Brunner trying to be 1st businessman governor in 80 years

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By SUMMER BALLENTINE
Associated Press
(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — It’s been 80 years since Missouri has been led by a businessman governor, and Republican John Brunner wants to change that.
In a competitive four-way GOP primary race in which the gubernatorial hopefuls share similar stances on gun rights and abortion, Brunner has touted himself as “the only candidate that has a background in business.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, the 64-year-old from suburban St. Louis said three decades of leading his family’s hand sanitizer and personal care products company, Vi-Jon Inc., prepared him to take on the state’s top job.
“My opponents have wonderful talking points, and for the most part they’ve got the talking points down,” Brunner said. But in terms of making jobs, he said he’s “the only candidate that’s actually done it.”
He’ll face off against former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens, former U.S. Attorney and House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder in a competitive Aug. 2 primary.
Brunner returned to the state in 1978 to help the family business after serving in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He finished his service as a captain. He said the company was in shambles, and some of the early work included cleaning the floors and patching broken windows.
“My No. 1 tools were a broom and a shovel,” Brunner said.
He bought the manufacturing business in the mid-1990s and led a merger with Cumberland Swan Holdings Inc., a major competitor, in 2006. He served as chairman and CEO of Vi-Jon until he retired in 2009. He’s still involved as an investor.
If elected governor, Brunner said his plan to help the economy is to recruit businesses to come to the state, support limits on mandatory union membership and malpractice lawsuits, cut down on regulations and reduce taxes on small businesses.
Brunner has never held public office, but in 2012 he made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate. He lost in a three-way primary to former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, who in turn lost to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill after he famously said women’s bodies can stop pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape.”
Winning the governor’s seat in Missouri without prior success in statewide office is rare. Former Democratic Gov. Joseph P. Teasdale in 1976 broke a nearly 30-year streak of governors who had previously been elected to a statewide seat, and every governor since Teasdale has also had that experience.
With four viable GOP candidates, the winner may not need much more than a quarter of the votes. However, Brunner could split the vote with Greitens, another candidate touting himself as an outsider.
Behind-the-scenes tension between Brunner and Greitens was made public after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year published an audio recording Brunner took of the two arguing over a third-party organization attacking Greitens. A former Brunner staffer ran the attack site, but Brunner denied involvement. In response, Greitens called him a “weasel.”
According to the National Governors Association, it appears that the last businessman elected to governor was Lloyd Crow Stark, who assumed office in 1937 and previously worked in the family nursery business.
Like Brunner’s Senate run, which he self-funded with more than $7.5 million from his personal fortune, he has largely bankrolled his own campaign. He’s loaned himself $6 million and pumped more than $650,000 in cash into his campaign so far this election.
Brunner said it shows he “can’t be bought,” but it could open him up to criticism that he can’t drum up grassroots support for fundraising.