For most of 2017, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens fought the state’s political institutions — the General Assembly, state workers, the press, interest groups and lobbyists.
He did so in the service of a populist, drain-the-swamp message he thought the public wanted to hear.
“There are a lot of people committed to the status quo,” he wrote on Facebook. “They’ve been willing to harass and intimidate anyone who stands up to them.”
The message struck a chord among some voters, but it infuriated politicians in both parties, who fought Greitens loudly and publicly.
Greitens said he didn’t care. He was for the people, not the politicians.
So it’s notable the governor’s first steps in 2018 suggest his relationship with lawmakers is undergoing, um, an adjustment.
First, Greitens appointed Ryan Silvey to a cushy six-figure, six-year job on the Missouri Public Service Commission. Silvey, a Republican, was a key Greitens nemesis in the state Senate.
“For a ‘Republican Outsider,’ @EricGreitens sure has quickly embraced the Obama doctrine of governing by Executive Order,” Silvey tweeted in July.
Greitens’ unexpected alliance with Silvey isn’t unique. Handing out a patronage position to a political enemy to get him or her out of the way is an ancient trick, right out of the swamp.
But Greitens’ decision suggests the governor, for the first time in memory, cares what the Senate says and does. He seems to have anticipated a fruitless, ongoing dispute with the Senate this session, and he took a step to stop it by moving Silvey out of the picture.
The 2017 Greitens would have yelled at Silvey on social media. The 2018 Greitens used a political trick to neutralize a foe.
Further evidence? On Wednesday, Greitens withdrew five controversial state Board of Education nominees, then resubmitted them for Senate confirmation.
As a policy matter, the move will delay the board’s work. As a political matter, though, it extends the time for the Senate to consider the picks until mid-May. That may further help thaw relations between the two branches.
One insider, not a Greitens fan, called the maneuver “brilliant.”
The nominations may still stall, and Greitens may have to offer new picks after the session adjourns. For now, though, there is space for the Senate and the governor to work out their differences without polluting debate on other issues facing the state.
That’s exactly what good politicians do: create the possibility for compromise.
Gov. Sam Brownback will leave office as one of the most unpopular politicians in Kansas history, not because he pushed messy tax cuts but because he refused to compromise when the budget turned south.
Perhaps Eric Greitens is learning that lesson.
Perhaps not. Perhaps Greitens will use his state of the state address to berate lawmakers in both parties, remind us of his military service and launch yet another pointless rhetorical blast at his perceived enemies.
Perhaps he’ll needlessly insist on pushing for his Board of Education nominees.
Let’s hope that isn’t the case. Let’s hope the governor now knows he can’t do things by himself, not in this democracy. If so, Missouri will be the better for it.