Former Missouri Governor Bob Holden (D) was the keynote speaker for the opening of the seventy-second session of the American Legion Boys State of Missouri in Warrensburg on Saturday night.
This is the second and final portion of the transcript of the question and answer session:
…Question: …I was wondering, uh, you, without question had a great deal of success in your life. I was wondering what advice you would give to somebody who, you know, loses an election or fails at something. How do they take from it and move on, you know, for betterment?
Bob Holden: Well, I had, I like to believe, a great deal of success but I also failed, too. Uh, I lost a race for student body president in college. Uh, I lost a race for state treasurer, uh, against an incumbent. I lost my reelection as governor of the State of Missouri. Uh, so not all wins, I think, uh, Abraham Lincoln lost five races before he ever won his first one. Uh, so, many times I think you learn more when you lose then when you win. ‘Cause when you win you think you did everything right. When you lose you analyze it a little bit. You think about what I, what could I have done differently. Uh, and, uh, you know, I learned things when I lost the, the, uh, initial treasurer’s race against the incumbent. Uh, I analyzed, uh, my, uh, race, uh, for reelection as governor. Uh, and candidly, my assessment is, uh, is tenor of the time. Mike told, in introduction told the fact I earned a million dollars interest off investments, state funds, state treasurer. When I came into office in two thousand one after Mel Carnahan had been killed, his, uh, uh, governorship was over with, I had to start cutting budgets. I cut a hundred eighty million dollars out of the state budget in the first eighteen days. I ended up cutting over one point two billion out of a six billion dollar general revenue budget in my four years. We had September the eleventh that came along. We had the depression across the board. [inaudible] make decisions. And instead of continuing to cut, cut on things I thought were important like education, like senior health care, like transportation I tried to raise taxes. I would still do the same thing again today even know the outcome. Because I think you owe it as a responsibility to future generations that while you’re, while it’s on your watch you do what is necessary to give them the best chance for success in the future. And to me that’s education, infrastructure, technology. Whoever controls the technology controls the economy of the, of tomorrow. That’s the reason investment in education is so very, very important. So you, you can learn by failure and losses.
Question: Thank you very much. [applause]
Question: …I want to backtrack to the first question that was asked.
Bob Holden: Sure.
Question: He asked about, um, why you thought scandals and stuff are so prominent and why politicians didn’t always go straight try to hit the issues and try to fix them. Um, going back to that, do you see any solution to that or any way that could be fixed? And, if so, how long would that take?
Bob Holden: Well, if you could guarantee that every citizen, every person that runs for office, uh, has the right ethical, uh, underpinnings. Uh, but politics is no different than many other professions, even though you, it’s more in the spotlight. Uh, there’s always gonna be people trying to, uh, push you in to things that shouldn’t do. That’s the reason it’s so important to have a free press, an open press. It’s the reason it’s also important that you have two or three or whatever political parties. Uh, to, to be sure and keep those issues out there. And, you know, all the stuff that you’re reading about today, you know, when George Washington was president, when John Adams was president, when Thomas Jefferson was president, when Jackson was president, go back and read some of the stories in the newspaper about those men during their time. This is not new. It’s feels like it’s new. And of course now we’ve got, uh, uh, Fox, we’ve got MSNBC, we got CNN, we got about fifty television stations all with reporters, uh, trying to find everything they can. It, it, which is their right to do. And so you feel like you’re just bombarded. And you are. But, it comes back to the, the quality of people that you elect and what values they have. And, you know, there, there’s no easy answer to this. It’s just, you’ve got, as a citizen in a democracy it’s work. Because in a democracy you have a responsibility. In a dictatorship, as long as you like the leader you don’t, you know, you expect them to care of these things. But in a democracy we all have a responsibility. That’s what Missouri Boys State’s all about. Did I answer your question?
Question: Yes, thank you very much. [crosstalk]
Bob Holden: I’m not, I’m not trying to evade the question at all.
Question: I think you, think you hit it pretty much head on, so, thank you very much. [applause]
Bob Holden: [inaudible] Be true to yourself.
Question: …When you were like Governor of Missouri and even now did you feel it was important to vote your party or the person that you thought was the better candidate for the office?
Bob Holden: Well, I voted for people in my party. I didn’t always share the view, the political views, of some people in my party. Uh, and that’s where times you, you [inaudible], uh, that relationship. But, I voted for people in my party because I had a better chance of getting their support for legislative and, and policy issues I was promoting.
Question: All right. Thank you very much.
Bob Holden: That does, but I mean, the, it’s one thing, it, it’s one thing to vote for people in your party, it’s another thing to try to demonize people in the other party. Uh, you know, Jim Talent, who some of you pr
obably know, Jim and I ran against each other for governor. We probably didn’t agree on a single political issue, but we remain friends. Roy Blunt is a long time friend of mine from Springfield, Missouri. May not agree on most political issues at all, but you can get along with people. It doesn’t mean you have to compromise your point of view, but you can communicate in a way that’s not offensive.
Question: That makes sense. Thank you very much.
Bob Holden: Okay. [applause] Any more?
Question: …My dad always told me that you get what put in to something. I was curious what you think what we need to put into the economy to get the most out of it.
Bob Holden: First of all, we’ve got to be willing to change. One of the things that I found the hardest when I got elected, uh, all of your interest groups in our political system are there to protect what’s already in the system. And I, I was in the process of trying to move us from old line manufacturing, to high tech manufacturing, to the plant life sciences, all of these things, the information technology, all of the things that didn’t have a constituency at that point in time. They’ve got a little bit more now, but still not enough. Uh, and there was no constituency out there to support ’em. Uh, but it was still the right thing to do. And as we are seeing in our country, those, those pockets of economic growth and opportunity are those that have been willing to change and make the investment in those jobs of the future, not of holding on those jobs of the past. Give you another example, uh, the people of Hazelwood, Missouri came to me and their car plant, Ford Motor Company, was getting ready to close down. And they asked if I’d be willing to help ’em to protect those twenty-five hundred jobs. And so I, we as a state put together a tax package to keep Ford at Hazelwood. That lasted for about two and a half years. Ford closed the plant. I’d have probably been better off to take that two point five million dollars and put that into education training programs so that those twenty-five hundred people plus many others would have the skills to compete for the jobs of the future. But that’s the, the politics of being in office, you’re trying to balance, uh, all these different interests and still make the right, the right one. One of the issues I have a great deal of concern about, not just Missouri, but all over the country, is, how many people do we have from Kansas City here? Well, quite, quite a few. Okay. Well, in Kansas City, those of you, that are ought, familiar with Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas are about as wide as a highway, the, the line goes right down the middle of the road. And companies all the time that are, are in Kansas will come to Missouri officials and say, our leases are up, we’re looking for a better opportunity, what can Missouri do for us? Uh, we’ll put together a package of what, what incentive, tax credits, money, your tax money that would bring that company to the Missouri side of that line. Then that company will take that package that we’ve offered, go back to the, the State of Kansas and say, you know, we want to stay in Kansas but Missouri’s put together a hell of a package for us. And we, we’re not gonna be true to our, uh, shareholders and everybody else if we don’t consider this offer. Can you meet it or can you surpass it? And so Kansas puts down the pencil, they, they look and see what they can do to keep the company there. At the end of the day whether it’s in Kansas or Missouri they’re not adding any jobs to that regional economy. But one state, if not both states, has spent millions of dollars to maintain an economy that hasn’t changed for the region. Is that good public policy? But as a governor you want that headline, if you’re a Missourian, saying we got five hundred jobs from Kansas coming to Missouri. Doesn’t say anything about five hundred people still living in Kansas paying taxes in Kansas. And if you’re a Kansas governor you want the headline, company x decides to stay in Kansas. Because both of ’em, that is a benefit on election day, that they did, they created these jobs or protected these jobs even though they’ve not added any economic value to the region at all. That’s what governors have to deal with. Did I answer?
Question: Yeah, you did. Thank you, sir.
Bob Holden: Okay. [applause]…
Question: …What makes it so difficult for politicians to maintain your, their reputation on social networks when high schoolers such as ourselves are able to like promote ourselves so well? [laughter]
Bob Holden: Are we talking about, uh [crosstalk], [Representative] Anthony Weiner in New York?
Question: Like. Yeah, in part, parts, [laughter] in part.
Bob Holden: Well, first of all, you shouldn’t be doing it. And he should resign. Uh, uh, and people in both parties, I mean, uh, it really ought, I think, more than anything else comes about, why are you there? What do you want to achieve while you’re there? What’s your purpose? What’s your goal? What’s your vision? All of the things I talked about in my speech. You know, winning and losing elections, to me, is not near as, uh, difficult as losing your soul. ‘Cause that you live with no matter what you’re doing. Uh, and, the way I was raised, uh, and you know, my parents, my parents were no, nobody special. But, one thing about it, you never had to guess what my dad’s attitude or feelings were. If you asked him he would tell you straight up. Some people liked him, some people didn’t like him at all. But, I think you can do it in a civil way, but I think you deserve to give people an answer. And hold true to your values. And then that, and then in a democracy it’s the people’s right to decide whether they share those values or want somebody else’s values.
Question: Thank you, sir.
Bob Holden: Okay. [applause]
Now, all that being said, I would still go out at campaign time and work my tail off to win. But you do it, the, the, the, in politics there should be and there is, by and large, at least when, when I was growing up in the poli, in the political game, a certain code of ethics and conduct that you don’t go beyond. And that’s the way it is in life.
Thank you very much. [applause]