Eric Greitens picked the right year to run for Missouri governor. His party’s candidate for president carried his state by 19 points and pulled Greitens across the finish line.
Save for Donald Trump’s powerhouse performance, Democrat Chris Koster would be governor today.
Greitens’ streak of good fortune continued in his first legislative session, which resulted in a rush of pro-business bills from GOP lawmakers. He can point to them as a political success and a sign that his governorship is making a difference.
The list is substantial: an anti-union right-to-work bill, a ban on project labor agreements and a bill that permits ride-sharing services to operate throughout the state. There was legislation on expert witnesses and another intensely controversial bill that will make it tougher for workers to prove they were discriminated against on the job.
One other measure still under consideration as of this writing would help businesses by placing new restrictions on lawsuits.
It all adds up to a huge year for chamber of commerce types and a bounce-back year for Republicans after eight years of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
Republicans had already knocked off several big items from their to-do list during the Nixon years when lawmakers used their overwhelming majorities to override vetoes. That period yielded a big tax cut in 2014 that’s causing budgetary pain today.
How much Greitens had to do with any of this year’s GOP wins remains unclear. Some lawmakers argue the result would have been the same had the governor been Catherine Hanaway, Peter Kinder or John Brunner, the other 2016 GOP gubernatorial candidates.
But that’s not how the game is played. The results came on Greitens’ watch, and he’ll get the credit.
When the legislature adjourns Friday evening, expect Greitens to hold a triumphant news conference and compare the year’s successes to those of other first-year governors. He can make a strong case.
Now, Greitens still has 3 1/2 years left in his term. That’s long enough to see whether this year’s legislation produces the favorable job growth that Republicans have forecast. The other danger is that his signature on the discrimination bill will backfire and give Missouri a black eye.
In other ways, Greitens’ first year ranks as a profound disappointment. His campaign for governor was big on pyrotechnics but fuzzy on policy. The lone exception was his signature pledge to clean up Missouri government through a series of ethics measures, including a lobbyist gift-giving ban.
Those bills all wound up failing spectacularly, and for that, Greitens himself bears some responsibility. There were the dark-money antics of some of his allies, Greitens’ own reliance on high-dollar, anonymous donations and his campaign’s carelessness that resulted in a public rebuke from the Ethics Commission.
We’re still having trouble squaring that aspect of Greitens with the candidate who promised to sanitize Jeff City.
He has also managed to alienate Republican lawmakers with over-the-top arm-twisting that will cost him when he needs a vote someday. And a cut that will halt state aid to poor seniors to help them pay for prescriptions also could boomerang.
But Greitens enjoyed enough success to walk away with some added pop in the pushups he performs with police. They say timing is everything in politics. If so, Greitens appears to have that part of the job down pat.
Still, you wonder: Is he lucky or good? The evidence still points to the former.