Ashcroft makes it official: He’s running for governor in Missouri in 2024

Ashcroft-house

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft testifies before a Missouri House committee in 2020. | Photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications

Jay Ashcroft, Missouri’s secretary of state and son of one of the most successful Republican politicians in state history, announced Thursday morning he was joining the 2024 race for governor.

In a statement announcing his candidacy on social media, Ashcroft said Missouri “stands at a crossroads.”

“Red states like Florida, Texas, Tennessee, even Indiana and Arkansas have become examples of conservative leadership while Missouri Republicans, who control every statewide office and have supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, have failed to deliver,” he said. “I’m running to change that.”

The statement from Ashcroft, 49, was seen as a shot at his two potential rivals for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe already is a declared candidate, and state Sen. Bill Eigel is exploring a bid.

In a video accompanying his statement, Ashcroft panned “career politicians” who “talk a lot, but don’t do a lot.”

The video doesn’t mention Kehoe, but it does include footage of him while Ashcroft says “politicians and lobbyists in Jefferson City slap each other on the back while they give our tax dollars to global corporations, sell out farmland to China and raise gas taxes on hardworking Missourians.”

Incumbent Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, can’t run again because of term limits. No prominent Democrats have joined the gubernatorial campaign, though House Minority Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield says she’s considering the race.

Scion of a political family

In an interview with The Independent, Ashcroft said even though he comes from a political family — his dad, John Ashcroft, served as state auditor, state attorney general, governor, U.S. Senator and U.S. attorney general — he never intended to go into politics himself. 

“When I was a little kid, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to go into politics,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m never going to go into politics. I’m never going to be an attorney. I’m going to have a real job.’ Famous last words.”

He originally intended to be an engineer, graduating from Missouri University of Science and Technology with a degree in engineering management. Ashcroft eventually decided to become an attorney, graduating from St. Louis University Law School in 2008. 

He didn’t end up entering politics until 2014, when he lost a tough race for a St. Louis County state senate seat. He bounced back two years later, winning a tough primary race and then cruising to victory in the fall to become Missouri secretary of state.

Rumors circulated in 2019 that Ashcroft was considering entering the GOP primary to run against Parson. But he eventually batted those rumblings down and instead easily won reelection as secretary of state in 2020.

Ashcroft’s campaign kickoff video notes his support for Missouri’s voter ID law, as well as his efforts to block the U.S. Department of Justice entry to polling locations in Cole County as part of its investigation of complaints involving accessible voting machines.

In recent months, Ashcroft has begun testifying before legislative committees in favor of bills that would ban certain medical treatments for transgender minors and ban foreign ownership of farmland, among others. And he became highly involved last year in an unsuccessful effort to redraw Missouri’s congressional maps in a way that eliminated a Democratic seat in Kansas City.

He also garnered headlines for proposing a controversial rule that would cut funding to libraries that make “age-inappropriate materials” available to children, and for criticizing former U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s support for legislation protecting same-sex marriage.

Most recently, Ashcroft got national attention when he withdrew Missouri from a voluntary system aimed at helping states combat voter fraud by maintaining accurate lists of registered voters, known as the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC.

Education, budget cuts, anti-DEI

Asked about his priorities should he become Missouri’s next governor, Ashcroft said education would top his list. 

“The last two times I have opened up the House of Representatives, I called on them to enact real school choice,” he said. “Local control of education is the best thing you can have. And there is no more local control than mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, who know those kids better than anyone and should be in charge of their education.”

Ashcroft has four children — three in private school, he said, and one in a public high school. 

“I want every person in this state with children to have the same ability to decide where their child goes that I do,” he said. 

The state’s budget has gotten far too large, Ashcroft said, noting that in 2016 it topped out at $27 billionand has grown to more than $50 billion this year. 

He said tax cuts are in order. 

“We have a huge surplus in Missouri, and Missouri families are struggling,” he said. “We need to give that money back to the people.”

Despite a ballooning state budget, agencies continue to struggle to hire and retain workers, contributing to a range of problems —  from foster children languishing in state care for longer than they should be to disabled residents waiting months to receive federal food benefits to investigators unable to keep up with child abuse and neglect complaints.

Ashcroft said the problem is one of priorities, not spending. 

“Let’s reevaluate where we’re spending our money, where we need to spend that money,” he said, “and let’s understand that it is the very rare occasion if ever, that the state spends its money better than families that it’s taken that money from.”

One method agency leaders in the Parson administration have argued has helped them retain workers and improve morale is diversity, equity and inclusion programs. But in recent weeks, those programs have come under fire from Republican officials, who say they are part of a “woke” agenda and have no place in state government. 

Ashcroft is among the loudest critics of diversity, equity and inclusion in state government, and he doubled down on that criticism Thursday. 

“Any department head that thinks that we need to judge people by the color of their skin and validate whether people are good or bad based on the color of their skin, where they were born or who their parents are, should not be working in the state of Missouri,” he said. 

Ashcroft said he has no intention of trading on his name or leaning on the legacy of his father. He wants voters to look at his record and judge him on what he has done since entering public life. 

But growing up around politics has given him a perspective that he says has been a benefit as he serves in elected office. 

“It helps that I was raised with the understanding that people being involved in politics is normal, that elected officials aren’t special,” he said. “I was raised to understand that it’s about public service, that it’s everyday human beings that are willing to give up their life to serve other people and to make a difference in the lives of current generations and future generations.”

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