The state of Missouri has inaugurated a new governor and, to paraphrase President Ford, our long nightmare is indeed over. Governor Eric Greitens finally relented in the face of almost certain impeachment by the General Assembly as well as an uphill legal battle regarding his abuse of charity records for political fundraising. Then of course there is the allegation that was the impetus for the immolation of Greitens’ political career, that he had engaged in a non-consensual relationship with his hairdresser and took explicit photos of her to use as potential blackmail. The Greitens administration was plagued with scandals and was a shining example of what “bad government” looks like. The state of Missouri will be better off, at least from the outside looking in (more on that later), without Greitens. But, Greitens’ unethical, ill-thought, and possibly illegal actions were not unpredictable. As a matter of fact, dozens of my colleagues and I were making the argument against Greitens for the better part of a year in 2016.
Often, it didn’t seem necessary for us to possess opposition research, because it seemed so clearly evident to us that our opponent was not fit to hold office. That is to say we didn’t just believe that Greitens shouldn’t be governor because of differences on policy, but rather we believed that he simply did not have the requisite knowledge or temperament to even be governor. Whether it was his ads that depicted him firing heavy artillery into a lake with his thousand-yard stare, personal anecdotes from people that described him as hollow and lacking substance, or the cartoonishly angry phone call he had with John Brunner… we felt that the voters just would pick up on what we had known for months. Of course, we were wrong, and we lost.
Ultimately in a campaign, there are two parties generally considered responsible for the outcome of an election, the candidate and voters. The candidate delivers their message and the voters decide whether to accept or reject. But there’s a third pillar, that I would argue is almost equally as important as the candidate, and that’s the campaign staff. 2.8 million people voted for governor in Missouri, and neither Chris Koster nor Eric Greitens were going to be able to shake every hand or meet every voter. That is true in every election: Television ads, radio ads, and mail can only achieve so much voter persuasion. Elections are won and lost because of field programs, which can end up talking to hundreds of thousands of voters. There’s even a phrase in political campaigns called the field margin, which represents the 3% to 7% bump a candidate can expect to receive relative to the effectiveness of their field program.
I worked in field, and I must’ve talked to well over 2,000 voters. So, when we lost, I took that very personally, because it not only felt like a rejection of my candidate but of myself. Because the election was so close, it’s hard to know what we could’ve done differently and if it ultimately would’ve mattered. Regardless, we had a responsibility to the voters to save them from Eric Greitens and his distorted view of politics as well as his obsession with power. We failed them, not because we didn’t work hard enough but perhaps because we underestimated him. Of course, we believe that we were dragged down somewhat by the top of the ticket [Claire McCaskill], even though we were able to outperform her by double digits. But that alone doesn’t explain our shortcomings, because Montana and West Virginia were somehow able to overcome the Clinton malaise. In the postmortem in the media, some blame has been put on our candidate and his shortcomings. But again, Chris Koster had been elected in a landslide just four years earlier and had the endorsements of liberal and conservative groups alike and should’ve been the strongest gubernatorial candidate since Mel Carnahan. I only mention these things, to circle back to how, even nearly two years later, we campaign workers still feel the great burden responsibility of for this loss.
It is difficult to see what has become of our state because of our failure to get our candidate across the finish line. We became America’s 28th right-to-work state, which thankfully is something voters have the opportunity to challenge this August by voting no on Proposition A. We slashed our already diminutive higher education budget, which will undoubtedly leave a generation of young Missourians less prepared for the workforce then their parents. We have continued to see the closure of independent emergency rooms and rural hospitals as a direct result of Greitens’ refusal to expand Medicaid, and Missourians have died and will continue to die. Programs specifically designed to improve economic mobility among the poorest of us, have been ignored or completely eliminated. Our government is limping, because Greitens with his ineptitudes failed to fill several boards with qualified candidates. Women, now unlike any time in recent memory are under attack as their right to make personal medical decisions has been curtailed. The human suffering not just among our supporters but among all people in my state is something that keeps me up at night. Our reality was not inevitable, it was a part of my job to prevent it.
The resignation of the governor gave me no joy, it was just another reminder of the consequences of elections. Somethings can be fixed by future administration, but somethings can’t. It’s not possible to put people’s lives together again after a loved one has died of a preventable illness because we couldn’t secure them healthcare. It’s not possible to give an opportunity back to a child who is denied a college education because the funding just wasn’t there. Furthermore, by his leaving office and the ascension Governor Mike Parson, we’ve essentially allowed a person with the same politics but a more agreeable personality into office. Mike Parson will be an effective governor and that is to the detriment of all people living in Missouri who have suffered because of Greitens’ policies. Gov. Parson is well-liked in the General Assembly and will be able to take our state further backwards than Greitens could’ve because he lacked the political will. The silver lining is that perhaps we can now finally make a return to normalcy and rediscover respect for the institutions that make our state work. Eric Greitens was a dangerous individual not just because of what he was able to accomplish, but what he might’ve been able to accomplish if he were allowed to build a national profile. His resignation has saved not just Missouri, but maybe the entire country from further degradation. However, all the same, his resignation does not even begin to lift the great veil of shame that has been cast over our state because of his personal indiscretions and unethical leadership. We are not Illinois, New York, or any other state infamous for a long history of corrupt politics. Missouri gave us Tom Eagleton, John Danforth, Dick Gephardt, Mel Carnahan, Harry Truman and other great Americans who exemplify what it means to be a servant of the people. We’ve worked hard to create a legacy of public service and standing up for American values, and it’s distressing that Eric Greitens’ may change that.