Candidates for governor to debate in Columbia

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(COLUMBIA, Mo., AP) — The state’s economy is expected to be prominent issue today when the candidates for Missouri governor meet for their first debate.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has traveled across the state in recent years promoting companies’ plans for adding jobs and the incentives that state government has offered to support them. But his Republican opponent, St. Louis businessman Dave Spence, contends that Missouri has lagged behind its neighbors.
Nixon, Spence and Libertarian candidate Jim Higgins are set to debate economic development, tax credits and other issues during the hour-long forum at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia. The debate is sponsored by the Missouri Press Association.
Nixon, 56, became governor in 2009 after serving a record 16 years as Missouri attorney general. Also a former state senator, Nixon in now seeking a second four-year term as governor, the limit allowed under the Missouri Constitution.
Spence is a political newcomer. The 54-year-old stepped down last year as president and CEO of Alpha Packaging, which he bought in 1985. He also served as chairman of Legacy Packaging and was on the board of St. Louis-based Reliance Bancshares when it decided in early 2011 that it couldn’t repay $40 million from the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.
The importance of economic issues in the race surfaced earlier this week when state employment figures showed that Missouri’s nonfarm payroll increased by almost 18,000 jobs in August, but that the state’s civilian labor force — which counts the number of people employed and out of work but actively seeking a job — declined by nearly 11,000.
Along with the economy, the gubernatorial candidates face issues such as funding for higher education after three consecutive years of cuts in state aid for colleges and universities. The schools are slated to get about 12 percent less than they did in the 2009-2010 school year.