Kansas City Star. November 14, 2023.
Editorial: Hiring ex-official who pleaded guilty to assault, Missouri House speaker digs deeper
One of the first rules of politics is simple: When you’re already in a hole, stop digging.
Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher is digging, anyway. The Republican from suburban St. Louis is already facing an ethics inquiry after revelations he received government reimbursements for expenses that had already been paid by his campaign. It’s hard to defend that kind of alleged double-dipping: Even some of Plocher’s fellow Republicans are calling on him to resign.
Plocher has chosen instead to amplify the stink of scandal by choosing this moment to hire one of his most notoriously discredited predecessors as chief of staff.
Rod Jetton, Plocher’s new hire, served as speaker of the Missouri House from 2005 to 2009. He certainly knows the lay of the land in Jefferson City. But his career as an elected official ended ignominiously: Shortly after leaving office, Jetton was charged with felony sexual assault, accused of hitting and choking a woman to unconsciousness during a sexual encounter. Around the same time, federal officials investigated a $35,000 donation he received from the “adult entertainment industry” during his time in office.
Jetton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in the assault case, and served probation. No charges were ever filed in the federal inquiry. The scandals clearly continue to define his career, however.
Why did Plocher hire Jetton? He hasn’t offered a public explanation. Instead, The Star’s Kacen Bayless reported last week, the speaker — one of the most powerful figures in Missouri politics — “ran away from reporters asking for comment, hopped in a car and drove away.”
That probably won’t inspire confidence from Missouri voters.
Indeed, some of Plocher’s colleagues are understandably alarmed that the speaker has decided to return Jetton to the center of power in Missouri politics.
‘Gross affront to domestic violence survivors’
“The speaker’s hiring of a man who pleaded guilty to assault for hitting and choking a woman during a sexual encounter is a gross affront to domestic violence survivors,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Democrat who is running for governor in next year’s election.
We agree. Jetton does have his defenders, however.
Jetton “made a series of very bad mistakes and he took action to correct them,” said House Majority Leader Jonathan Patterson, a Lee’s Summit Republican who is expected to become speaker in 2025. “He’s paid his debt to society and he is really a story of resilience and kind of making amends in life.”
That may be true. Jetton has certainly expressed a greater sense of responsibility than many other politicians caught in wrongdoing. “It wasn’t hard to figure out,” he said in a 2014 interview, reflecting on his downfall. “I did these certain actions and it led to these problems that led to my destruction. ”
We believe in redemption and second chances — to a point. Acts of violence, particularly sexual violence and abuse, should be disqualifying when it comes to the highest ranks of public service.
Missouri voters have certainly made their feelings clear in a similar instance. Former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned office in 2018 after allegations he photographed a woman without her consent while she was nude, bound and blindfolded, in an attempt to ensure her silence about their affair. A later report included more allegations of sexual and physical abuse by the former governor.
Greitens attempted a comeback last year, running for the U.S. Senate. Despite bizarre pseudo-support from Donald Trump, (the disgraced ex-president showed his contempt for Republican voters’ intelligence by declaring “ ERIC has my Complete and Total Endorsement! ” — in a race that also included Eric Schmitt) Greitens came in third in the Republican primary election.
Nobody votes for the Missouri speaker’s chief of staff. Still, it is a position of responsibility and power.
Plocher’s decision to hire Jetton — and to avoid any explanation for the decision — is at the very least bewildering: If you’re already facing questions about your ethics, why associate yourself so closely with a figure known to the public mostly for his indiscretions? The speaker has surely given both the public and his House colleagues even more reason to doubt his good judgment. The hole just keeps getting deeper.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 17, 2023.
Editorial: GOP lawmaker’s scoffing dismissal of civility shows what’s wrong with his party
It’s safe to say we don’t frequently find ourselves in enthusiastic agreement with Gov. Mike Parson. But when Missouri’s top Republican declared this week that there’s nothing wrong with “being nice” in politics, who could rationally argue the point?
Bill Eigel, that’s who. The state senator from Weldon Spring, who seeks to succeed Parson, blasted him on social media for cutting an admirable ad with Kansas’ Democratic governor calling for civility in politics.
“Dems are destroying our cities, mutilating our kids, trampling our rights and defunding our police — but @GovParsonMO is worried about being nice,” tweeted Eigel. “What a joke.”
Eigel is trying to position himself to the political right of his two GOP primary opponents (Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe) in next year’s governor’s race. For a certain segment of today’s Republican Party, that means being, well, mean.
It’s part of a broader tension between two brands of modern conservatism: sober traditionalists who still see the value of compromise to achieve constructive ends in politics; and seething populists who just want to burn it all down.
Eigel’s status as the latter was recently made literal. In September, he released a video in which he uses a flamethrower to incinerate some empty boxes meant to represent “leftist policies and RINO corruption of the Jeff City swamp.”
He later tweeted: “(Y)ou bring those woke, pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too — on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”
Suffice it to say, Eigel probably wasn’t moved by former President Barack Obama’s mantra that politicians should strive to “disagree without being disagreeable.”
With that context in mind, it’s not surprising that Eigel had such a belligerent reaction to the video Parson cut with Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, via the National Governors Association.
“We probably don’t agree on much,” admits Kelly, as the two sit down to plates of competing styles of barbecue.
“But regardless,” says Parson, “we’re committed to disagreeing better.” It’s a message, he says, that the two hope to bring to the country “as the 2024 election cycle heats up.”
No one can claim Parson isn’t a conservative politician. We have criticized him as much as anyone for his various right-wing policy stances. But in these divisive times, a simple message of civility like that is commendable — even inspiring.
Eigel’s apparent disdain for such civility isn’t confined to vilifying Democrats. At the end of this year’s legislative session, as he halted Senate business with a personal filibuster because the chamber wouldn’t pass a tax-cut measure he wanted, the Republican majority leader chided him for his lack of “cooperation” with his colleagues.
Eigel retorted: “Nobody got into politics because they were intent on being nice.”
Wow. How ... inspiring.
In his tweet slamming Parson for his civility, Eigel argued that “This (is) why Republicans lose elections.” It’s an interesting take from an enthusiastic backer of former President Donald Trump, whose own contempt for civility may be largely to blame for Republican losses in the last three elections.
It’s worth noting that Eigel’s social-media attack on Parson happened on Tuesday — the same day that congressional Republicans made national news with not one but two separate confrontations in the Capitol that turned physical.
So Eigel apparently isn’t alone in his scoffing contention that civility is for chumps. But we will take this admittedly rare opportunity to laud Parson for his response: “I don’t know what in the world’s wrong with being nice sometimes.”
St. Joseph News-Press. November 16, 2023.
Editorial: Small businesses still need help
A level playing field stood out as the most convincing argument when Missouri lawmakers debated the enactment of “Wayfair” legislation that would create an online sales tax.
For supporters, many of whom were otherwise loath to raise taxes, it was better to characterize Wayfair as a benefit to mom-and-pop shops rather than a revenue-generating tool for government. People might hate taxes, but they hate Jeff Bezos more, so after years of debate Missouri finally climbed aboard the online tax train on Jan. 1.
That means the show-me state enters its first Christmas shopping season with a level playing field for those brick-and-mortar stores that compete with Amazon and thousands of other online sellers.
Yet old habits are hard to break. The National Retail Federation expects 58% of consumers to shop online this holiday season, followed by department stores at 49% and discount stores at 48%. The NRF’s annual forecast shows that online sales are expected to grow 7% to 9% during the holiday shopping season, compared to total sales growth of 3% to 4%.
A similar dynamic exists in St. Joseph, despite all the campaigns to shop local.
A city of St. Joseph report showed retail sales revenue was failing to meet projections, but the opposite is true for the local use tax and retail use tax category that tends to include some online sales. The city’s retail sales tax revenue is down 3.1% year over year while the retail use tax revenue, although smaller in total number, is up 35% in the same period.
The city report notes that tax revenue tends to fluctuate and some sales might be not coded correctly or consistently. But that data does raise a critical question that may have been ignored amid all that talk of level playing fields.
Does Wayfair legislation help local governments more than local businesses?
Given the inevitability of technological change and the shifts in consumer behavior, Missouri had no choice but to embrace an online sales tax. However, this shouldn’t be seen as removing the only obstacle facing small businesses in this current economy. Many of these small businesses encounter staffing challenges, rising expenses and difficulty accessing credit. The Federal Reserve Small Business Credit Survey found that 59% of small businesses reported fair or poor financial condition during the summer.
Maybe Wayfair was a bit of a money grab for local governments, but it doesn’t change the fact that small businesses remain essential to the local economy. They need our support all year, not just during the Christmas shopping season.