Eric Greitens isn’t getting the message.
The Missouri governor has faced relentless criticism for running an administration shrouded in darkness. Last weekend in Kansas City, the Republican doubled down on that approach, barring reporters from attending forum after forum at the party’s annual Lincoln Days gathering. No explanation was given. Also closed was the state GOP committee meeting where the party conducts its yearly business. The governor — he’s the head of the party — did speak at three open events, though he took no questions from reporters.
The decision broke with least a generation’s worth of open-access precedent and deprived Missourians of a deeper look at the state’s dominant party in a midterm election year.
It also fueled speculation about the motive behind such an unusual step. Perhaps Greitens was concerned that committee members would question him about his extramarital affair that rocked his administration last month. Or that committee members would ask about the ongoing investigation into blackmail allegations. Or maybe party leaders were fretting that concerns about Republican Josh Hawley’s fledgling campaign for the U.S. Senate might spring into view.
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Still, the move makes little sense. Trust in government remains near historic lows, and closing doors to reporters and other citizens only fuels suspicion and skepticism.
The party already is in a dominant position in Missouri politics as Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and among statewide officers. Greitens, in fact, told the state committee, “This is the strongest the Republican Party has ever been.” (A reporter heard that statement before she was forced to leave the hall). A party in such a commanding spot surely can weather a little scrutiny.
The public and lawmakers in both parties are demanding greater transparency in adjacent Kansas in the wake of The Star’s recent series exposing an alarming lack of it in state government. That’s worth repeating: Even rank-and-file citizens are insisting on more openness in the state Capitol that often seems distant and removed from their everyday lives.
Greitens, of course, appears to have heard none of this. Closing some events at Lincoln Days is only the tip of the closed-government iceberg for him. There was, of course, the startling story about the use of a secret texting app that’s been the subject of recent court proceedings. Then there are ongoing questions about the governor’s use of his personal social media accounts and whether they are subject to the state’s Sunshine Law.
Members of his taxpayer-funded transition team were required to sign gag orders banning them from publicly discussing their work. Greitens refused to disclose how much lobbyists and corporations donated to his inaugural festivities. The governor uses private planes for official travel, which means taxpayers often have no idea who’s paying for his trips.
He relies on a nonprofit that isn’t required to disclose its donors for his political fundraising. Also, when it comes to responding to requests for public records, the administration frequently drags its feet and charges wildly exorbitant fees.
The pattern is unmistakable. Greitens prefers as little light as possible on the inner workings of his administration even after he promised something far different during the campaign. He’s counting on average citizens not paying attention.
You’d think that a governor embroiled in scandal, disdained by so many members of his own party and dipping in the polls would be open to new ways of doing business. Not this one.