy Packaging, a pharmaceutical packaging firm.
A first time candidate for public office, Spence will be starting with scant statewide name recognition, but he said Tuesday that he will put some of his own money into the campaign — "enough to be credible," though he declined to provide a specific dollar amount.
Kinder had no immediate comment about Spence's candidacy announcement. A spokesman for Nixon's campaign also had no immediate comment.
Spence said last week that he had taken some preliminary steps for a 2012 gubernatorial campaign and was considering running even if it meant a primary against Kinder. He said he was waiting for Kinder to announce his intentions before making a final decision. Spence said Tuesday that he decided he could no longer wait and needed to start organizing his own campaign committee. He promised a campaign focused on the economy.
"Job creation is number one — that is something that I understand, I've done it for a living," Spence said Tuesday. "As I talked to more and more employers and business owners around the state, I just felt there was a need for someone to come in and make sense of all it."
Spence said he wants to reduce government interference in businesses and make Missouri a "right-to-work" state where union fees cannot be a condition of employment. Missouri voters defeated a right-to-work ballot initiative in 1978. But since then, union membership rolls have declined, and Spence said he would support an effort to again place the issue before voters.
The economy figures to be the top issue for all of Missouri's gubernatorial candidates.
In the past year and a half, Nixon has attended more than 50 events with local officials touting decisions by specific businesses to locate in Missouri, expand their facilities or hire more employees — often with the aid of state tax incentives. A few of those businesses have since failed, including the recent high-profile demise of Mamtek U.S. Inc., which Nixon had said could create more than 600 jobs at a new production facility for artificial sweetener in Moberly.
Although the Mamtek deal collapsed before any state incentives actually were paid, the city of Moberly had issued $39 million in bonds for the facility. After Mamtek missed a bond payment to the city, Moberly said it would default on the bonds.
The Mamtek failure came in the midst of a special legislative session focused on economic development. The session's marquee bill would have pared back existing tax credits and created new incentives to spur international trade at the St. Louis airport, entice computer data centers to locate in Missouri and draw big-time amateur sporting events to the state. But the bill failed when the Republican-led House and Senate were unable to agree on a final version.
Spence blamed the bill's demise on Nixon and legislative leaders and pointed to the troubled special session as an example of why new leadership is needed in Missouri. Spence said he supports efforts to generate more revenue at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, but he said the legislation got loaded up with so many provisions that it became too cumbersome to pass.
"It was bad management all the way around," he said.