In something of a surprise, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ attempt to oust state Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven flopped Tuesday.
The governor had done his best to strong-arm the Missouri Board of Education into firing Vandeven, who is well-respected in the state. Greitens had withdrawn the nominations of two of his own board members because they seemed too wishy-washy about firing Vandeven.
The replacements, he was sure, would fall in line.
To his chagrin, all the backroom pressure yielded nothing, at least for now. Greitens appointee Claudia Onate Greim of Kansas City joined three colleagues to keep Vandeven in place, thwarting the governor’s maneuvers.
Greim deserves thanks for her courageous vote. She probably ought to ignore any phone messages and emails from the governor’s office during the next several days.
The board meets again Dec. 1.
The governor should learn a lesson from the embarrassing vote. Missouri is a representative democracy, where powers are shared, not monopolized for political gain.
The Missouri Board of Education was embedded in the 1875 state constitution. Its eight lay members must be evenly divided by party and serve eight-year terms after state Senate confirmation.
The original intent is clear. Students, Missourians believe, are best served by an independent board of education, free of political influence.
Greitens and others in his office have sought for weeks to turn this idea on its head. They pressured board appointees to toe the Greitens line, and when those nominees revealed plans to exercise independent judgment, he had them dismissed — a step of questionable legality.
In fact, there were signs Tuesday the board’s membership is now so tangled that it will take weeks to determine who can cast a legal vote.
In a statement, the governor appeared unmoved by the board’s decision. “There are a lot of people committed to the status quo,” he said. “They’ve been willing to harass and intimidate anyone who stands up to them. That won’t stop us from doing what’s right.”
Complaints about harassment and intimidation from this governor are laughable. He’s spent his first year in office browbeating his imagined enemies in both parties at every opportunity.
There is a better way.
Greitens can submit his board nominations to the state Senate, which can either confirm or reject the picks in January. Once a fully-confirmed board is sworn in, its members can independently consider whether a new education commissioner is needed.
That’s how a democratic republic is supposed to function, something the governor often struggles to understand.
In 2016, the General Assembly passed a law requiring Missouri’s ninth graders to take a test on American history and government. Gov. Greitens might benefit from taking that test before bullying the Board of Education again.