Brunner distances himself from Vi-Jon layoffs

Brunner officially announced his campaign from the floor of Vi-Jon’s St. Louis factory. (Photo/Brunner campaign)

— Just as incumbent political leaders carry political records, individuals who have spent their lives in the business world carry business records.

Less than a month after St. Louis businessman John Brunner entered the political world as a candidate, announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, negative news about his former company, Vi-Jon, emerged in St. Louis media.

“Senate hopeful Brunner’s company trims workforce,” said the headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Vi-Jon lays off workers,” said a blurb in the St. Louis Business Journal. “Brunner’s company confirms layoffs,” said the St. Louis Beacon.

Vi-Jon, a privately held company, did not report how many jobs it trimmed. But that hasn’t stopped Missouri Democrats from using the issue repeatedly as a political attack line against first-time candidate Brunner.

“John Brunner filmed a campaign ad calling himself a ‘job creator’ on the same factory floor where those workers got their pink slips,” said Caitlin Legacki, spokeswoman for the Missouri Democratic Party, in a press release. “Then he used his personal fortune to pay for sleek television ads, rather than to save the jobs of the employees he speaks so fondly of.”

Brunner, who stepped down from his 17 year position as CEO in 2009, said in an interview with PoliticMo last week that he hasn’t been involved in the “day to day activities of the business” since he left.

“From 2009 on, I really can’t weigh in in terms of issues and decision,” said Brunner, who now serves the largely ceremonial position of chairman emeritus of Vi-Jon’s board.

“In my 31, 32 years in business, not one hourly person ever lost an hour of work,” he said. “I felt that was my responsibility to find the business, find the opportunities, bring the orders for the guys in the plant.”

“At the end of the day, everybody needs a job, and my goal was to keep the jobs. I think we have a very good track record,” he added. “With the economy so bad, no one has seen it like this. Even the best of companies are having a tough time now.”

The economic environment, and what Brunner sees as inaction from lawmakers, is why Brunner thinks he and other businessmen with minimal political experience are deciding to launch their own political campaigns.

“I think its more the motivation that things are so tough, that you’ve had background experiences to go in there and with those experiences, to lend a hand and help get the ship fixed,” he said. “People are hitting tipping points. It is like the old adage, ‘I’ve delegated this long enough, sometimes you’ve gotta go in there and fix it yourself.’”

Brunner is one of three candidates vying for the Republican nomination to take on McCaskill, including former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, and U.S. Congressman Todd Akin.

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