A Time To Move Forward

Jewish Light Editorial

Eric Greitens left the governor’s office in the same way he acted in the nearly 17 months he was there — arrogant, dismissive of the Missourians he was supposed to serve and blaming everyone but himself for his demise.

Now, it’s up to his successor, new Gov. Mike Parson, and everyone else serving in Jefferson City to undo the damage the Greitens regime inflicted on the state and get government moving again for the benefit of the people.

When Greitens began his campaign to become Missouri’s first Jewish governor, he exhibited a style and attitude that was unusual, maybe even refreshing. He levied his experience in the military into an attack by an outsider who was going to shake things up and get things done in a way that state government hadn’t seen before.

And in the opening months of his administration, after vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, his appearance with Vice President Mike Pence and his message to those who had come to aid in the cleanup helped to start off his tenure on a positive, inspirational note.

But it soon became clear that his rebellious approach wasn’t going to work in Jefferson City, and that Greitens didn’t play well with others. Even with large majorities in the House and Senate, he had little success in getting legislation passed, and the insiders that he disdained were far more familiar with how the system worked than he was.

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No matter how much he protested that he wanted government to work the Greitens way, and no matter how he tried to make end runs around the normal ways of doing business and appeal directly to Missourians, the fledgling politician found himself stymied at almost every turn.

So when felony charges against him blossomed into calls for impeachment — and a special legislative session to deal with that issue — Greitens had few fans to rally to his defense. Then, last week, when he finally decided that the legal cases against him and impending impeachment were too much to keep fighting against, his farewell speech rang hollow.  

For the personal attacks, pain for his family and harassment that he complained about, he had no one but himself to blame. His protestations of innocence, and his references to the enemies who were out to get him, no longer played well. As he had done ever since his problems came to light earlier this year, he continued to shade the truth. 

His refusal to take questions from reporters after announcing his departure was typical of Greitens’ style, but turning his back on them doesn’t make the questions go away.

Why resign now? Since his problems began earlier this year, Greitens has adamantly refused to leave office as so many politicians and others suggested. Why the about face on Tuesday?

Many observers point to a ruling earlier in the day by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem that ordered Greitens to turn over to a House committee documents concerning the financing of his campaign and the group A New Missouri. The governor had steadfastly refused to give up that information, so it’s fair to assume that the papers that the judge said must be handed over contain damaging facts.

What happens to his legislative agenda? Greitens had a lot of big plans, promising transparency that never materialized. Instead, he used the law to hide what he was doing and avoided reporters at every turn. His efforts to cut money for programs like public education and low-income housing tax credits aren’t likely to succeed, and other issues that he favored will be tarnished by his connection with them.

What’s next for Greitens? At age 44, he’s too young to simply fade away, and he has talents that could help Missouri if he is willing to use them in a more constructive manner. 

His aspirations for national office, nurtured since he was a student, are probably doomed. But if he truly loves the state as he claimed in his farewell address, he should figure out a way to make amends, so that his brief tenure in the governor’s office could become just a negative episode and not the defining episode of his life.

As far as the law goes, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner quickly dropped the felony data-tampering charge against him, which also involved political fund-raising. But the investigation into allegations of invasion of privacy, tied to his extramarital affair, continues. Other issues, legal and otherwise, will doubtless continue to reverberate in the coming months.

In 1974, in the wake of the resignation of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford told the nation that “our long national nightmare is over.” The furor over Eric Greitens didn’t last as long as the angst over Watergate, and it was mostly confined to Missouri, but the relief brought by his resignation is certainly comparable. 

Now, as then, it’s time to begin the serious healing made necessary by Greitens’ behavior and to move forward on governing the state of Missouri in a fair, open and collegial manner.