Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spin the Spending Wheel

The relentless focus on spending in the Republican primary for Governor is beginning to feel a bit like Groundhog Day.

The campaigns of State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Congressman Kenny Hulshof each offered new examples of alleged fiscal irresponsibility Tuesday. Steelman sparked the exchange again with the launch of a new ad, which takes aim at four specific earmarks that Hulshof voted for in Congress. The Hulshof campaign responded with Steelman's repeated votes to eventually fund a St. Louis stadium that she once fiercely criticized.

There is a difference here though.

For Steelman's side, the issue of spending is now undoubtedly the driving force of their campaign. It is what excites her on the stump, and what they say voters are responding to. For Team Hulshof, it seems more of a defense mechanism. Only when prodded did they offer up examples of Steelman's "hypocritical" spending record. Beyond the back and forth, they see Steelman as a desperate underdog, clinging to "attacks" in order to keep any traction.

"She has no ideas, she has no vision," repeats a seemingly exasperated Hulshof spokesperson Scott Baker.

"It's more of the same hypocritical grade school nonsense," said Baker, when asked about the Steelman campaign's latest ad.

Still, Baker did not attempt to defend the votes in question.

In the ad, Steelman's campaign cites 4 earmarks. They were up and down votes on a Lobster Institute in Maine, a "Home for the Perfect Christmas Tree," a San Francisco Urban Center and a Woodstock Concert Hall.

Reps. Todd Akin and Sam Graves seem the purest on these earmarks.

On the Lobster Institute, only Reps. Blunt, Akin and Graves voted against it. On the Christmas Tree, Reps. Akin, Carnahan, Clay, Cleaver, Graves and Skelton voted against it. Only Reps. Akin and Graves voted to get rid of the Urban Center. And on the Woodstock center, it was again Reps. Akin and Graves, joined by Blunt in opposition.

It is curious that two members of the G.O.P. delegation stood up to oppose all those earmarks. We have yet to hear an explanation on the merits of these projects from the Hulshof camp.

Instead, Baker pointed to Steelman's record.


"She is hoping the people are not paying attention, and they'll find out what a hypocrite she really is," Baker said. "She voted multiple times on public financing for stadiums, and she's been in charge of watching the 2nd Injury fund, and she's let it go with her mismanagement," he added.

Baker is referring to a $12 million dollar appropriation for the Trans World Dome, the St. Louis Rams stadium. While Steelman eventually voted to approve the appropriation for the stadium each year for four years between 2000-2004, she initially vigorously opposed the bill. In fact, she introduced a budget amendment that would have dumped the state's $12 million dollar share of the bond issue. According to the Associated Press in April 1999, Sen. John Scott-D, St. Louis, threatened that if Steelman pressed for the amendment, "I'd eliminate everything for your district from the budget."

The Steelman campaign feels like this is a reach. They say Steelman eventually voted for the appropriation, because "once it passed, she obviously had to pay the bill." "The state was already committed to this project, and defaulting on it would put the state in financial jeopardy. The difference here is that Congressman Hulshof didn't have the courage to stand up and say anything about the Bridge to Nowhere, while Sarah stood up (here) and voted against the Cardinals Stadium," Steelman spokesperson Spence Jackson said.

On the Second Injury Fund, the Hulshof campaign notes that under Steelman's watch, "expenditures have continued to skyrocket." Baker points to a recent state audit that concluded the fund faces insolvency.

"Although Steelman has been all but absent in the ongoing public policy debate concerning the fund, she has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations from lawyers who have sued the fund," Baker noted.

The Steelman campaign said it's Attorney General Jay Nixon's duty to defend the fund. "She's made sure the money's there. There's $28 million there," Jackson replied. When asked what to make of the audit that signals financial instability, Jackson said, "That's just not true. We just don't think that's the case."

That answer may not sound as convincing as the real evidence the Steelman campaign has to point to on Sarah's fight against spending --- but at least they are armed for a fight.

Whether Hulshof or his campaign will specifically address the four earmarks being broadcast around the Ozarks right now, remains in question.

When asked if spending is the defining issue of this campaign, Jackson replied, "it's one of them. It's certainly a good contrast."

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