NEWS

Local lawmakers react to Blunt's announcement

John Hacker

Surprise and shock - these were the reactions by local representatives in Jefferson City to the announcement by Gov. Matt Blunt that he would not seek reelection in the November election.

Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Carl Junction, said the Capitol building is reeling from the news.

"I've only been up here for seven years, but I've been around politics for 15 years and I don't remember anything like this," Hunter said. "I was taken totally by surprise, I found out about it on the House floor right after we gaveled into open session and I'm just totally floored and in shock."

Other lawmakers from this area were equally surprised. Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, and Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, are both members of the House and Senate leadership teams that meets with the governor every Tuesday.

Both lawmakers commented immediately after leaving that meeting.

"I'm probably like 99 percent of the other people up here in that I was very surprised about the decision," Ruestman said. "There were no rumors. In politics, the rumor mill is very thorough, but there was no hint that he would not be running. After the State of the State speech, which was basically a campaign speech, I was confident he would not only run, but he would win."

"It's about as big a shock as has occurred since I've been here," Nodler said. "I believed the governor was on his way to reelection, and believed he would have been reelected, but we just met with him and he basically said he'd been thinking about it and praying about it for the last 10 days and that virtually all of the things he ran for governor to do, he has in fact done and he has accomplished his priority list."

Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he heard the news from Blunt himself.

"I was with the governor when he told me," Richard said. "He said he's done all he wanted to do in his first four years and he just didn't have his heart in it so he ought to go off and do something else."

Hunter said Blunt's decision left Missouri Republicans in a tough position to run against the presumed Democratic front-runner, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon.

"People can understand that he's gotten everything done and he wants to be with his family, but it's pretty late in the game for us to be choosing a candidate for governor," Hunter said. "I've heard all kinds of names popping up, so I'm not even going to say until something gets a little bit more firm. You've got all the other state office holders that could be looking at this, but I just don't know.

"There are some people with name recognition, but the biggest thing is raising money. It's whatever Nixon's got versus zero. I don't know what Gov. Blunt will do with his money. It's just to early to say much other than the fact I'm in shock."

Richard said probably six Republicans were burning up the phone lines, calling advisors and donors trying to raise money for a run for the governor's office.

Richard said Blunt told him he plans to give all of the $4,009,541.09 in his re-election campaign fund back to the donors who gave it to him.

Richard said with that much money going back to Republican donors, someone should be able to raise money quickly and separate himself or herself from the pack.

"The one who can raise a million dollars in the next two weeks will be the one who stays in," Richard said. "With all that money Matt's sending back, someone will be able to do it."

Ruestman and Nodler said they didn't think finding candidates to challenge Nixon would be a problem.

"I know of a minimum of six people or so who are sitting with advisors right now," Ruestman said. "Sarah Steelman has said she will run for reelection as treasurer, but she could change her mind; Sen. Charlie Gibbons said he will run for attorney general, but he could look at it; when Blunt decided to run in 2004, Kenny Hulshof (U.S. Congressman) decided not to run, but he may change his mind."

Nodler said there were plenty of Republicans who could mount a challenge to Nixon.

"There's former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, current U.S. Congressman Kenny Hulshof, there is sitting Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, just to name three, any one of which is easily superior to Nixon, so, no, it's not like we're short on candidates," Nodler said. "And tactically, the Democratic Party has spent three years running against a guy who's not running. We've been prepared to run against the candidate we're going to be running against and they've been invested in a campaign that isn't there. I think this becomes a tactical advantage for the Republicans.

Carthage Press