Capitol Perspectives: Missouri Courage in holding Officials Accountable

by Phill Brooks

By Phill Brooks

Missouri's history offers a stark contrast to the limited criticism by Republican members of Congress to Donald Trump's criminal charges.

The defenses by Republican officials to Trump's indictments are quite different from Missouri's legislature during the last several decades when there was strong support for removal of officials from the same party who faced charges of misbehavior or criminal conduct.

The first Missouri demonstration I covered was the 1994 impeachment of Democratic Secretary of State Judith Moriarty for a criminal charge that involved back-dating the candidate filing of her son.

In contrast to Washington, members of Moriarty's party were among her harshest critics.

In fact, Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan called the Democratic-controlled legislature into a special session for the specific purpose of Moriarty's impeachment -- which they did, removing her from office.

In 2015, Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned when it became clear fellow House Republicans had abandoned support over reports he'd sent inappropriate sexual text messages to a 19-year-old House intern.

Later, in 2018, Republican legislators again aggressively addressed charges of misconduct by a fellow Republican state official.

It involved GOP Gov. Eric Greitens who had been accused of sexual assault against a woman and campaign-related violations.

Unlike Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy who has defended Trump, Missouri's Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson created a committee to investigate the allegations against Greitens.

The committee concluded the allegations of misconduct were credible.

Beyond that, to allow the investigation to continue, an overwhelming majority of Republicans, along with Democrats, signed a petition calling the legislature into a special session to continue what amounted to an impeachment investigation of Greitens.

Facing an obvious GOP legislative tidal wave of opposition, along with potential criminal charges, Greitens resigned as part of a plea deal with the local prosecutor.

Why such a difference between the actions of Missouri's legislature against a statewide official of the same party that controls the General Assembly versus what so far has emerged from Republican members of Congress?

One factor might be that Missouri legislators have less to lose by standing up to a party leader. Unlike Congress, Missouri lawmakers are limited to just eight years of service in a legislative chamber.

Beyond that, the salaries of state legislators are mere peanuts compared to members of the U.S. House and Senate.

Further, on a national level a presidential candidate picks the vice president running mate and, if elected, selects cabinet members and top administration officials -- positions that can enhance future political careers.

The contrast between Trump and former President Richard Nixon one-half century ago suggests one significant factor -- the emergence of social media.

In Nixon's era, social media did not exist to allow a president to present one-sided arguments in response to the Watergate tapes in which Nixon clearly supported a cover up of his campaign-related crimes.

Without social media, Nixon was limited to defending himself with speeches and news conferences covered by national broadcast networks.

The problem for Nixon was that his live presidential addresses always were followed by perspectives from national reporters. Also, presidential news conferences are subject to questioning from pesky reporters.

Now, there are a variety of social media platforms a politician, including Trump, can use to deliver one-sided presentations without having to face aggressive questioning from reporters.

Beyond that is the emergence of supposed news outlets that provide one-sided ideological arguments to a national audience.

While Missouri officials of today obviously have access to social media, they don't have the star quality that attracts a huge audience like Trump

I hope historians, political scientists and sociologists will research how social media has changed the foundations our democratic system.

There is, of course, another side to this perspective. Congressional Republicans may truly believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that Trump's efforts to reverse the outcome is justified.


[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]