KANSAS CITY — Gov. Bob Holden and his top Democratic challenger, State Auditor Claire McCaskill, battled out their differences at Kansas City’s Union Station Monday night. It was the first of two debates featuring the two candidates.
With the primary only two weeks away, the debate was heated as McCaskill accused Holden of allowing outsourcing of government jobs to India and Holden said McCaskill was “nowhere to be found” as he and other Democrats were fighting Republicans for education funding.
McCaskill is challenging Holden, who is seeking a second four-year term, in the Aug. 3 Democratic primary. The two are also scheduled to debate tonight in St. Louis. The winner of the primary is expected to face Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt in the November election.
Glen Campbell, press representative for Claire McCaskill, said that Holden was “caught off-guard” when McCaskill accused him of allowing Missouri jobs to be outsourced to India. She said when she called the helpline for those on food stamps on the day of the debate, her call arrived in New Dehli, India.
“Right now people in this state are hurting, they are calling New Dehli for help,” she said.
Holden said he had been commended for his efforts to prevent the outsourcing of jobs by signing an executive order that requires companies bidding on state contracts to say whether any of the work will be done overseas.
Another topic touched on throughout the debate was the withholding of education funding. While both agreed that education funding is vital to the state and its economy, the pair had different views on how education funding had been handled in the past and what changes need to be made in the future.
McCaskill said Holden recommended cuts to higher education and withheld funding from schools when faced with a budget crunch. But Holden countered, saying that when he was promoting increased funding to education and fighting with a Republican legislature, McCaskill was nowhere to be found.
“Ms. McCaskill, you’ve traveled this entire state, put misinformation out there about my commitment to education,” Holden said. “You know how committed I am to the public schools of this state. How can you say that?”
Holden said he put money back into the foundation formula but the Republicans eliminated it. He noted that he was able to put more than $40 million back into education. McCaskill said the money was from the national government, so it would’ve been available to any governor.
McCaskill said that under the current administration, Missouri taxpayers have lost their trust and no longer want to raise taxes to pay for things like education because they are not sure the money will be used properly.
“Nothing is more fragile than taxpayer trust,” she said. She criticized Holden for withholding education funds, which Holden maintained he did because he was not in a position to promise funds he wasn’t sure he really had.
“We wanted to do everything we could to keep the money in the budget. I had to make sure the money was there,” he said. “When I knew it was there, I released it the next day to go to education.”
McCaskill referred to the education funding situation as well as problems of mismanaged funds in the Missouri Department of Transportation as a reason for taxpayer apathy.
McCaskill confronted the governor on another issue, saying he neglected to do anything to solve the problems of Missouri’s roads.
“He presented a plan, it didn’t pass and basically that was the end of it. We have not seen any action,” she said. “We have the third-worst roads in the country.”
Holden said that since the director and staff of MoDot have changed, the department is now saving more money.
“We, I think, have turned it around where people have confidence,” Holden said. “In 2005 and beyond, we can have a plan to change transportation and get it done.”
One question posed to the candidates forced them to recognize a positive attribute of the opposing candidate. McCaskill commended Holden’s focus on details and Holden complimented McCaskill on her work as state auditor.
“I want to see her stay auditor,” Holden said, “because she’s doing a great job.”
Only about 200 people were able to watch the debate in person. A problem with the satellite feed from Kansas City messed up the picture and sound of the debate’s closing moments. The glitch obliterated all but 33 seconds of Holden’s two-minute closing statement, while McCaskill’s closing remarks came through clear.
Two other lesser-known Democrats also are in the primary — Cole County Auditor Jim LePage of Jefferson City and suburban Kansas City resident Jeffery Emrick — but neither was invited to participate in the media-sponsored debate.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report