JEFFERSON CITY — One way or another, history will be made as voters decide whether to give Missouri Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder a rare third term or reject the incumbent for the first time in more than a century and pick Democratic former Auditor Susan Montee.
Kinder was the lone Republican to win statewide office four years ago when Democrats rolled. After facing several challenges during his second term, Kinder skipped an anticipated run for governor and this summer survived an expensive and robust GOP lieutenant governor primary.
Montee — who lost her bid for a second term as state auditor in a 2010 election that favored Republicans — contends candidates who cannot see themselves as governors have no business running for lieutenant governor, in which one's duty is to succeed the chief executive if necessary.
"If it is not in himself to run for governor, then he shouldn't be running for lieutenant governor as well," Montee said.
Last year, Kinder used personal funds to reimburse the state more than $54,000 for lodging expenses following reports by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he spent hundreds of nights at St. Louis hotels. He also acknowledged frequenting an Illinois strip club in the 1990s while serving in the state Senate, after an article in the St. Louis alternative newspaper the Riverfront Times revealed the visits. He has said he now considers that a "foolish choice" he made "as a young single man."
Montee has pointed to both issues in a recent ad featuring a cartoon caricature of Kinder holding cash in a hotel room and in a strip club.
Kinder dismisses the idea he is not ready to be governor. During his first term, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt sometimes transferred power to Kinder for tasks such as signing bills, making appointments to state boards and directing the Missouri National Guard to respond to flooding. Kinder's role diminished under Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
"Unlike Ms. Montee, I've been acting governor for over 100 days and done all the duties of the office without the trappings of the office — without living in the mansion and the security," he said. "Not only is Susan Montee not governor material, but the voters said two years ago she isn't state auditor material."
On the hotel expenses, Kinder said he travels frequently for his job as lieutenant governor and that he repaid the expenses to eliminate doubts. He notes no concerns were raised in an audit during Montee's tenure. Montee said auditors review receipts and documentation while giving officeholders the benefit of the doubt if they say travel is for official business and there is no glaring reason to question the assertion.
The Missouri lieutenant governor takes over if the governor dies or is removed from office. The officeholder also advocates for seniors and military veterans, serves on state housing, tourism, and other commissions and presides over the 34-member Senate while breaking tie votes. The lieutenant governor is elected independently from the governor.
The only Missourian to win three terms as lieutenant governor is Democrat Frank Harris, who first took office in 1933. On the flip side, no incumbent lieutenant governor has lost re-election during the past century. In 1904, Democrat Thomas Rubey was defeated when seeking a full term after he was appointed lieutenant governor.
Kinder, 58, said his performance warrants another term. He points to an office that operates under-budget and his efforts to grow a senior prescription drug benefit program and lead a state commission on Alzheimer's disease. For veterans, he said he helped with a relief fund for military families and met with residents and staff at Missouri's veterans homes before lawmakers this year approved additional funding for the skilled nursing facilities.
In addition, Kinder was the chief supporter of the Tour of Missouri bicycle race and is a vocal critic of the federal health care law, filing a federal lawsuit and a legal challenge to the summary of a state ballot measure.
"Those two battles are no part of the description of lieutenant governor, but I shouldered them because I am fighting for Missourians against this radical left agenda," he said. "She is down the line supporting it."
Montee, 53, said the health care law has been a distraction as Kinder neglects his responsibilities to veterans and the elderly. She contends federal politics are less significant in a Missouri lieutenant governor campaign.
Montee plans to reorient the lieutenant governor's focus and would assign one employee to coordinate veterans issues and one to focus on seniors. Montee envisions the lieutenant governor's office working with veterans groups to develop a database for information and services and serving as a one-stop shop for responding to questions. For seniors, she wants to push for better background checks of long-term care facility workers and greater action on the recommendations of the Alzheimer's disease commission.
"Using the lieutenant governor's office as a bully pulpit to keep talking about how bad (the federal health care law) is really doesn't accomplish anything for the state, and it takes away from the focus of what the office should be doing," Montee said.
Adding a wrinkle to the lieutenant governor's race is a third-party candidate who is mounting a significant campaign.
Cynthia Davis, who served four terms in the Missouri House as a Republican, is appealing for the "values vote" with the aid of the endorsement from Missouri Right to Life. Running under the Constitution Party banner, Davis said she could hold all accountable because she owes loyalty to neither major political party.
Davis, of O'Fallon, uses the analogy of an alcoholic and contends elected officials have not stood up for taxpayers, limited government and personal responsibility.
"The first step is to admit we have a problem. The second step is to call on a higher power. And then it's time for an intervention. And I will be the intervention that we need," Davis said. "I will be the designated driver in the room full of drunks."
Also running for lieutenant governor is Libertarian Matthew Copple, of Gladstone.