If there’s been a theme for his first nine weeks in office, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has been all about being different. He’s the go-your-own-way governor — not unlike another Republican who happens to be president of the United States.
Just last week, for instance, Greitens released his official portrait as all governors do. But instead of the traditional head shot of another man in a dark suit and red tie, Greitens went, well, rogue.
His portrait features not just Greitens, but the whole family. There’s his wife, Sheena, and the two young boys, Joshua and Jacob. Greitens is in a blue pullover, and there’s Joshua atop the governor’s right shoulder.
So much for tradition.
But is it working?
The answer might be yes in this new world order where image reigns supreme.
Greitens is still big on doing pushups with police officers and, to his credit, showing strength in traumatic times, such as last week when tornadoes ruined lives or when vandals pushed over headstones last month at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis.
His image-first approach worked well enough that it carried him to an upset win in November. For voters who don’t pay close attention, Greitens’ youthful zest, brimming confidence and tough talk about redoing state government may appear spot-on.
The answer may well be no, though, if the metric is stamping state government with signature achievements. Gov. Mel Carnahan significantly boosted education spending in his first year. So did Gov. John Ashcroft with his Excellence in Education Act. Gov. Jay Nixon got a jobs package done as the state struggled with the 2008 recession.
A governor’s first year is the time to tackle tough issues before the glow of a big election win fades.
So far, Greitens’ cupboard is pretty bare, and there’s nothing in sight.
He will point to the state’s new right-to-work law, but that legislation was in the pipeline long before the new governor took over. And the GOP-led General Assembly, frustrated after a Democrat controlled the governor’s office for eight years, may send him tort reform and other anti-union measures that Greitens has said little about.
All that will thicken his dossier for what almost everyone in the Capitol thinks is an inevitable White House run. That talk is so rampant that when Greitens heads to Washington, D.C. — and he has already gone there several times — it’s viewed by many as another tryout for the world of big-league politics.
Greitens’ push for signature ethics reform — hailed by newspaper editorial boards, including this one — appears headed for oblivion. That’s a shame because Greitens was positioned to change the culture of a statehouse in desperate need of one.
Greitens did himself no favors with his decision to hide the names of campaign donors to his inauguration or those who fund his airplane travel. Now, The Star has disclosed that he’s connected to the nonprofit A New Missouri Inc. The organization can accept unlimited donations, which could fuel a future Greitens campaign.
That’s hardly the example the highest-ranking official in the state should set if he wants to clean up government.
In the Capitol, some lawmakers say they’re more than a little disappointed. The new governor, for some, is already an afterthought.
“I don’t think anybody takes him seriously,” one lawmaker told me. And this was a Republican.
Greitens’ unconventional approach to the media appears aimed at limiting his exposure to statehouse reporters who understand legislation.
He recently held his first full-scale news conference since his Jan. 9 inauguration, and he has talked to reporters on other occasions. But he’s also embarrassed himself by dodging them.
Phil Brooks, who has covered the Capitol for decades, wrote that Greitens has draped “a cloak of secrecy” over Missouri government.
The new governor, it seems, prefers communication via Facebook. He can control that.
Struggles aside, Fox News earlier this month named Greitens its “Power Player of the Week.” For that honor, he agreed to sit for a soft-touch interview with Chris Wallace, even though in-state media outlets have gone wanting.
“We’re taking on politics as usual,” Greitens told Wallace.
So maybe going rogue will work. It has for Trump.