Local Columnists

Steve Kraske: Do we expect too much of our politicians?

Flags around the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City were lowered to half staff after the death of state auditor Tom Schweich.
Flags around the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City were lowered to half staff after the death of state auditor Tom Schweich. The Associated Press

We may never know what caused two-term Missouri auditor Tom Schweich to kill himself in a move that rocked his home state and greatly saddened it too.

But we know this: The pressure on our public servants, day in and day out, can be extraordinary. Few are built for the trade.

Consider what Schweich had on his plate. He was building a campaign for governor requiring the massing of millions of dollars, the cultivation of thousands of donors and the need to be on the road for the next 20 months. Statewide campaigns for a down-ballot post like auditor are grueling. Campaigns for governor are all that times 10.

Meanwhile, he had to run the auditor’s office with its 115 employees, $8.4 million budget and ongoing audits stretching staff from the Bootheel to Maryville.

Tom Schweich had a lot on his plate.

Lots of public officials do. That’s worth noting at a time like this. A lot of you are thinking, “They’re politicians. They don’t have to do this. They put this on themselves.”

Of course, you’re right. They do put this on themselves. But having watched them up close for so long, I know that living constantly in the public spotlight isn’t easy. Every public statement is parsed. Every new release is combed over for tone and possible pitfall.

Relative to their far-reaching responsibilities, they don’t make much money. They have families to raise just like us and — shocker alert — most don’t reach into the nearest public till for a fistful of cash.

How many of you have to reapply for your jobs every two or four years and put up with campaigns stretching month after month with every-single-weekend demands and endless rubber-chicken-and-handshakes dinners?

They do all that, in many cases, not knowing what November’s outcome will bring.

Job security, this is not.

That said, I also know Tom Schweich was tough. He took on school districts and travel budgets. He took Gov. Jay Nixon to court over the budget. He reached deep into the world of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. He ferreted out drug runners in Afghanistan and played world politics at the United Nations.

He was fearless in that way, and that’s precisely what made him an exceptional auditor.

He was something else too — high-strung. To meet Schweich was to recognize that instantly. Who knows how the demands of his life meshed with that part of who he was.

And Tom Schweich was playing in a very, very tough profession.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.