Editorials

Gov. Eric Greitens has one last chance to do the right thing

Missouri’s embattled governor can save a bit of face if he resigns instead of facing the likely specter of forced removal from office.
Missouri’s embattled governor can save a bit of face if he resigns instead of facing the likely specter of forced removal from office. File photo

Gov. Eric Greitens is almost out of chances. And he’s running out of time.

Missouri’s embattled and disgraced chief executive has but one more opportunity to do what’s right, and that’s to resign. He has an opportunity to go down in history as a governor who, under pressure, voluntarily stepped away for the good of the state as opposed to one who was forced from office largely by members of his own party.

That’s not a huge distinction, but it’s a difference worth noting.

Both chambers of the General Assembly last week sent the unmistakable message that Greitens now stands on the brink of the ultimate political humiliation. Legislative leaders announced Thursday that 138 members of the 163-member House and 29 of 34 senators had signed petitions calling for a special session to consider Greitens’ impeachment. It was the first time in Missouri history that the General Assembly made such a move, and the strong majorities that united to act were overwhelming.

Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh calls for Gov. Eric Greitens to step down now or for impeachment proceedings to begin immediately.

Signatures of three-quarters of the members of each chamber were required for a special session. Both chambers mustered a robust 85 percent.

The call for a special session doesn’t by itself mean that Greitens will be removed from office. But it’s a strong signal that members are willing to seriously consider that possibility once the special session begins May 18.

A faster timetable would have been preferable. The House will start its proceedings 30 minutes after the end of the 2018 regular session. Lawmakers said they first wanted to focus on the business of passing bills without the distraction of the Greitens’ crisis.

That’s understandable, but it also buys Greitens time, and it’s time that ranks as perhaps the only friend he has left. With each passing day, the resolve to remove Greitens could dissipate. The delay allows Greitens’ trial for felony invasion of privacy, slated to begin on May 14, to play out. A not guilty verdict could cool impeachment passions.

That would be a grievous mistake. Let’s be clear: The governor should be forced from office even if he’s found not guilty of photographing a half-naked woman who has accused Greitens of physically and mentally abusing her. Those credible allegations were disgraceful enough.

Add to that the damning findings of a special House investigative committee last week concerning Greitens’ alleged theft of a donor list from The Mission Continues, the charity he founded for veterans. This state has seen enough, and its citizens have been forced to endure more than enough. Greitens, who has ignored numerous requests for him to resign, can’t go soon enough.

Missouri stands at a pivotal moment, one that demands accountability. The state can continue to drift with its discredited governor. Or the General Assembly can take decisive and needed action and protect the state’s future. Lawmakers can’t lose their nerve now.

In moments like this, guidance from the state’s senior Republican establishment would help. But so far, former Sens. John Ashcroft and Kit Bond have stood silent. Former Sen. Jack Danforth has ties to Greitens’ defense team and is precluded from discussing the matter. Sen. Roy Blunt has repeatedly declined to weigh in on whether the governor should resign.

“There is a process designed to deal with these issues,” Blunt said.

That’s not helpful. And it’s not how leaders respond in moments of crisis.

If Greitens refuses to do the right thing, Missouri must rally to remove its unfit governor. Only then can the state push forward to a new day.

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