The three Republican candidates for Missouri Secretary of State tried to differentiate themselves from one another for a group of voters in St. Charles Thursday night.
State Rep. Shane Schoeller, Speaker Pro Tem from Southwest Missouri, Sen. Scott Rupp, Wentzville, and Sen. Bill Stouffer, Saline County, will face off in the Republican primary in August.
Thus far, Rep. Jason Kander, 30, Kansas City, is the only Democrat in the race. He declared his candidacy after current Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced she wouldn't run for a third term. March 27 is the deadline to file.
The candidates agreed that there are more similarities than differences among them. All are pro-life, pro-guns and agree that voters should have to show a photo ID before voting.
But each tried to distinguish himself from the next for the St. Charles County Young Republicans.
Schoeller, 40, emphasized his experience in working for the Secretary of State's office under Matt Blunt. He said he'd work to keep "politically charged tone" out of the titles of initiative petitions.
"I'm a passionate conservative but it's not my place to go and put my opinion on a ballot title whether I'm for it or against it," he said.
Stouffer, 64, said it's his goal for the chief election officer in the state to leave politics outside. He said his broad background in business prepare him for the office.
"Secretary of State's office is a window for business," he said. "It has a tremendous function."
Rupp, 38, said the Secretary of State's office governs three areas: It's the front door for doing business, it governs securities and elections. Rupp said his experience owning financial services, college prep and a mortgage companies give him the background for the job.
"I'm the only one who has a background in securities," he said.
Questions from the audience: (Rupp arrived to the event late).
Citizen Ballot Initiatives have grown in number and popularity. Would you encourage that growth?
Stouffer: Stouffer said the citizens should have the right to have initiative petitions, but added that most of the recent ones have been influenced by outside money. He added with the puppy mill initiative petition, the bill put together by legislators was better and more fair after going through the process.
"The question becomes, I don't want to make it harder on the average citizen to rebel against their government," he said. "It's something we struggle with."
Schoeller: Schoeller said he has concerns with 'Your Vote Counts," an effort to make it more difficult for legislators to change voter-approved initiatives. He said he'd support requiring the legislature to exceed the percent by which the voters approved the initiative.
He said citizen initiatives often take power away from the people and add cost to the process. "When you have groups that are coming from outside the state and they are imposing their agenda... that becomes a problem," he said.
Can you give me specifics as to how you would eliminate barriers for start up businesses?
Schoeller: Schoeller said he would try to remove or streamline the process of registering a business.
"There are 58 different classifications you have to figure out when you register your business," he said. "You should not have to hire an attorney to start a business.
He added he'd like to reduce the number of times a business owner has to pay annual fees.
Stouffer: "We know how much technology has changed in the last eight years," he said. "We'd go through each department and figure out what their focus should be and make sure they are serving that process. We'll take the goose necks out."
Rupp: "The thing you can do, it's technology," he said. "Think about how much technology has changed. ... Everything possible should be online. Just upgrade the technology."
He said it will be important to get rid of dead weight and invest in the office and be competitive.
I see three great candidates, you all are singing the same song. How do I decide which one to pick?
Rupp: "We each have a unique benefit we bring to the office," he said. "This is great we have very good candidates for office. The whole goal is to beat the Democrat and get this office back."
Stouffer: "Maturity and experience is very important," he said "I will tell you one other thing, I think the Secretary of State's office has been diminished by people using it as a stepping stone to something else. I think you get a Secretary of State who wants to be Secretary of State. I think I fill that bill."
Schoeller: I think experience does matter," he said. "I know how that office functions and each and every level. I'll get off the ground running."
Schoeller added that he's not looking to use the seat as a stepping stone into a new office. "I have a passion for this office because I've been there," he said.