The Long goodbye

Brian Long has said goodbye to his job as director of the Department of Revenue about four months after Governor Nixon appointed him.  He says the strain on his family caused by the month-long investigation of his department is the reason he is stepping aside. 

His department has been under intense investigation by the Senate Appropriations Committee because it started gathering personal information from Missourians getting driver’s licenses and other state ID cards and keeping it in a database.  Some of the allegations that have been thrown around have been easily made and less easily proven.  But in the end the key is a rule the department should have promulgated to remove any doubt about the legality of what it has been doing.  But it didn’t make that rule. 

The wobbly-wheeled Revenue Department wagon had been sent on its way by Brian Long’s predecessor who was appointed to an administrative hearing judge’s job the day after sending a letter to Homeland Security that has been pounced on by Senator Kurt Schaefer and his appropriations committee. They read it as the state saying it is complying with the Real ID law although Missouri has a law saying it will not do so.  Long argued the letter was intended to show the department that Missouri was doing some things the Real ID law requires but is prohibited by state law from doing others, and hoping the feds don’t start banning Missourians from airline flights because it can’t fulfill all of the criteria for adopting Real ID.  Perception, however, is in the eyes of the committee.

Long might have been able to remove some of the pressure if he had told the committee last week that he was going to order a halt to the information-gathering.  But he said he was not ready to make that commitment.  He didn’t explain why and the committee didn’t ask why–and perhaps it should have.

His position was not helped by the department’s lack of candor about how accessible this personal information is to others.  And when it was mentioned last week that a list of people with concealed weapons permits was made available to a federal government agency, the committee jumped on that issue with both feet.   Guns are involved.  The federal government is involved.  A list of people with guns is involved.  A federal agency got that list.  It couldn’t read the files, though.  But it got the list and it took three weeks for the Revenue Department and the Department of Public Safety to admit it.  

We don’t know why the department has handled this investigation as it has.  We don’t know why Brian Long didn’t want to commit to solving the problem last week.  Some of this stuff is pretty complicated and pressure comes to bear from several directions.    

Some Senators say others caught up in the questioning should join the private sector.  Senator Rob Schaaf has suggested that Long was thrown under the bus by the Nixon administration, although the governor’s spokesman, Scott Holste, told us the resignation was not requested.  But in our years of covering statehouse politics we have seen plenty of people fall on their sword to try to end a controversy.  

There is some sympathy, even among his critics, for Brian Long.  It appears he inherited a situation ripe for political controversy and tangled with a powerful group of legislators. 

Brian Long has been in state government for a long time in a number of different roles including a couple of years as state budget director and as the head for several years of the Council on Public Higher Education.  He’s been a career bureaucrat and administrator—two positions that merit more respect that the public and some politicians give them–for a long time.  This is the first time we recall any controversy about what he has done.  To be hit this hard after so many years of competent service is difficult to take.  The circumstances of his departure from state government are unfortunate and disappointing but the reason for it—to take his family out of unaccustomed and harsh spotlight–is proper.  

Somebody, somewhere in or out of government, is going to get a good man–soon, we hope. 

In the meantime we wait for the next shoe to drop, the next card to fall, and perhaps the next head to roll. 

 

 

 

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