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Former state Sen. Bob Onder officially joins race for Missouri lieutenant governor

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Former state Sen. Bob Onder officially joins race for Missouri lieutenant governor

Dec 11, 2023 | 12:33 pm ET
By Rudi Keller
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Former state Sen. Bob Onder officially joins race for Missouri lieutenant governor
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Former state Sen. Bob Onder, a Republican from Lake St. Louis (photo courtesy of Missouri Senate Communications).

While he was in the Missouri Senate, Bob Onder earned a reputation as one of the most vocal members of the self-styled conservative caucus, upending the chamber by filibustering a litany of bills, including congressional redistricting, needle exchanges for addicts and Medicaid financing.

As he left the Senate in 2022 due to term limits, Onder, a Republican, considered but ultimately decided against a bid for St. Charles County executive. On Monday, as anticipated, he formally entered the race for lieutenant governor, joining a primary that also includes embattled House Speaker Dean Plocher, state Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, Franklin County Clerk Tim Baker and St. Louis County businessman Paul Berry III.

Republican state senator launches bid for Missouri lieutenant governor

Onder will announce his candidacy at events Monday morning in St. Louis and at the Missouri Right to Life headquarters in Jefferson City in the afternoon.

He decided against the St. Charles County race, and to enter the contest for lieutenant governor, after talking it over with his wife, he said.

“We’ve always asked ourselves whether there was a race where we could make a difference, and we believe that the Lieutenant Governor’s race in 2024 is that race,” Onder said in an interview with The Independent.

To pay for his campaign, Onder put $500,000 of personal funds in his campaign account in October. His joint fundraising committee, Great Missouri PAC, received a $500,000 contribution in November from his brother, attorney James Onder.

Those donations helped pull his campaign even with Plocher, who had $519,000 in his campaign account and $759,000 in his PAC, Missouri United, as of Sept. 30. Thompson Rehder reported $241,000 in her campaign fund and her joint fundraising committee, Southern Drawl PAC, had $162,000.

Since those campaign reports were filed in mid-October, Plocher has come under fire for pushing the House to purchase an expensive software program for constituent contacts, firing his chief of staff and seeking personal reimbursement for campaign-paid expenses.

In an October post on social media, Onder also took aim at Plocher’s false expense reports. 

“This looks and smells like embezzlement,” Onder wrote. “It’s documented, happened (nine) times over years, and he only reimbursed after being caught. Plocher is the swamp and should resign.”

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While he was in the Senate, Onder clashed repeatedly with Thompson Rehder, who won passage of a bill creating a prescription drug monitoring program to fight the opioid epidemic and sponsored a bill allowing addicts to exchange used needles for clean syringes to fight the spread of diseases like HIV.

During one debate near the end of the 2022 session, when Onder had finished speaking, Rehder was pointed in her good-bye to her colleague.

“I pray that is the last pontificating we will hear from the Senator from the second,” Rehder said.

Plocher’s problems and Thompson Rehder’s legislative record leave an opening for him in the GOP primary, Onder said.

“Public officials need to hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard,” Onder said. “That is a problem with at least one of my opponents.”

He will be the most conservative candidate in the race, Onder said. 

“My announced opponents and other people looking at the race, some of them are big government types,” he said, “politicians who have solutions like raising gas taxes, like prescription drug monitoring databases, like needle exchange programs.”

Onder, a physician and an attorney, entered politics in 2006 when he won a term in the Missouri House. He lost a 2008 congressional primary, finishing second in a field of four, before returning to office when he won a state Senate seat in 2014.

Onder said he wants to use the lieutenant governor’s office to promote Missouri’s economy and address safety issues including human trafficking and fentanyl addictions.

“Missouri should be the greatest state in the nation,” Onder said. “And yet in so many ways, Missouri has lagged other states, our neighbors in the West, other red states and even the nation as a whole. In the last 20 years, our economic growth has been one-half of the nation as a whole.”

The site of his afternoon announcement, Missouri Right to Life headquarters, shows Onder’s close ties to the anti-abortion movement as well as the effort by Missouri Right to Life to increase its influence in the GOP. 

Missouri Right to Life endorsed five candidates in the crowded 2022 U.S. Senate primary but it has issued a single endorsement, to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, in the 2024 gubernatorial primary. Onder expects to be the only candidate the organization endorses for lieutenant governor.

“It has to be recognized that, as the only candidate endorsed by Missouri Right to Life, there are reasons for that,” Onder said.

Onder sponsored anti-abortion provisions that became law after a 2017 special session to require annual inspections of abortion clinics, set a time limit on testing tissue samples taken during an abortion and limited the ability of local governments to regulate anti-abortion organizations operating pregnancy resource centers.

He also sponsored bills that became law to bar companies that boycott Israel from winning state contracts, expanding access to virtual education and barring state and local agencies from requiring bidders on public contracts to use unionized labor.

But Onder was most known as a legislator for standing in the way of legislation he opposed. His demands for anti-abortion language on a bill extending a tax vital for financing Medicaid delayed passage for months and put $3 billion for Medicaid in jeopardy.

“I believe I had a very successful Senate career,” Onder said. “But look when Republicans are trying to do things to pass bills that are Democrat bills, of course, I’m going to stand in their way every time.”