Jim LePage proves the terms “conservative” and “Democrat” are not mutually exclusive.
LePage, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, has views that conflict with those typically held by Democrats. He opposes abortion, and gay marriage. In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, LePage said he will be an option for Democrats the party has abandoned over right-to-life issues.
“I consider myself a traditional Democrat,” LePage said, adding that trends toward supporting abortion rights within the Democratic Party didn’t start until the 1990s. “Harry Truman was supposedly pro-life because he was a strong Baptist.”
LePage is a professor of economics at Lincoln University and has been Cole County auditor for 14 years. He was also director of the Missouri Department of Revenue in the Gov. Joe Teasdale administration.
Missouri Right to Life endorsed LePage because he opposes abortion. Executive Director Patty Skain said LePage is unique because he is willing to go up against two front-runners — Gov. Bob Holden and State Auditor Claire McCaskill — in his stance against abortion.
“I think that it is certainly nice to see that a Democrat, or any person, will, because of their commitment to an issue, challenge a front-runner,” Skain said.
LePage said that when he filed in March he felt abortion would be a significant issue. He said of 1.6 million abortions that take place in the United States annually, only 2 percent are because of rape or incest. He opposes abortion even in those cases and supports it only when the life of the mother is at stake.
“Most of these (abortions) are from convenience. I think it is a pretty serious matter to take the lives of 1.6 million innocent people,” he said. “I think the woman made her decision when she decided to have consensual sex — the woman and the man.
“If that’s conservative thinking, then that’s what I am.”
LePage acknowledges governors have no power to eliminate women’s right to have an abortion, so he wants to fund programs that serve as alternatives to abortion. He wants to provide maternity homes for expectant mothers, especially teenage mothers, so they don’t feel forced to have abortions.
LePage said his stance against abortion is the biggest difference between him and the other Democratic candidates. And while it mirrors the position of many Republicans, there are important differences, he said.
“I say that the difference between me and a pro-life Republican is that their respect for life ends at birth. I oppose the death penalty.”
LePage opposes capital punishment because of the time lapse between the crime and punishment.
“They do it as a deterrent to crime,” he said, “but when there’s 10 years as a case runs through appeals it loses its effect.”
He added that he doesn’t believe every person ever sentenced to death was guilty and noted that the Bible advises “turning the other cheek.”
Caleb Weaver, spokesman for Gov. Bob Holden’s re-election campaign, said he isn’t sure if LePage’s platform will bring him success in the primary.
“I think Mr. LePage has made it clear where he differs with the governor and, you know, I think there will be people who will be attracted to that,” he said. “And some will be more focused on what the governor has been focused on, which is fighting for education, health care and jobs.”
Weaver said LePage has fundamental differences with Holden.
“Unlike Claire McCaskill, who is repeating false Republican rhetoric to try and score points, Governor Holden’s differences with Jim LePage appear to be genuinely based on principal,” he said
Glen Campbell, spokesman for McCaskill for Governor, said LePage’s opposition to abortion rights won’t play a role in the primary.
“Really this campaign is grounded more so on problems facing the state,” Campbell said. “People are focusing today on real issues they relate to — getting higher education costs down, providing jobs and filling in highways, patching them up with new roadways.”
While LePage believes people should have the right to carry a weapon to protect themselves, he supports restrictions on automatic weapons. He opposes conceal-carry laws, arguing they add no security while posing a hazard to children. He said those who feel threatened are safer if they carry loaded weapons openly, not in purses or pockets.
He said while he supports education and health care for the disadvantaged, it is more important to note that he wants those for all people. He said the Constitution requires education to be funded equitably.
“I would favor a scholarship and tax-credit program for those low-income families if it would enable them to get out of a bad education system,” he said.
LePage said he would funnel more money to education by cutting prison populations 10 percent to 15 percent and eliminating government waste. He also said the key to improving Medicaid is to establish better coordination of care among patients’ different physicians and health care providers.
LePage is not invited to debate Monday and Tuesday with McCaskill and Holden in St. Louis and Kansas City. LePage said his name recognition of 2 percent in a statewide poll was short of the sponsors’ 5 percent requirement. A newer poll, however, showed he had 11 percent name recognition, he said.
“I don’t think they want me there. They know I’ll talk about things they don’t want to talk about: right-to-life, poor leadership, mistakes made, the gay marriage amendment,” he said. “I don’t think the media wants to talk about those issues.”