About 200 people attended the Greene County Republican Women 2024 Republican Forum at the Relic Event Center on June 27. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

With primary campaign season in full swing, Republican candidates from around Missouri convened in Springfield on June 27 for a biannual forum hosted by the Greene County Republican Women’s Club.

Around 200 attendees heard from more than a dozen candidates — incumbents and hopefuls — at the event, which was held at the Relics Event Center in Springfield.

Alex Bryant, a pastor, radio show host and former Republican candidate for Missouri’s 7th Congressional District moderated the event. Bryant asked a slate of questions to candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and state treasurer.

Though the forum itself was limited to candidates for statewide offices, Republicans running for the state legislature and Greene County offices — some facing primaries and others running unopposed for their party’s nomination — campaigned at the event.

Alex Bryant moderated the forum featuring Republican candidates for Missouri governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and state treasurer at Relics Event Center on June 27, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Gubernatorial candidate calls for more Missouri troops at southern border

Of the nine Republicans running for Governor, only Chris Wright participated in the candidate forum. Katie Ashcroft, Jay Ashcroft’s wife, spoke on behalf of her husband and Valerie Swearingen represented Bill Eigel at the event.

With the stage to himself, Wright partly blamed Gov. Mike Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who is also running for governor, for what he described as gridlock in the Missouri General Assembly. Wright said he would “be present” as governor and “work proactively” with the legislature to pass conservative legislation.

Chris Wright, a Republican candidate for governor, speaks at the Greene County Republican Women Candidate Forum on June 28, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

With crime reduction among his top three priorities, Wright emphasized a need to keep law enforcement officers in Missouri, and suggested the state send more National Guard troops to the United States-Mexico border.

In February, Gov. Parson issued an executive order to fund the deployment of 200 members of the Missouri National Guard and 22 Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers to support Operation Lone Star in southern Texas.

“We need to send more than just a few hundred soldiers down there to plug a hole, but we’ve got to leave our law enforcement up here to protect the citizens of Missouri because illegal immigrants are already here,” Wright said.

Senator highlights record, lawyer touts endorsements

Three of the six Republican candidates running for lieutenant governor made appearances at the event, though only two — Holly Thompson Rehder and David Wasinger — qualified to participate in the forum.

Rehder, who termed out of the Missouri House before being elected to her first term in the state senate in 2020, touted her focus on addiction and treatment services, including her senate sponsorship of the bill that established Missouri’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and stressed the need to address problems with the state’s foster care system.

State Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, speaks at the Greene County Republican Women Candidate Forum on June 28, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

“The lieutenant governor's office is very perfectly situated to be able to work on some of these issues that have needed someone from the executive branch that understands them, and will delve into them,” Rehder said.

With a background in public relations, Rehder feels she is well suited to advocate for Missouri’s seniors and veterans, and promote the state as a tourism destination — three primary roles of the lieutenant governor.

Wasinger, a St. Louis attorney, said “out of control” crime was affecting tourism, and furthered the focus on illegal immigration with a story of how his son was almost killed in a car crash by an “illegal immigrant” and “criminal.”

David Wasinger, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, speaks at the Greene County Republican Women Candidate Forum on June 28, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Wasinger played up his endorsements from Missouri Right to Life and Congressman Eric Burlison, and described himself as a “conservative outsider” poised to “call out” special interests and lobbyists in Jefferson City.

Franklin County Clerk Tim Baker, who is also running for lieutenant governor, promoted his candidacy with a campaign booth and flyers at the exit. State Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, who leads lieutenant governor candidates in fundraising, was noticeably absent from the event.

Candidates for state treasurer talk school choice

Missouri State Treasurer Vivek Malek and three of his five primary challengers — Andrew Koenig, Cody Smith and Lori Rook — spoke at length about the MOScholars program, which is administered by the treasurer’s office.

Established in 2021, the program provides eligible families tax credit scholarships for alternative educational services, including enrollment in private schools.

Koenig, who is wrapping up his second and final term in the Missouri Senate, sponsored a wide-ranging education bill that expanded access to the program, and continues to champion school choice in his campaign for treasurer.

State Sen. Andrew Koenig, flanked by state Rep. Cody Smith (left), Lori Rook (center right) and State Treasurer Vivek Malek (far right) at the Greene County Republican Women Candidate Forum on June 28, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

While supportive of school choice, Rook, a Springfield attorney, was critical of Koenig's education bill, calling it “harmful” to public schools, private schools and home schools.

“I think if this is as good as we get, we can build upon that and get to a real school choice program where all children are benefiting from this,” Rook said to a loud applause.

Malek, who is seeking reelection to his first full term after being appointed by Gov. Parson in January 2023, credited his administration for the success of the MOScholars program and expressed support for its continued growth.

Smith, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said the expansion of the program was a “good next step,” and that there is “plenty of room to grow,” suggesting that school choice would lead to more competition, and lately better education outcomes for students.

Current, former state legislators share ideas to secure elections

Three of eight Republican candidates for secretary of state spoke at the Greene County Republican Women Candidate Forum on June 27, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

In a crowded Republican primary for Secretary of State, three candidates — Shane Schoeller, Dean Plocher and Denny Hoskins — were given the floor to talk about elections and libraries at Thursday’s forum.

Schoeller, the Greene County Clerk, touted his experience overseeing elections and called for Republican election judges in cities and Democrats in rural areas to “make sure there’s no shenanigans happening.”

Hoskins, in the last year of his second and final term in the state senate, condemned voting machines, arguing that the “most secure elections are in-person on election day with a paper ballot and voter ID.”

Attendees sing “God Bless America” at the close of the Greene County Republican Women Candidate Forum at Relics Event Center in Springfield on June 28, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Plocher, who joined the race after dropping his bid for lieutenant governor, advocated for a “distinguishing mark” on drivers licenses and other forms of identification to determine someone’s citizenship at the polls.

While each candidate expressed concern with “inappropriate material” in public libraries, and outlined plans to withhold funds when necessary and where possible, they acknowledged that much of the power rests at the local level, and encouraged attendees to hold their local officials and library boards accountable.

Campaign signs in front of the Relics Event Center on Battlefield Road ahead of the Greene County Republican Women 2024 Candidate Forum. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Hauxeda. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@hauxeda.com or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee