LAKE OZARK — Accusations continued to fly Saturday between Missouri gubernatorial candidates State Auditor Claire McCaskill and incumbent Gov. Bob Holden.
McCaskill discussed issues with Democratic candidate Jim LePage at an event sponsored by the Missouri Press Association. The event was an opportunity for both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates to discuss issues in an open forum.
Holden’s spokesman Caleb Weaver said Holden was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, but Glen Campbell, press representative for McCaskill for Governor, said the event had been scheduled for the past three months and the governor’s campaign was notified.
Campbell said Holden’s noticeable absence Saturday is one reason McCaskill is in the race.
“We are going to give Missouri Democrats and voters a real choice come November,” Campbell said. “They know they’ll have a governor who is not afraid to come and speak in front of them.”
McCaskill said that being able to discuss issues openly is a characteristic of a strong leader.
“Taking questions is not easy,” she said. “But neither is the job of governor.”
Caleb Weaver, spokesperson for the governor, however, said Saturday’s event was never billed as a debate by anyone other than the McCaskill campaign.
“The McCaskill campaign is trying to portray this as a debate the governor didn’t want to be at,” he said. “The truth is that this was the Missouri Press Association’s Mid-Missouri editors’ summer meeting, and they invited the governor and other candidates running for governor to have a chance to ask people who were in the race for governor some questions.”
He said the governor has met with the editors of the Missouri Press Association at least five times this year.
“The implication that the governor is somehow trying to avoid this group of people and this group of people’s questions is just fundamentally dishonest,” Weaver said.
“I think it’s insulting to say that was not a debate forum,” Campbell responded. “They invited Republicans and Democrats. The only person who didn’t attend was Gov. Holden.”
Dick Fredrick, president of Show-Me Press, said the event was never scheduled as a debate.
“They weren’t scheduled to debate each other head-to-head; that isn’t our format,” he said. “It was just a joint appearance at best.”
Despite Holden’s absence, LePage and McCaskill discussed the issues in a debate-style format, including opening and closing statements and question and answer sessions where both candidates answered in turn. Each had different approaches to what they see as similar problems, such as tort reform and education.
Both agreed education needs more funding and higher education should be more accessible.
McCaskill said in order to protect businesses from expensive lawsuits, the legal system needs to get cases in and out of courtrooms faster.
LePage said his concern with tort reform is to not damage people’s ability to sue while trying to reform the laws to make Missouri a more business- and doctor-friendly environment.
“You’re probably looking at the next governor of the state,” LePage said. “One of us is probably going to make it. I think Bob has real problems. I think the Republicans simply don’t have the overall social justice agenda the Democratic Party has to offer.”