Campaign Staffers Know Firsthand How to Deal with the Press
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Campaign Staffers Know Firsthand How to Deal with the Press

Date: September 23, 2008
By: Joel Walsh
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The spokesmen for Missouri's two mainstream lieutenant governor candidates ended up on different ends of the political spectrum, but both took similar paths in getting there.

Bret Bender, communications director for Democrat Sam Page, and Paul Sloca, with Republican Peter Kinder's campaign, both started as journalists covering politicians before joining sides with politicians themselves.
Paul Sloca Bret Bender
Republican Peter Kinder's campaign spokesperson, Paul Sloca, began his work in Jefferson City as a reporter for The Associated Press.
A 1988 graduate of Ryerson University in Toronto,Sloca served in the U.S. Air Force before being hired by a daily newspaper in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
After stints with The AP in Tennessee and Sioux Falls, S.D., Sloca moved to Jefferson City in 1997.

Sloca left The AP in 2003 to work for the Missouri Republican Party as the communications director.  He also worked at Missouri Economic Development Department and Gov. Matt Blunt's.

Sloca said he first became acquainted with Peter Kinder in 1997 as an AP reporter covering the statehouse and Kinder was the GOP state senator for Cape Girardeau.

"I enjoyed covering him, because he was very to the point, articulate and he never shunned the (media)," Sloca said of Kinder.

Kinder, a former associate publisher of The Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau is no stranger to journalism himself. "He's very approachable, and he's very straightforward," Sloca said.

"Certainly the Republican Party had an appeal to me," Sloca said, explaining the reasons for his transition away from journalism. But, he noted, as a reporter, being tasked to present the news in a non-partisan fashion was not impossible.

"For me I was doing a job, and that's what I was trained to do. At the end of the day, Democrats and Republicans felt that I had been fair; I had been equally tough on both parties."

Sloca said his reporting background has helped him understand the political process.  It has aided, he said, in his ability to write quickly and accurately, which, to him, are necessary qualities for someone who spends much of his workday writing press releases, blogging on Team Kinder's Web site and answering calls.

For the Jefferson City resident and father of three, the career change is not something he regrets.

"I feel I make more of a difference now than I did as a journalist," Sloca said.

For Democrat Sam Page's communications director, Bret Bender, a start in journalism is a relatively fresh memory.

Bender, who graduated from MU with a history and news editing degree in 2006, said he was first introduced to Missouri state politics while covering the Robin Carnahan and Catherine Hanaway Secretary of State race in 2004 as a student reporter.

For him, journalism was exciting in that "you get to work with a new topic, get to master something new everyday."

But when Carnahan, the victor in 2004, offered Bender a communications internship in the Secretary of State's office, the then-student jumped at the opportunity.

Following graduation, he stayed in Jefferson City to work in the office of  Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County, before being offered a job with the Page campaign earlier this year.

"I was happy when Sam asked me to come work for him, because Sam has been an effective leader in the (Missouri) House," Bender said, noting successful bills Page has sponsored concerning health care for senior citizens and regulating campaign contributions. "He's so good about passing legislation and getting it done."

Bender said he didn't realize what a huge task working a campaign was until stepping into the role of monitoring news for Page, issuing press releases and responding to queries from the media.

In his spare time, Bender said he enjoys playing disc golf, although, he conceded, there hasn't been much of it lately.