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.
Reading his bio and scanning his website, Randles strikes me as an idealist. A hard-working, conservative-minded, professionally accomplished but politically untested idealist. He 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.