Is it possible to sidestep the ongoing drama over Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ extramarital affair and whether he can survive in office to talk about something at least as important?
Dare we say it: We’re going to talk about issues.
More specifically, we’re going to talk about all the issues that Greitens left unmentioned, or barely addressed, during his second State of the State address this week.
This was the speech that ended just before the news broke that Greitens had engaged in an affair in 2015 when he was exploring a run for governor and had allegedly blackmailed the woman during their tryst. Greitens has admitted to the affair but has denied the blackmail.
It goes without saying that Greitens’ 2018 agenda is severely compromised. This was to be the year, after all, that the governor was in position to fully exert his will on the legislative process now that he has a year of governing under his belt. Much of that is now lost.
Although the ongoing soap opera over the affair will block out the sun, at least for awhile, the work of governing remains. The to-do list in the Show-Me State is extensive, and Greitens had a golden opportunity Wednesday night to at least get the ball rolling on a series of initiatives and set an aggressive agenda. He whiffed badly.
What he didn’t mention is more significant than what he did. Not a single word on transportation and the state’s under-funded highway network even though a legislative task force just stepped forward with a bold proposal for a gasoline- and diesel-tax increase. Missouri still struggles to maintain the seventh-largest highway network in the country with a gas tax that ranks 47th.
Nothing on the governor’s vision for higher education or K-12 schools. He also didn’t mention his fixation on charter schools that’s manifested itself through the ongoing controversy involving the state Board of Education. The opioid crisis? Nothing. Health care in rural Missouri? Again, not a single word.
The state’s perverted prison system that’s spurred legal settlements totally millions of dollars? Zilch. Sexual harassment in the Statehouse? Utter silence. The same for human trafficking and the homicide epidemic gripping Kansas City and St. Louis that remains a black mark on his state. On ethics, which was a centerpiece issue of his campaign, Greitens practically raced past the topic, mentioning only the need for lawmakers to pass a ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials. His own ethical missteps surely prevented a sharper focus.
The governor may be wishing that avoiding any mention of these mega-issues will somehow make them disappear. If only life were so simple.
The hard political reality here remains unchanged: Gubernatorial leadership is essential if big issues are to be tackled and tackled successfully, particularly in an election year. If Greitens can somehow emerge from his self-inflicted wounds, there are numerous efforts worth leading.
Greitens deserves credit for his laser focus on Missouri’s 13,000 foster children who deserve better. But in general, the governor appears too willing to avoid the tough stuff, such as the undeniable need to raise taxes for highways, and focus on easier tasks, such as the major tax cut he plans to unveil soon.
It’s a shame. A governorship is a terrible thing to waste.