Rhetoric escalates in state Senate race

Democrat Chuck Graham and Republican Kurt Schaefer battle to bolster their party's numbers in the state Senate.

As the race for the 19th District state Senate seat heats up between Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, and Republican nominee Kurt Schaefer, the rhetoric between the two camps has escalated.

The race is important for both parties, as Democrats are attempting to bolster their numbers in the General Assembly in the upcoming elections.

The Republicans control the state Senate, with 20 Republicans to 14 Democrats.

Front and center in the race is the issue of corruption.

On Monday at a news conference, Schaefer vowed to abstain from free gifts and meals from lobbyists while criticizing Graham for taking thousands of dollars from Jefferson City lobbyists. According to the Missouri Ethics Commission, Graham has received  $2,132 in entertainment, travel and meals from lobbyists in the first six months of 2008.

"All of those things that he takes is simply supplementing his income for his own benefit," Schaefer said.

But Schaefer is not free of criticism either. After leaving a junior partner post at the Kansas City-based law firm Lathrop & Gage, he became the deputy director of the state Department of Natural Resources. At that post, a no-bid contract was awarded by the department to the law firm during the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse. He has now left his work for the state and returned to the law firm.

"I think it is very ironic that Kurt Schaefer is talking about special interests, when Kurt Schaefer is the special interest," Graham's chief of staff Ted Farnen said. "He works for a law firm that represents special interests in Jefferson City. It is the height of hypocrisy. He's the one who represented companies who wanted special tax breaks."

Schaefer defended his work at Lathrop & Gage while ridiculing Farnen's depiction of the firm as a special interest.

"My law firm defends people, and I'm very proud to be a part of Lathrop & Gage," Schaefer said. "To say that I represent special interests is ludicrous, we defend people, and I'm very proud of that."

Another contentious point in the campaign has been the war of words over the sale of assets from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, called the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative. 

In 2007, Graham led a filibuster of the bill, which takes money from MOHELA to sponsor $335 million worth of college building projects. He has repeatedly criticized the bill.

MU received $31 million from the measure, which was approved in February. Republican leaders initially stripped out that money because of Graham's opposition.

Schaefer criticized Graham's filibuster, while also saying that he would work with fellow Republicans to pass bills beneficial to the 19th District.

"As a member of the majority in the Missouri Senate, I can do what Chuck Graham has been unable, or unwilling, to do for the University of Missouri, while at the same time building bridges across political lines," Schaefer said in a release. "Without needed change in Jefferson City, we'll simply have four more losing years for the university."

His statement drew sharp criticism from Graham's staff.

"Kurt, I think, is being very disingenuous," Farnen said. "If you go back and look at what happened on the MOHELA issue, it was the Senate Republicans who took the money out of the budget for the University of Missouri, it wasn't Chuck Graham who did it. Chuck didn't have the power to take the money out of the bill."

To change the tenor of the campaign, Graham has released his first major television ad: a minute-long, positive spot about his role in fundraising for the tornado warning sign in Renick, Mo.

"I think (the ad) shows compassion, that he cares about people in his district," Farnen said.

Schaefer said the ad was an act of desperation on Graham's part.

"I think that the attempt to put out a TV commercial this late into a 12-year career of poor judgment, negativity, and not passing legislation, is, for me, a desperate attempt to turn around what he knows are his high negatives," Schaefer said.

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