A leader of one of Missouri’s two major political parties was subjected to a months-long federal grand jury probe into bribery allegations.
Another top official from that same party was forced from office following a scandalous sexting caper with a college intern.
Finally, a governor from that party was forced from office fewer than six months ago after too many scandals to count, including one involving his mistress and allegations of sexual assault and extortion.
If I told you that all of this happened within a decade and that the political party in question emerged from the November election in an even more dominant position than it was before the decade began, you’d be incredulous. And based on the usual laws of political physics, you should be.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But that’s exactly the preposterously resilient position the Missouri Republican Party finds itself in today, and it suggests in bright, bold letters that the GOP could dominate the state for decades.
Yes, there are longtime political vets, including former Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, who regularly warns his Republican colleagues about the ongoing possibility of sudden shifts in our politics. He points to the early 1990s. Mel Carnahan won the governorship and, suddenly, Democrats controlled five of six statewide offices and huge majorities in the General Assembly.
Look where they are today.
“Things can change,” Shields says. “Always be cognizant that you need to be responsive to your constituents because things can change and will change in Missouri.”
He makes a great point, of course. Things change in politics all the time. Just look at Johnson and Wyandotte counties, which will soon be represented in Congress by an openly gay, Native American, former MMA fighter. Are you kidding?
But something feels different now in Missouri than it did in the 1990s when Democrats were so powerful. Missouri Democrats traditionally have never been liberal flame-throwers. Their brand favored low taxes and chronically underfunded services. The joke in the Capitol always was look at any national ranking of state services. To find Missouri, just drop down to #49.
In other words, the distinction between the Republican philosophy and the Democratic wasn’t all that great. So moving from Democratic control to Republican wasn’t that much of a leap either, especially following the rise of hot-button social issues such as abortion and gun rights.
So here we are today. The long-running 2010 federal grand jury probe into former House Speaker Rod Jetton over bribery allegations barely registered on the balance-of-power meter in the state. Neither did one-time Speaker John Diehl’s sudden 2015 resignation after this newspaper revealed his sexually suggestive texts to a 19-year-old legislative intern.
This year, of course, saw the resignation of former Gov. Eric Greitens following a series of scandals involving dark money and dark deeds. Voters were so unaffected that they gave Republicans in the state more power than maybe they’ve ever had before and sent Democrats into the depths.
Flash back to the mid-1990s when Democratic House Speaker Bob Griffin got into legal trouble. You had the feeling then that the Democrats were done in the General Assembly — and they were just a few years later.
Scandal hasn’t undone Missouri Republicans. Neither has Donald Trump or underfunded services. For now, Missouri and the GOP appear to be a match made in political heaven.