Before inauguration, Kander talks goals, vision

Jason Kander

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

He may not be a new face in Jefferson City but Jason Kander says he hopes to bring a fresh vision to his new job as Secretary of State.

“We talked a lot about having a non-partisan approach to this office and having the courage to stand up and do what’s right regardless of who is on the other side of an issue,” said Kander, a former state representative from the Kansas City area. “It was a fun campaign but now, what’s even more fun is having the opportunity to put that vision into practice as we build our team and prepare to take office.”

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Kander will also be assuming his duties as the sole Jewish officeholder in elected statewide government. He will be sworn in on Jan. 14.

“What I have taken from my family upbringing and my faith is just a sense of responsibility to serve others and to try and make the world a better place,” he said. “I think that has a lot to do with my commitment to public service.”

Kander’s roots in the state run deep. The son of a policeman and a juvenile probation officer, the fifth generation Kansas Citian went to law school at Georgetown University and was actually in the Washington D.C. area when the 9/11 attacks occurred. It was a turning point for Kander who decided to join the military where he volunteered to go to Afghanistan as an Army intelligence officer.

He spent the war investigating corruption in the Afghan government, an experience he said would serve him well upon return to the United States. He was elected to the state legislature in 2008.

“There was plenty of anti-corruption work for me to do in Jefferson City as well and so I focused a lot of my legislative efforts on campaign reform and ethics reform,” he said.

Now, he sees the secretary of state’s position as the next logical step. The office oversees a wide variety of functions including securities fraud investigations, something he said is a priority for him. Kander will also be the state’s top elections official.

“I’ve always been a big champion of ethics reform,” he said. “I think the true fraud in elections here in Missouri is in our campaign finance laws. We will continue to advocate for campaign reform legislation and for ethics reform.”

In addition, he favors early voting programs that would allow Missourians to cast an absentee ballot without needing an excuse to do so.

Kander said that he feels the Business Services Division has made big strides in helping state residents to start new enterprises. He hopes to continue that trend.

“They’ve done a very good job over the last few years of making the process more efficient and affordable to start a business in Missouri and I think that presents us with a great opportunity to focus more on entrepreneurship and helping new business owners succeed here and create jobs,” he said. “The way we’ll do that is by connecting people who are starting a business in the state with innovation centers, other programs, non-profits throughout the state and we can do that without any additional taxpayer dollars.”

The 31-year-old Democrat is even gaining attention nationally since his narrow defeat of Republican nominee Shane Schoeller in November. The Huffington Post recently reported that Kander will be the youngest elected statewide official in the nation.

“I think it’s exciting that there are members of my generation that are now stepping up into leadership roles and I think it grants me a very unique perspective I suppose,” he said, “but I think regardless of age, all of us who hold elected office have the same set of responsibilities and obligations. My focus doesn’t change as a result of being younger than some of my counterparts.”

Kander leaves the General Assembly at an unusual time for his party which again lost seats and is now on the wrong side of a veto-proof majority in both houses of the state legislature. Still, Democrats did capture the Governor, Treasurer, Attorney General and Secretary of State’s offices. Only the Lieutenant Governor’s post remained Republican.

“If you look at the statewide races, both in ’08 and in ’12, you have Democrats winning almost all of those races,” he said. “I think Missouri continues to be a state where voters make choices, take pride in being informed and looking at each race individually. I think that’s what they’ve done and that’s what they did this time.”

However, Kander’s departure from the state house does leave a hole of another kind. Combined with Representative Susan Carlson’s August primary defeat, it leaves only two Jews left in the legislature. Yet Kander thinks that may not be as dim a prospect as it could seem.

“The Jewish community is one that, in my experience, is less concerned with representation in terms of Jewish elected officials and more concerned with representation of the values of building communities and serving others,” he said.

He said that Jewish values have influenced him in many ways.

“I’m very proud of my heritage and to whatever extent my community takes pride in my success, that’s something that’s very meaningful to me,” he said.

Kander said his plans for the future are simple. He wants to be the best secretary of state he can be.

“I ran for it because I wanted to be secretary of state,” he said. “I believe that it’s an incredibly important office that touches the lives of nearly every Missourian through the various divisions in the office so I’m  very focused on this job.”

Kander will replace Robin Carnahan in his new position.