JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Bev Randles may not have announced yet, but all signs indicate that the Sikeston-raised Chairwoman of the Missouri Club for Growth intends to become the only statewide-elected African-American Republican woman in the country.
In fact, there is only one African-American Democratic woman currently holding a statewide office, and it’s Connecticut’s State Treasurer, Denise Nappier. Randles, a University of Missouri Law School alumna who currently lives in Kansas City, formed an exploratory committee several months ago with the stated purpose of mulling a run for Lt. Governor. Randles will have to be especially prepared for a tough race if incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder — the longest running Lt. Gov in Missouri’s history — decides to seek yet another term. Kinder, who has some of the best name ID of any statewide official in Missouri and has an impressive record of beating back well-funded primary challenges, has not yet clarified his 2016 intentions.
“That’s the purpose of the exploratory committee is to explore that process,” Randles said. “Right now we’re talking to opinion leaders and activists and talking to groups. I’ll use that and the level of enthusiasm I encounter to make my decision.”
Randles was seen last week in the halls of the Capitol in Jefferson City, led by former House Speaker and newest Club For Growth (CFG) Board Member, Tim Jones. Randles was seen pow-wowing with party leaders, shaking hands and gauging support for her potential bid.
Randles has been a staple of Missouri politics and particularly the activist-wing of the Republican Party since 2010, when she ascended to the Board of CFG, a right-wing think tank that advocates for conservative tax policies. Randles lobbied heavily in favor of HB 253 in 2013 when Republicans tried, but failed, to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a sweeping tax cut that caused some intra-party riffs.
“Given the work that I’ve been doing with Club for Growth, tax reform, all the other things we’ve done, Right-to-Work and pieces of conservative legislation, I’ve been on the front lines of those things,” Randles said. “I thought a particularly good way to continue that work would be from the [Lt. Governor’s] office.”
Randles said she was drawn to the “enormous platform” given to a lt. governor to publicly advocate for conservative platforms.
There are, of course, other considerations to Randles’ run. A longtime CFG member, Randles will have to work against any criticism — either from her own party or from outside — linking her to the conservative mega-donor Rex Sinquefield, whose deep pockets fund not only CFG, but a series of conservative operations around the state, and whose operation has made plenty of friends, and a few enemies.
Randles said she has a “great” relationship with Kinder, whom she says she told before forming her committee, and whom she says she’s “worked closely with” in the past. Some, in a general election, might consider Randles’ association with Sinquefield a liability, but Randles said she’s not heard a single word from her fellow Republicans about the issue.
“Rex Sinquefield doesn’t run the Club for Growth and he doesn’t run my campaign,” Randles said. “Anyone who is supporting me, whether it’s with $1 dollar or $100,000, is doing so because they are supporting my vision and my ideas.”
Randles’ potential entrance into the race is a decision she said she’s likely to make at the end of the quarter, where she foresees having “a much stronger sense” about whether her candidacy would be viable. In the meantime, Randles is ratcheting up the informal campaign, meeting with donors, activist groups, and local committees. Her potential candidacy would be a boon for Republicans, typically perceived as the less racially diverse of the two major parties. Randles would be only the second black Missourian elected to a current Jefferson City post as a Republican, alongside House Rep. Shamed Dogan.
“I do think that by electing me, if I decide to run, I do think it would be a good opportunity for the Republican Party to present and show people that we are a diverse party and that we do reach out across the aisle. It would make a statement and I think a very positive one,” Randles said.
Should Kinder choose to step aside, it’s likely the race for lt. governor would become quickly crowded on both sides of the aisle as a number of lawmakers have privately indicated they would be interested in the post if they didn’t have to run against Kinder to win it. Randles clarified that Kinder’s choice to stay or not would not influence whether or not she announces in the summer.
“If I decide to run for this office, I can beat anyone who is running,” Randles said. “I am running on the strength of my vision and my ideas, which are very conservative. I don’t shy away from challenges, I’m just made of tougher stuff than that.”