BRANSON, Mo. — The two major-party candidates for Missouri governor squared off Friday in their first debate, aggressively exchanging barbs about each other’s record and qualifications.
Republican Eric Greitens accused Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster of being a career politician, a big-spending liberal and a rubber stamp for the president’s health care initiative. Koster painted Greitens as someone so unprepared to lead the state that he needs a team of helpers
The two major party candidates, along with two minor party candidates and an independent, spoke at a forum during the Missouri Press Association convention in Branson.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL officer, became animated as he attacked Koster, raising his voice to emphasize his points. He frequently referred to Koster as a “career politician,” said he opposes right-to-work efforts because he has taken $8 million from “union bosses,” and said he will further the Affordable Care Act in a state that doesn’t want it.
Koster mostly didn’t take the bait, at least early on. He called for more funding for roads and schools, economic incentives to lure more business.
But Koster seized on Greitens’ comment that, if elected, he would bring in a chief operating officer and others to help turn around the state.
“If you don’t know enough to operate the state of Missouri then you shouldn’t be applying for the job, my friend,” Koster said.
Greitens responded that Koster is a “deeply confused career politician who doesn’t understand the difference between being a CEO and a chief operating officer.”
The two also sparred over school funding. Koster said money is so short in Missouri that 40 schools hold classes just four days a week.
“I want to raise teacher salaries and raise quality at the same time,” Koster said.
Greitens said it’s not lack of money that’s the problem. He called for “more power in the hands of teachers and parents.”
“Big government liberals like Chris Koster think the answer to everything is spending more money,” Greitens said.
Greitens, 42, came in with more recent debate experience. The first-time political candidate participated in debates during a hard-fought, four-person GOP primary. Greitens earned 35 percent of the primary vote to defeat Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway, and businessman John Brunner.
Koster, 52, had a much easier road, defeating three lightly funded contenders in the Aug. 2 primary election.
Two-term Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon was prohibited by term limits from running again.