Is there a future for this man in Missouri politics?

I caught a headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, about Dave Spence taking heat for ducking debates with Bill Randles in the GOP primary for the Missouri governor. The Lake Area Conservative Club of Camdenton invited both men to speak at their meeting this week, but after apparently agreeing Spence later pulled out only days before the event, citing confusion and saying the club’s invitation had been misleading. Randles spoke at the event while Spence attended a fish fry in nearby Wright County.

St. Louis-area businessman Dave Spence has been the presumptive front-runner for some time in this primary, while before today I don’t know that I had heard of Kansas City attorney Bill Randles (a man with rural roots who went on to Harvard Law School). Spence has cash, connections and momentum and it’s difficult to imagine somebody knocking him off at this point. Recent polling has Spence with a solid lead as well as a slight advantage over his primary opponent in a general election match-up versus incumbent Democrat Jay Nixon (though both still trail by double-digits).

This little dust-up is interesting, and the charge of avoiding debate is certainly a legitimate line of attack for underdog Randles to pursue against front-runner Spence. What’s more interesting to me though is what kind of future Bill Randles may have in Missouri politics – if he has any at all, of course. There are a lot of very decent, talented, public-spirited people who give politics a try. Former Republican state legislative candidate John Destefano of Kansas City (north of the river) comes to mind – a former KCPL executive with a great military, family, and community background, he nonetheless was unable to get elected to a state rep or state senate seat.

Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Bill Randles (via

Reading his bio and scanning his website, Randles strikes me as an idealist. A hard-working, conservative-minded, professionally accomplished but politically untested idealistHe might have thought: since he had waited for so long to enter politics, achieved a lot in his academic and professional life, and thought deeply for some time about policy issues and his beliefs about what could make the state or nation a better place, that he could and should aim high when he finally decided to pursue public service. And that’s understandable.

It’s also a misjudgment, most likely. Kind of like Michael Jordan giving major league baseball a try and thinking maybe he should just swing for the fences in his first trip to the plate in spring training.

I’m basing this solely on what I’ve learned in five or ten minutes looking at his website, but I would think there’s a future – if he wants one – for a guy like Bill Randles in Missouri politics. He comes from a  modest background, went to school in Missouri before matriculating to Harvard Law, seems to be a man of sincere faith, has clearly held political convictions and obviously has an interest in serving. The question is – assuming no radical change in the gubernatorial primary – what elected office or other opportunity should he pursue to do that in the future? And how can fellow Republicans who may believe he has something to offer guide him to the right opportunities?

I ask these about Randles but they are the type of questions anybody who thinks about public service must consider (or even active citizens who simply want to see good people elected). How wisely one asks and answers them will strongly influence their level of political success.

P.S. What’s the right office for a first-timer with this candidate’s experience or resume? That depends on his or her particular skills and his vision or agenda. I would think something closer to an open state senate, congressional or down-ballot statewide race. Finding boards, commissions or committees to serve on in the mean time could go a long way in gaining experience and demonstrating a commitment to service – it never hurts to start small. Needless to say, being active in the party and supporting other candidates can also be key.



Filed under Missouri Politics

2 responses to “Is there a future for this man in Missouri politics?

  1. Brian T. Johnson

    Of course we should ask questions about Dave Spence – the focus of this post happened to be Randles. As I wrote, it seems like there’s a future for him in Missouri politics, and he certainly brings a compelling background and biography to the table, given what little is known about him at this time.

    When a political newcomer enters the highest race in the state, a race other top party politicians have taken a pass on, it’s logical to ask whether he’s made the best decision, from a practical perspective. Don’t take it personally – I’m a friend not a foe.

    The “presumptive front-runner” label may or may not have been flawed at some point, but along the way perception becomes reality. And from early on, Spence garnered more insider-support and public name-recognition in this primary. You can say that’s good or bad, right or wrong, a decisive or indecisive factor, etc, but you can’t say it’s irrelevant. It’s relevant.

    The big thing though, is cash. It’s been said “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” The state GOP is desperately fighting to take a Senate seat, and of course deliver its electoral votes to Romney. Nixon is well-ensconced and the major players are not running against him. And here you have a guy with a good business background who will not only run but can self-finance the whole thing. That’s a major, major boon to the party. It means that even though he’s also a newcomer (like Randles), he’s automatically got the resources (unlike Randles) to buy airtime and do the other things that can make a race competitive.

    Finally, I cited recent polling data. A straw poll of activists may be relevant in a primary like this, but it’s still very, very limited in its scope. The actual public polling is probably a better snapshot of who’s got support. That can change, and it’ll be up to supporters like yourself to make the case of why Randles is not only the best person for the job, but the best candidate for the party to run in the general. He’s got to be both to get the nomination.

  2. The real question is why you aren’t asking the same of Dave Spence? He is political neophyte who doesn’t have a solid grasp of the issues []. Shouldn’t he consider running lower on the ballot for his first run?

    The auspice of “presumption” is flawed. Randles won the poll conducted of delegates and alternates at the GOP State Convention 67.7% to 31.5%. He has a grassroots network of thousands that spread to all corners of Missouri made up of the most active Republicans in the state. He has the capability to excite hotbeds of conservatism like in St. Charles:

    The question here isn’t if there is a future for Bill Randles, but why is Dave Spence running at all? Would anyone take Dave Spence seriously without his checkbook? The grassroots core of the GOP certainly don’t.

    Perhaps Dave should spend a few years learning about policy and government before attempting another run for office. Perhaps state senate, congressional, or a statewide office down-ballot.

    In August, voters can choose between the establishment plucked (literally, out of no where) candidate, or a smart, capable, rising conservative star. Do you want Jindal or Crist?

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