Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has been bogged down in a major sex scandal that broke earlier in January — an affair with a married woman who claims that the governor blackmailed her. As Greitens attempts to distance himself from the affair (which he admitted to) and the blackmail allegations (which he denies), Missouri Republicans are distancing themselves from Greitens and his policies.
With the Missouri state legislature prepared to vote on some major legislation, the Kansas City Star reports that it looks like the focus of this session might shift from passing laws to passing the buck to a leader in crisis.
Since the story of the affair broke, Greitens has mostly been in hiding. That changes this week, as the governor will be traveling the state in an attempt to sell his new $28 billion budget to voters.
But Greitens’s budget appears dead on arrival, as his own party is expressing no support for either the policies or the man himself.
The governor promised in his State of the State address to lay out a tax cut proposal that he said would be “the boldest state tax reform in America.” But while Republican lawmakers seemed excited at the prospect of more income tax cuts just a few weeks ago, now they’re balking at some of the details — including, somewhat surprisingly for Missouri Republicans, objecting to a proposed $70 million cut in funding for public universities and colleges.
Per the Kansas City Star, senators are claiming that since previous budgets have already slashed education funding several years in a row, doing it again would go too far:
“We’re not going to allow those cuts to happen,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican. “In an era where everyone’s hollering about a trained workforce, cutting higher education, we think that’s probably not the best way to do it.”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Brown, a Rolla Republican, noted that lawmakers have cut higher ed funding several years in a row already.
“We can’t go to the higher education money pot every year to balance budgets,” Brown said.
Republican lawmakers are also nixing Greitens’s idea of borrowing up to $250 million to ensure that tax refunds are paid on time.
It’s hard to say whether these objections are based on genuine policy disagreements, genuine moral outrage over the governor’s conduct, cynical awareness that the Republican agenda likely cannot move forward until someone new is in the governor’s seat, or some combination of the three.
Nationally, Republicans in Congress have shown that they value passing tax cuts and budget reform over distancing themselves from Donald Trump’s immorality and instability. In the state of Missouri, Republican legislators are actively working to separate themselves from a governor attempting to recover from a single accusation of sexual impropriety. Is this a sign that on the local level, Missouri Republicans are faced with greater moral pressures? Is there a case to be made that Republicans in Missouri are trying to do “the right thing” even at the expense of the politics of their platform?
Or does it simply mean that Missouri Republicans have a lot less to lose politically by dumping a scandal-plagued executive? Republicans are currently the loudest state voices demanding that the governor resign. Unlike on the national stage, where calls against Trump would expose Republicans to the wrath of his base, there is much less on the line for Missouri Republicans.
At this point, the Republican-dominated legislature will most likely just ignore the governor and rewrite the entire budget.
"Effectively, we’re going to rewrite the budget. There’s a lot in there that is unnecessary. The governor’s budget is going to be largely ignored. We are closer to our constituents and we will write a budget that is more reflective of their priorities.” @calebrowden
— Renee Hulshof (@reneehulshof) January 24, 2018
Meanwhile, Greitens is under investigation by the state attorney’s office, and a group of GOP senators that have refused to play ball with Greitens in the past are currently pushing for an ethics investigation. While there is little they can do about the affair itself, there are plenty of issues stemming from it that could result in censure or forcing Greitens out of office. The two primary issues include the woman’s accusations that Greitens took a compromising photograph of her to blackmail her into silence, and Greitens’s possible violation of public records laws by using a text encryption app during the affair. (Punishing Greitens for using a texting app on a government phone would feel like getting Capone for tax evasion, but here we are.)
Greitens is making his first public appearances of the month this week, as he tours the state to get support for his budget. Between the affair, the lies, and the deeply unpopular cuts to education, this should make for an interesting story to follow.