By now, it’s safe to conclude that freshman Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has a temper.
And he doesn’t shy from one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook — LBJ-style intimidation.
During the campaign, the Republican lit up rival John Brunner during a phone call about a campaign dispute. Before that call was over, Greitens had called Brunner a “weasel,” a “coward” and “corrupt.” As an added bonus, he called Brunner a liar.
To be fair, Greitens didn’t know someone was taping that conversation. And he surely didn’t know his recent run-in with a fellow Republican, state Sen. Paul Wieland, would leak statewide, either.
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But it did, and this latest blowup could have enduring implications for Greitens’ relationships with legislators.
With several onlookers present, Greitens confronted Wieland over a scheduled pay raise for lawmakers. Greitens opposed it and was working hard to ensure that it failed in the Senate. Wieland was considering backing the increase, which ultimately went down in flames.
Check out the exchange:
“I know you’re not smart enough to come up with this on your own, so who put you up to this?” Greitens is said to have demanded of Wieland. “I can see by your pupils in your beady little eyes that you’re afraid of me.”
Greitens also apparently issued a series of threats, including the suggestion that he’d spend time in Wieland’s district.
Said Wieland after all this, “What are you going to do, waterboard me?” He wound up voting for the pay boost.
The encounter was reported in The Missouri Times, and the governor’s office hasn’t denied it.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Later that night, state Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat, took to the floor to complain that Greitens wasn’t respecting the legislature’s right to call its own shots. Other Democrats demanded an apology.
It wasn’t forthcoming.
The next day, Greitens doubled down, taking to social media to blast Wieland and a second Republican, state Sen. Denny Hoskins, for backing the pay raise.
“Senators Wieland and Hoskins owe the people an answer,” the governor wrote on Facebook. “They complained that it wasn’t my place to interfere on behalf of Missourians, and that I was a bit too rough with them. ... Will I apologize that we saved taxpayer’s (sic) money last night? No.”
Several lessons can be gleaned from all this:
▪ Greitens needs to get out of campaign mode. He’s surely going to need the support of Wieland and others in the Senate for plenty of issues still to come. Burning bridges at this early stage makes no political sense. Greitens may have scored a few points with his macho outburst and Donald Trump-like confrontation. But his term in office still has three years and nearly 11 months to run. That’s a long time.
▪ Greitens also needs to grasp the idea that he’s no longer in the military. A former Navy SEAL, Greitens is accustomed to having his orders obeyed. These days, legislators are more independent-minded than ever before. Just yelling louder when you don’t get your way isn’t the path to legislative cooperation.
▪ Republicans, who control all the levers of power in the Missouri Capitol, need to manage themselves a whole lot better. As governor, Greitens is supposed to be the adult in the room.
Instead, he needs a chill pill.