A Republican wave has washed over Missouri politics.
Republican Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who has never before sought elected office, was chosen by Missourians to be the state’s next governor. He defeated Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster on Tuesday night. In complete but unofficial results, Greitens won, 51 percent to 45 percent.
“We’re going to take on the special interests and clean up Jefferson City,” Greitens said in his victory speech in Chesterfield, a St. Louis suburb. “Our mission in this campaign was to build a stronger and better Missouri we can take in a new direction.”
The win gives Republicans control of the governor’s mansion and both the state House and Senate for the first time in eight years. Republicans have won the race for governor only once since 1992.
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And it marks a dramatic shift in the state’s political future.
“This is a great night for the state of Missouri,” said state Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Louis County Republican. “This can be a transformational time for the state of Missouri.”
The most immediate ramification of Tuesday’s vote could be Missouri becoming a so-called right to work state.
Greitens has promised to sign a right-to-work law, which would make it illegal for workers to be required to join a union or to pay dues to a labor organization as a condition of employment.
Supporters argue right to work would strengthen Missouri’s economy and encourage businesses to grow. Opponents say it would simply weaken labor unions and lower wages.
Republicans have been trying to enact right to work in Missouri for years, but enough pro-labor Republican lawmakers have joined with Democrats to block the GOP from overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. They have more than enough votes to send the bill to Greitens’ desk.
“It’s a sad day for working Missourians,” said Mike Louis, president of Missouri AFL-CIO and a key Koster supporter. “With the election of Eric Greitens, the security of our livelihoods is being threatened.”
Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, dismissed the critique of Greitens by labor unions.
“We can expect Governor-elect Greitens to act quickly on some of the biggest problems facing our state,” he said, “and to quickly clear some long-standing roadblocks that have been impeding our growth.”
In addition to reworking labor law, Greitens has vowed to cut regulations on businesses and taxes, reform the state’s court and legal system, and oppose expanding Medicaid or extend discrimination protection to LGBT Missourians.
But the centerpiece of his campaign was ethics reform. Cleaning up Jefferson City politics is a key piece of Greitens’ platform, and he’s consistently decried “corrupt career politicians,” “well-paid lobbyists” and “special interest insiders” who he says are pulling the strings in the Missouri Capitol. He’s vowed to push for a ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and to implement a longer waiting period before lawmakers can become lobbyists after leaving office.
It’s a position that has caused some friction between Greitens and legislative leaders, who have bristled at his repeated accusations that corruption is widespread in the statehouse. But Onder, who serves as assistant majority leader in the Senate, said he believes Greitens’ focus on the ethics reform will mean lawmakers will be forced to deal with the issue in a substantive way in his first year in office.
Besides being a former Navy SEAL, Greitens, 42, was a Rhodes scholar. He emerged from a bruising four-way Republican primary in August with an upset victory. During his run against Koster, he fended off attacks against his conservative credentials, his record running a charity for veterans, and the fact that his campaign benefited from more than $6 million in dark money spending by federal political action committees.
“Our next mission begins tomorrow,” Greitens told supporters in his victory speech. “Tonight, we celebrate.”