Barbara Shelly

In election night speech, Tom Schweich rips Missouri government corruption

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, shown here in 2013, is speaking out about corruption in state government.
Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, shown here in 2013, is speaking out about corruption in state government. The Associated Press

Yes, it is fair to say that Tuesday’s election didn’t go exactly the way I was hoping. Or even close. Especially that Kansas governor’s race.

But the voters have spoken. So congratulations to the winners. Good luck to all. Keep calm and carry on.

Now, being one of those annoying glass-half-full people, I have to say that the week hasn’t been all bad.

Thanks to the latest court rulings, I am enjoying the prospect of same-sex marriage becoming legal in Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback’s watch, and legal in Missouri over the protestations of the newly expanded GOP supermajority in the General Assembly.

I like that voters in Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Alaska and Illinois easily approved ballot measures calling for increases in their states’ minimum wage. Here’s to seeing that issue on the Missouri ballot in 2016.

And most of all, I like Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich’s victory speech.

You missed that one? Understandable, since Schweich, a Republican, didn’t break a sweat during his race for a second term. No Democrat jumped in, and Schweich easily fended off challenges from Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates. His watch party in Clayton, Mo., near St. Louis, wasn’t high on the “must get to” list.

But, whoa, that speech.

After rhapsodizing about his travels around Missouri and what a great state it is, Schweich lit into Missouri’s culture of political corruption. He said he sees it everywhere, in state courts and school districts and local governments.

But the worst, he said, is in Jefferson City, “which is overrun with special interests that have completely corrupted that government there.”

Yes, folks, that is your Missouri state government, and the auditor is absolutely correct. The absence of any caps on campaign donations or lobbyist gifts, combined with term limits and the rush by ambitious politicians to court powerful donors, has turned the capitol into an ethical cesspool.

Schweich was bipartisan in his observations. He mentioned Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, who featured prominently in a recent New York Times report about state attorneys general getting too cozy with the corporate interests they are supposed to be policing. Clearly referencing Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, he criticized leaders who “fly all around the state on expensive planes for photo ops but they don’t make the tough decisions they need to make.”

In a remark that almost surely included former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor in 2016, Schweich talked about “candidates who seem almost completely bought and paid for by one donor.” Hanaway has accepted nearly $1 million from retired St. Louis investment banker Rex Sinquefield so far this year.

Besides spending prolifically on candidates and controversial causes, Sinquefield is a chess enthusiast. So Schweich was clever, if not exactly subtle, when he said, “We have people in this state who brag about having political armies of lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and PAC’s, groups who manipulate politicians like pawns on a chess board.”

He continued: “If you do as they say you are rewarded by an endless spigot of cash. But if you don’t they find primary opponents for you, they file lawsuits against you, they threaten you and they try to intimidate you.”

It’s no secret Schweich is contemplating a run for governor in 2016. Safe to say, he won’t be collecting a lot of Sinquefield contributions for that enterprise, and he’d have to take on Hanaway and much of the Republican establishment.

But it’s been too long since a Missouri politician has spoken so candidly about the rot in state government. Whatever Schweich’s plans are, I hope he keeps talking.

Reach Barbara Shelly at 816-234-4594 or Twitter: @bshelly.