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Springfield businessman joins Democratic race for Missouri governor

Mike Hamra of Springfield, Democratic candidate for governor and CEO of Hamra Enterprises, owner of 200 restaurants in five states. Campaign photo

RUDI KELLER, Missouri Independent

A political newcomer joined the Democratic race for Missouri governor on Thursday, bringing a big checkbook and a message that he can stop “partisan food fights” that plague state government.

Mike Hamra, CEO of Hamra Enterprises in Springfield, said in an interview with The Independent that he’s jumping into the race that already includes another Springfield Democrat, Crystal Quade, because he is “not a career politician.”

“I’m a very different type of candidate that’s going to generate the kind of support that’s needed to be the next governor in the state, and I also believe I’m the best candidate to put our state on a path towards greater opportunity and prosperity.”

The primary would be the first significant Democratic nomination contest for governor since 2004, when then-State Auditor Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Gov. Bob Holden. Whoever emerges from the primary will face an electorate where no Democrat has won a statewide race since 2018.

On the Republican side, three candidates are running full-scale campaigns for the GOP nomination – Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and state Sen. Bill Eigel.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Parson is barred from running for another term.

Hamra’s announcement video shows he intends to lean heavily on his business background to attract votes. The family business began with a single Wendy’s Hamburgers restaurant and now has 200 restaurants — Wendy’s, Panera and Noodles & Company franchises — in five states, up from 26 when Hamra took over as CEO from his father, Sam Hamra.

“Different parts of the business and running a state are very similar in the complexity level, and you need skills to be able to manage that job,” Hamra said in the interview. “And I believe it’s the most authentic and natural thing for a business leader to take on as far as the role of running state.”

Quade, House minority leader for the past five years, is not eligible to run for another term in the House. She could not be reached Thursday for comment on Hamra’s entry, but her campaign released a statement that highlighted the battles she has had with the Republican majority.

Quade also took a veiled shot at Hamra’s lack of experience in state government.

“Missourians need a governor who can take decisive action on Day 1 to reverse policies that have failed to keep rural hospitals open and allowed the worst state teacher pay in the country,” Quade said.

In his announcement video, Hamra said his administration would implement policies to help small businesses grow, train workers for high-tech jobs and “refocus education to produce the next generation of innovators and inventors.”

Asked for specific initiatives he would propose for education, Hamra stated that he wasn’t ready to discuss them.

“We just launched the campaign this morning,” Hamra said. “So, I don’t have details on what that’s going to look like, but I will, and I will be getting that out at some point. I just don’t have that right now.”

The video also stated that he intends to enact policies that would ease the strain on family budgets with “new ways to make childcare and healthcare more affordable.”

An employee of Hamra Enterprises praises the company in the video because it “offers full health care and retirement benefits.”

The company, like many in Missouri, requires employees to pay a portion of the cost through payroll deductions. According to the businessman, 90 percent of his eligible employees participate.

“We provide, in that health care we provide, a very, very competitive and I think a very solid health care plan for our employees,” Hamra said.

The last Democrat to become governor following a Republican administration was Jay Nixon, elected in 2008. Nixon had been attorney general for 16 years when he was elected, and Democrats won three of the four other statewide offices on the ballot, including one by more than 700,000 votes.

In the 2020 election, Parson won re-election by 500,000 votes, Ashcroft won by the largest margin of more than 710,000 votes and no Democrat won statewide office.

The Democratic Party needs to build its election infrastructure throughout the state to make it competitive again, Hamra said. “It’s important that candidates that are running for office also support other candidates that are running for office, and they support each other, and that’s going to be very important for the Democratic Party.

Hamra has donated to campaigns for the party’s highest-profile races – he gave money to Democratic nominees for governor in 2016 and 2020, and to Trudy Bush Valentine’s campaign for Senate in 2022 – but he has not contributed significantly to lesser races. In the past 10 years, Hamra donated once to a legislative candidate, giving $1,000 to a Springfield Democrat who lost a House race in 2016.

Hamra believes money isn’t the only measure of his help to the party.

“We’ve done other things to support Democrats other than just purely coming out of my pocket, but our family has absolutely supported the Democrats consistently, year after year after year,” Hamra said.

For the past two years in the legislature, passing significant legislation has become vastly more difficult, due in large part to Republican factionalism in the state Senate. A filibuster nearly derailed the only must-pass legislation – a state budget.

His business experience will help him negotiate solutions to multi-sided fights, Hamra said. “In the last 22 years, I have been really skilled at laying out a vision and creating jobs and working with people that I don’t always agree with to get things done.”

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