Tilley launches big for lieutenant governor

Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley formally launched a campaign for lieutenant governor Thursday while reporting a hefty campaign account containing more than $1 million.

Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, said his campaign will focus on job creation, education, seniors, veterans and government accountability. His official candidacy announcement, made in a series of interviews with the media, comes as no surprise given that Tilley converted his fundraising committee to reflect the lieutenant governor’s bid last December.

Missouri’s second-ranking executive office is likely to be open in the 2012 elections because Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is expected to challenge Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. The only other declared candidate so far is Democrat Becky Plattner, of Marshall, who is chairwoman of the Missouri Conservation Commission. Plattner also ran for lieutenant governor in 2008, losing in the Democratic primary.

Tilley is an aggressive fundraiser who served as House majority leader before taking over the chamber’s top spot at the start of the 2011 session. He said he refrained from fundraising during the legislative session, but raised $347,000 from the end of the session in mid-May until the end of the quarterly campaign finance reporting period on June 30. When added to money previously raised, Tilley said he has more than $1 million in his campaign account.

In Missouri, the lieutenant governor not only is next in line to succeed the governor but also serves as the presiding officer of the Senate, is a member of state boards that award tax breaks for developments and is the state’s official advocate for senior citizens.

Tilley said the relationships he has forged with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers would allow him to push forward with his agenda as lieutenant governor — even if he is paired with Nixon, a governor of the opposite political party.

“My goal is to make Missouri as business-friendly as we possibly can, so when our state competes with other states — to try to not only keep the jobs we have here but to attract new ones — we can be successful,” Tilley said.

In a News Tribune interview, he added: “I think that’s a message that, whether you’re in St. Louis or Kansas City or Jeff City or rural Missouri, it’s something that resonates with the voters — and we’re going to work hard over the next 16 or 17 months.”

For example, Tilley said he supports creation of a state program that would use a portion of the tax revenue growth generated by science and technology

companies to provide incentives for more businesses in that field — a proposal that passed the House previously but failed in the Senate.

Tilley said he also backs efforts aimed at “reforming and revitalizing our education system,” including the possibility of government vouchers or open-enrollment policies that would allow students in poor-performing schools to go elsewhere, merit pay increases for teachers and policies that allow poor teachers to be more easily dismissed.

Tilley said he would have no problem working with Nixon if he wins re-election to a second term — or with a Republican governor if Nixon is defeated.

“I’m about problem-solving,” he said, “and if an idea comes from a Democrat that’s a good idea, I’m going to be the first to support it.

“Party has never been the driving factor of what makes decisions for me.”

Other recent Missouri House speakers have not fared well in their bids for statewide office. In 2004, Republican Speaker Catherine Hanaway lost a race for secretary of state. In 2000, Democratic House Speaker Steve Gaw also lost the secretary of state’s race.

Bob Watson of the News Tribune staff contributed information used in this story.

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