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Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder (R-Cape Girardeau) is the first Republican leader of the Missouri Senate since the 1947-1948 term.


By Bob Schaper

When he was young, growing up in Cape Girardeau in the
1950s, Peter Kinder used to visit St. Louis with his father and three brothers. James Kinder was a pediatrician, and after his weekend conferences at Children’s Hospital, the family enjoyed outings at the St. Louis Zoo, Busch Stadium and the old Arena.

Now 50, the president pro tem of the Missouri Senate says he owes his affinity for the St. Louis region to those early experiences. “We were here a lot,” Kinder says. “I believe that’s where my love for the St. Louis area comes from.”

Business and political leaders in St. Louis know Kinder’s affection isn’t merely words—it shows clearly in his legislative agenda. During his tenure as leader of the Senate, Kinder has vigorously supported numerous regional initiatives: the new downtown ballpark for the
St. Louis Cardinals; crucial historic preservation tax credits; the proposed New Mississippi River Bridge project; the Old Post Office District initiative; and charter schools in both north and south St. Louis, to name just a few.

During the 2004 legislative session, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder (R-Cape Girardeau) was instrumental in the passage of a school funding legislation bill, which provided $143 million in additional funding for elementary and secondary education.

“This is one out-state lawmaker who understands that the St. Louis region is the economic engine of our state,” he explains. “Forty percent of our state’s population lives here; close to 50 percent of the retail sales and economic action is here in the greater St. Louis region.”

When discussing these issues, his low-key, reflective manner hides an intense interest in politics that dates back to Kinder’s years in junior high school. His first job was as a “gopher” for then-Missouri Attorney General John Danforth. “A friend of mine was running (Danforth’s) reelection campaign the year I graduated from high school in 1972,” Kinder recalls. “I’d take the bus to St. Louis every Monday morning and go home Friday afternoons.”

His relationship with Danforth has spanned these 32 years. Indeed, until Danforth was tapped by President George W. Bush to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on June 5, Danforth was Kinder’s honorary campaign chairman. Kinder also grew up with conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has recorded a radio spot in support of Kinder’s current campaign for Missouri Lieutenant Governor.

Kinder is a lawyer by trade, graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio in 1979. Prior to that, he attended both Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Missouri at Columbia. These days, Kinder is the assistant to the president of the Southeast Missourian, a newspaper in Cape Girardeau. But if anybody thinks that gets him special treatment on the editorial page, think again.

“Listen, if somebody writes a letter to the editor that’s critical of me, it’s in,” Kinder says. “We also have an anonymous call-in line called ‘Speak Out’...and that is very often critical of me.”

If Kinder’s work on behalf of St. Louis has not always been popular in his home district, it hasn’t been easy in Jefferson City, either. His fight to preserve the historic preservation tax credits—which reach $140 million, statewide—took place in three of the toughest budget years in the last 75.

“The pressure to cap that credit—or extinguish it entirely—was very strong, and I’m proud that we preserved it,” Kinder says. “We now see the fruits of that with the renaissance of Washington Avenue and much of the rest of downtown St. Louis.” The tax credits, Kinder says, were only a part of an overall downtown revitalization effort that included the new stadium and the Old Post Office project, which he is happy to see coming together.

Tom Reeves, executive director of Downtown Now!, says Kinder has been a tremendous asset on economic development issues for the St. Louis region. “Sen. Kinder has been a powerful voice on many important St. Louis issues such as the new ballpark, the Old Post Office District and protecting our crucial historic preservation tax credits,” Reeves says. “He clearly understands how important our urban areas are to the state’s economy.”

Kinder has also been a strong supporter of the proposed New Mississippi River Bridge, though he considers that a statewide project. “I have championed the new bridge here, and will continue to do so,” he says. “It isn’t just for the greater St. Louis region, the whole state needs this bridge.”

Along those lines, he is in favor of this November’s Amendment 3, which would end the so-called diversion of fuel and vehicle sales tax revenue into other state departments besides the department of transportation. Until that happens, Kinder believes an overarching transportation funding bill, similar to the defeated Proposition B, will not be possible.

“Approval of (Amendment 3), which will be a phase-out over five years...seems to me a necessary precondition for going to the people and asking them for more money,” Kinder says.

Kinder was first elected to the Senate in 1992, and for years he has bemoaned the anti-business pall that he says hangs
over the state. Specifically, he calls the Missouri litigation environment and worker’s compensation system key roadblocks to job growth and business attraction.

Speaking of the former, Kinder notes that the medical profession has been hit particularly hard by malpractice suits. “The number of neurosurgeons in Missouri has dropped from 108 to 88 in only two years. We have one-third fewer physicians doing obstetrics than we had two years ago,” he says. “This is not an abstraction. It is real, (and) it is impacting ordinary Missourians and their access to health care.”

Regarding worker’s compensation, Kinder says major changes are needed there, as well. “Nobody wants to take away an injured worker’s award for a workplace accident,” he says. “But worker’s compensation cannot be a second pension; it cannot be a grab bag of awards for all the deteriorating conditions that come with advancing years. We are rapidly at risk of becoming uncompetitive on worker’s comp costs with other states.”

To address the long-term budget issues facing the state, Kinder says a fundamental reform of the state’s tax system is called for. “I don’t think that will be less than probably a three or four year effort,” he says. “My sense is that we have a tax system that was designed in the 30s, 40s, 50s...and we’re now in the 21st Century, and we need to update it. We need to take a comprehensive approach to look at our tax system, and say, ‘how can we make it fairer, broader, less oppressive, and less hostile to business formation?’”

He says Commerce readers should be aware of the changing political map of Missouri. To illustrate, he notes that former Sen. Jean Carnahan carried the St. Louis and Kansas City regions by 114,000 votes during her reelection campaign in 2002—and lost anyway. Further, beginning next year in the Legislature, Kinder predicts no legislator from the City of St. Louis will chair a single committee in either the House or the Senate.

Representatives of Children’s Mercy Hospital, Kansas City, SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, St. Louis and St. Louis Children’s Hospital present Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder (R-Cape Girardeau) an award recognizing his continued commitment and support for children’s health care issues in Missouri. (Left to right) Taira Green, Emmy McClellend, Randy Boulch, Sen. Kinder, Ivy Tominack, and Genny Nicholas. The award was presented in Kinder’s Capitol office last May.

“What does it mean that when the worm finally turned after 50 years, and Republicans won a majority, that there is no one left in the Republican Party in the City of St. Louis to participate in being in the majority?” he says. “I think I know one thing it means. You need advocates in other parts of the state. You need people who are sensitive to, and up to speed on, your issues from other parts of the state to be leaders for this state. And that means leaders for everyone—including the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis region.

“That I have tried to be.”



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