Missouri GOP candidates for governor talk police, Ferguson

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By SUMMER BALLENTINE

(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — Missouri’s Republican candidates for governor outlined policies they said would improve police-community relations during a debate Wednesday that largely focused on racial tensions in the state shaken by the 2014 fatal police shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown.
All four candidates — suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner, former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens, former U.S. attorney and House speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder — voiced support for police during the televised debate held in St. Charles in advance of the Aug. 2 primary. The four also criticized Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s response to Brown’s shooting and the sometimes-violent protests that followed.
Nixon is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.
The gubernatorial hopefuls differed on how they said they would have handled protests in Ferguson and how they would address mistrust of police in some communities. The debate followed the recent fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana that have sparked nationwide protests, as well as the sniper attack in Dallas that left police officers dead.
“We must stand alongside them, with them and behind them,” Kinder said of police. “In the main, they are wonderful actors putting their lives on the line for low pay every day.”
Kinder also stressed the need for the governor to have relationships with communities such as Ferguson. He said he’s worked to build relationships with mayors in the St. Louis area and that Missouri needs a governor “for everyone.”
In an apparent reference to the national Black Lives Matter movement, Hanaway said “arguments about which lives matter or matter most only tear us apart.”
Hanaway, who has sought to highlight public safety issues in her campaign, called for harsher penalties for those who shoot police and better community policing. She also said police body cameras should be encouraged, noting their use could help restore broken trust in police. In an email to supporters after the debate, she said body cameras could “ensure all good police officers are protected from false accusations.”
Asked how she would have handled protests in Ferguson, she said more communication with the community was needed. Hanaway said she would not have rolled-back military style vehicles used by law enforcement and said she wants police to be able to show “overwhelming force.”
Greitens highlighted his military background, saying that helps him understand the risks of working in law enforcement and that he’d work to “build relationships between our police officers and our communities.” He said some protesters’ concern were not heard, and said he would have instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew and listened to people’s concerns in a nearby church.
Brunner similarly called for support for law enforcement. He also said he’d work to increase employment, saying jobs can “make a big difference for hope and opportunity.” He said he would have focused on safety and protecting people’s property during Ferguson protests.
The candidates agreed that they all would have signed a sweeping gun rights bill vetoed by Nixon that would allow the concealed carry of firearms without a permit and expand residents’ rights to stand and fight against perceived threats.
They criticized the response to protests at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus over what some saw as indifference to racial issues by administrators. Turmoil culminated with the resignations of the university system president and Columbia chancellor.
“I find it a little hard to hear when I hear students complaining that life on campus is just too tough,” said Greitens, who cited his work with college-age members of the military.
Brunner called for the university system’s governing board to stop searching for a new president and said he wants to appoint new curators if he’s elected who would then select a president.
The Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination to compete against the Democratic nominee, which likely will be front-runner Attorney General Chris Koster.
The Missouri Democratic Party said in a statement that the debate was light on substance.
“On the rare occasions the candidates deviated from the standard Republican pablum, they spent their time attacking each other over who was the true conservative,” party spokesman David Turner said.