Police in Clayton, Mo., confirmed Tuesday that Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich took his own life. He had talked to family members about doing so in the past, detectives said.
Neither of those declarations comes as a surprise. No scenario other than suicide was ever seriously considered after Schweich, a Republican candidate for Missouri governor, died of a gunshot to the head in his home on Feb. 26. And it makes sense in hindsight that the auditor, known for being high-strung and ultra sensitive, may have talked about suicide before.
People will use the investigative findings disclosed on Tuesday to assert that Schweich had no business getting into a rough campaign for governor. A Republican primary race with former House speaker Catherine Hanaway was turning ugly when Schweich killed himself.
But, according to investigators’ findings, Schweich’s family said he had not been under psychiatric care. His wife told police she never expected him to follow through on his talk of suicide. Close friends outside the family told investigators that Schweich could be “low,” or “blue,” but they didn’t consider him clinically depressed or suicidal.
And Schweich had lived in a pressure cooker for decades. With former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, he had been on the front lines of an investigation into the government’s 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. He served as chief of staff for three U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations. He investigated corruption and narcotics crimes in Afghanistan.
Schweich, who was elected Missouri state auditor in 2010 and re-elected in November, was always in motion, always acting on his convictions, always getting things done. Running for governor was a logical step, especially given the need to clean up Missouri’s money-grubbing political culture.
Cleaning up was Schweich’s specialty. He saw himself as the person to take on the job.
Schweich was overly intense, prickly and easily angered. Voters may well have concluded over the course of a campaign that he wasn’t suited to be governor.
They should have been given that opportunity. But political operatives for the Hanaway campaign wanted the auditor out of the race as quickly as possible.
Schweich thought that John Hancock, the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, had been falsely telling donors that Schweich was Jewish. Schweich wanted to publicly accuse Hancock of conducting a “whispering campaign” against him. His closest advisers told him not to do so, which Schweich apparently regarded as a betrayal.
Hancock has said he thought for a time that Schweich was Jewish, and may have mentioned it. He has denied a deliberate whispering campaign.
Schweich’s friends said he was also bothered by a radio commercial, produced by Axiom Strategies of Kansas City, that mockingly compared Schweich’s appearance to Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith TV show and accused him of being a weak candidate who would be squashed “like a bug.”
That commercial, aired on Republican-friendly radio talk shows just before the Missouri Republican Party’s big “Lincoln Days” meeting in Kansas City, wasn’t produced to sway voters. The August 2016 primary election for Missouri governor was almost a year an a half away. The ad was produced for the sole purpose of getting inside Schweich’s head, throwing him off balance.
To me, the proper question is not why an emotionally volatile man like Schweich was running for governor. Intense, driven people often get the most accomplished.
A more useful question is why Schweich kept guns in his home. Police confiscated two after his death.
It was his right to own guns, of course. As a candidate, Schweich described himself as “pro gun.” Perhaps he thought, as a public official, that keeping guns was necessary for protection.
But in the moments described in the investigative report, when Schweich was overwrought and despairing, a loaded gun was too easily within reach. If it hadn’t been, events may have played out much differently. That needs to be said.
Missouri’s Republican establishment is hoping the investigative report will calm down the furor over Schweich’s death. Its stalwarts would like to get back to raising eyepopping amounts of money and cutting insurgents off at the pass. I hope it isn’t that easy for them.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bshelly.