JOPLIN, Mo. — When Republican gubernatorial hopeful Catherine Hanaway walked into the banquet room at Granny Shaffer’s Restaurant this week, she was greeted by some of Joplin’s more prominent business leaders.
At one table sat Brad Beecher, president of Empire District Electric Co., and Doris Carlin, with Keller Williams Realty. At other tables sat Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O’Brian, Neosho banker Rudy Farber, Joplin lawyer Ron Mitchell, Missouri Southern State University President Alan Marble and auto dealer Hal Roper.
Tuesday’s event, organized by state Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican who was an early endorser of Hanaway, was informal in nature: It took place at lunchtime, at a modest venue, and more than two years before Hanaway will face voters.
“This isn’t a fundraiser. It’s not political,” Richard said, before interrupting himself. “Well, I guess it is political,” he said to laughs.
Hanaway is the only announced Republican candidate for governor in 2016. She announced her candidacy in April, nearly a year after Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster made his intention to seek his party’s nomination known. As the only Republican candidate so far, Hanaway is getting an early start to meet with potential donors who she hopes will help her put up a fight against Koster’s large campaign war chest.
In her remarks, in this town that was struck three years ago by a deadly EF-5 tornado, she was cordial toward the office’s current occupant —– Democrat Jay Nixon — and his leadership during that tragedy.
“I know the governor showed great leadership after the tornado,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are areas where leadership is missing.”
Hanaway, a former U.S. attorney, was elected as the first Republican speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives in a generation after she helped Republicans win back the House in 2002. She was critical of Nixon’s performance elsewhere.
“There are so many good things this guy is vetoing,” she said, calling his vetoes “attacks on our freedom.”
Hanaway focused her remarks on how to improve the state’s economy. She pledged she would seek three things: making Missouri a “right-to-work” state, which would disallow unions from charging representation dues to non-union employees; elimination of the state’s income tax and transition to a “consumption tax” model; and reform of the state’s tort laws by placing a cap on damages.
Hanaway said that unlike Nixon and Koster, she opposed expanding the state’s Medicaid rolls to cover health care costs for poor Missourians using available federal funds. She said she does hope to find a solution to mitigate the impact of the cuts to Medicare’s payments to hospitals for their uncompensated care.
“I believe we can find a Missouri solution without expanded Medicaid,” she said.
When asked after her remarks what that would actually mean, Hanaway was not specific: “I think that you have to look at what other money we’re spending on health care, and what portions are being spent on uncompensated care, and see what of that can be used to plug those holes. That’s where you start.”
Hanaway is the only Republican to have declared her intention to run for governor in 2016, two other Republicans are openly mulling entering the race. They are U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, of Jefferson City, and State Auditor Tom Schweich.