Editorials

After scandal, disgraced Missouri House speaker faces a big question: Does he get it?

In this May 15, 2015 file photo, Missouri Republican House Speaker John Diehl, who acknowledged exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a Capitol intern, addresses the body for the final time before resigning.
In this May 15, 2015 file photo, Missouri Republican House Speaker John Diehl, who acknowledged exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a Capitol intern, addresses the body for the final time before resigning. The Associated Press

John Diehl wants back in the club.

Three years ago, he was the most powerful lawmaker in Jefferson City. Then he resigned after The Star disclosed that the then-House speaker had exchanged sexually charged texts with a college freshman who was a Statehouse intern.

Now Diehl is attempting a long, slow return to public life as he seeks to boost the prospects of a new business venture that involves mining cobalt in southeast Missouri. As The Star reported Sunday, he’s met with Gov. Mike Parson. He’s given a tour of the mine site to Missouri Congressman Jason Smith. And he’s briefed local elected officials on the company’s plans and will almost certainly be interacting with state government.

There’s no doubt that the relationships he formed during his years as a Missouri lawmaker have helped Diehl grease the skids for his public comeback. And there’s little question that a disgraced official who was never charged with a crime deserves another shot. That’s the way this country works.

But what’s also clear is that Diehl owes us more than the bordering-on-perfunctory acknowledgment of a “serious error in judgment” that he copped to in 2015 just as the legislative session was winding down. He can do much more than the “I am truly sorry” apology he gave at the time.

That doesn’t go far enough in a world that’s undergone a #MeToo revolution and one that’s seen one self-important king after another fall on their crowns. This week, it was former CBS leader Les Moonves. Other weeks it’s been Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose or Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein.

The former speaker needs to understand that there’s a new intolerance for powerful males who prey on young, vulnerable women like the college intern Diehl sent sexually suggestive messages to during the spring of 2015. At one point, she sent him a bikini shot. He commented approvingly.

And there was this exchange:

“God I want you right now,” Diehl texted. Her response, “I wish you could have me right now.”

This involved a college freshman and the then-49-year-old married father of three who was the speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives.

So, you wonder: Does Diehl really get it?

“It’s not about time; it’s about accountability and making amends,” Missouri state Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis County Democrat, so adroitly pointed out the other day. “We’re all human. We all make mistakes. But has he made any changes to the way he behaved? Is the John Diehl of 2018 the same as the John Diehl of 2015?”

We don’t know the answer to that question because Diehl has never addressed it. He certainly didn’t say much three years ago when he so unceremoniously rushed from the Capitol with a pack of inquiring reporters in tow after The Star disclosed his inappropriate texts.

He didn’t address it when he stood his ground and initially refused to resign even after the evidence was on full display for all the world to see. And he’s not addressing it these days as he declined an interview with The Star, opting instead to only answer questions via email.

But if John Diehl is back rubbing elbows with the state’s most powerful officials, he ought to answer this key question: Does he get it now? He owes us at least that much.

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