The grass

By: Guest Blogger Bob Priddy

There is a narrowness in Missouri.

An increasing, mean-spirited, narrowness in Missouri.

A poisonous, deepening, unthinking narrowness in Missouri.

There is a frightening lack of courage in Missouri.

A dangerous, frightening lack of courage in Missouri.

A continued shrinking from confronting those who poison Missouri.

A continued shrinking from courage by private citizen and public leader alike.

There is no courage among assassins.  There is no honor among them.   There is only one less target—no matter how their goal is accomplished.   They know that poisoning a political system has enormous rewards.  They grow rich and feast on the fear they cultivate.

And too many of those who should rise up against them do not.   Because those very people benefit from the assassins’ works.   Courage is easily forfeited for political gain.  And it has become increasingly easy to forfeit.

Two voices raised against this unholy alliance of cowards and assassins in the wake of State Auditor Tom Schweich’s death deserve note here.  One voice is that of John Danforth, once the standard-bearer for the Republican Party, a man elected time after time on the basis of personal integrity, a man whose concerns about the depth to which he believes his party has sunk—and the general decline of personal political responsibility by candidates on both sides as well as the voters—have been public for some time.  The other is from Senator Mike Parson, a former southwest Missouri sheriff who has had to break the news to survivors of those who have ended their lives.

Danforth admitted that his eulogy at Schweich’s funeral was born in “overwhelming anger that politics has gone so hideously wrong.”  He blamed Schweich’s death on “what politics has become.”

“I have never experienced an anti-Semitism campaign,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is always wrong and we can never let it creep into politics.”

Danforth recounted Schweich’s last conversation with him and how Schweich was angry about a radio commercial that attacked him but was more concerned about “a whispering campaign that he was Jewish.”

“The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” said Danforth.

The comment was considered by observers as a direct confrontation with Republican State Chairman John Hancock whose statements to the press and to others in the wake of Schweich’s death seem to vary.  Schweich had told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page director, Tony Messenger, that Hancock was spreading the word that Schweich was Jewish.   He wasn’t, although his grandfather was.  Messenger says Schweich also told him he thought the word was being spread to hurt him among evangelical Christian voters.

When the Associated Press asked Hancock about Schweich’s concerns, Hancock admitted he thought Schweich was Jewish and that “It’s plausible that I would have told somebody Tom was Jewish because I thought he was.”   But, said, Hancock, he didn’t mean it in a “derogatory or demeaning fashion.”

“Why was the discussion even in the first place,” asked an emotional Senator Mike Parson in the Senate on Monday in calling on “people involved” to “have the decency to apologize to Tom’s family for being part of such an irresponsible act.”

“Most of us understand how it all began,” said Senator Parson. It began with “hiring consultants to manage campaigns and to gather information about opposition candidates to use against them to win elections. In the beginning I truly believed they were gathering facts to use against your opponent—voting records, things that maybe they had done wrong. They were based on factual basis. I believed that…It has now become a way to promote false information about your opponent. It has turned into totally misleading statements, outright lies and propaganda about a person.  It has become a way to destroy one’s character, to destroy their integrity and their honor not to mention destroying their family that they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.”

And then there was the radio commercial, inexcusably irresponsible in a campaign media climate where responsibility went out the window long ago. Eighteen months before the primary election, a rancid outfit clothing itself with the laughable name of “Citizens for Fairness in Missouri” bought time on Missouri radio stations in which some character imitating actor Kevin Spacey’s character in a TV series called “House of Cards” leveled a devastating personal attack on Schweich. “Just look at him,” said the voice.  “He could be easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry.”

“But more importantly, he can be manipulated,” the voice continues.  That’s why Senator Claire McCaskill and President Obama enlisted my help to meddle in another Republican primary with Schweich as our pawn.”

“My” help?   Who ARE you?   Oh, right, a citizen for fairness.

The “citizen” charged Schweich and McCaskill were “tied at the hip” before proclaiming that “Schweich is an obviously weaker opponent against Democrat Chris Koster. Once Schweich obtains the Republican nomination we will quickly squash him like a bug that he is…”

“We? “

Tom Schweich was nothing more than a bug?

Danforth, in his eulogy, called the commercial “bullying,” and said, “there is only one word to describe the person it: bully.”  He dismissed those who passed off such things as “just politics” and suggested that Schweich should have been tougher.  “That is accepting politics in its present state and that we cannot do. It amounts to blaming the victim, and it creates a new normal, where politics is only for the tough and the crude and the calloused.”  He questioned why any decent person would want to seek political office.

Parson, speaking on the Senate floor the day before Danforth’s eulogy at the funeral, ripped the commercial as having “no factual basis whatsoever. None. Zero. It had nothing to do with the duties of his job or performance of being an elected official. Zero.  Nothing. And the fact that that commercial was aired almost two years before a statewide election speaks volumes.  It speaks volumes to how far out of hand this all has become. To base things totally on one’s appearance and to make reference to one being small, being able to be squashed like a bug should be unacceptable to all of us, to be totally unacceptable to all of us.”

The commercial has been linked to Kansas City political consultant Jeff Roe, who works for the campaign of Catherine Hanaway, the other major announced Republican candidate for governor, whose efforts have been largely bankrolled by financier Rex Sinquefield.  The Sinquefield-Hanaway relationship had been blasted by Schweich in his promises to root out corruption in state government if he were elected governor.

The tag line at the end identified one Seth Schumaker is the treasurer of this shameful bunch.  The Kirksville Daily Express contacted Shumaker and he refused to comment “out of respect for the family.”

How considerate.

The newspaper identified Shumaker as a former Kirksville lawyer whose law license was suspended four years ago for ethical violations.  The state Supreme Court has denied two requests for reinstatement.   His record since then has included running one of last year’s Rex Sinquefield-financed campaigns against a Republican representative (Nate Walker) who had voted against tax legislation that Sinquefield wanted to pass.  Walker was one of four GOP reps targeted for ouster by Sinquefield and his cronies.  All, however, won.

The newspaper also reports the Adair County Commission had hired Shumaker to do “judicial research” in their court fights with the district’s Presiding Circuit Judge, Russell Steele, who also was influential in the refusal of the Supreme Court to reinstate Shumaker’s law license.

The Post-Dispatch had reported that the deputy treasurer of the “Fairness” outfit was James C. Thomas III, who until the middle of last month was the campaign treasurer for Hanaway.  Hanaway told the newspaper she didn’t know who produced the commercial but it did not come from her campaign.  She said she hadn’t heard the commercial.

And that is a major part of the problem of jugular politics.  The candidates who seek to benefit from it easily deny any responsibility for the despicable things said against their opponents.  And tell us, please, when have you ever heard a candidate discourage the independent groups that circulate this sewage.

Nope.  Not my responsibility. (But it sure is good for my campaign.)

There has been no comment—except for Shumaker’s desire to respect the family’s situation—from those who produced that radio commercial.

Joshua DeBois, who led the White House faith-based initiative in President Obama’s first term, refers to these times as the days of “Pilate Politics,” referring to the Roman governor of Judea and Samaria who washed his hands of any responsibility for the fate of Jesus.  “Nothing I can do about Citizens for Fairness in Judea,” he might say, “or any of those twisted things they said about Jesus.”

Pilate’s brand of political courage is not unfamiliar in today’s politics.  Danforth and Parson called out their colleagues in politics and in office.  “There is no mystery as to why politicians conduct themselves this way. It works….It wins elections and that is their objective…It’s all about winning, winning at any cost to the opponent or to any sense of common decency.”

“The campaign that led to the death of Tom Schweich was the low point of politics, and now it’s time to turn this around.  So let’s make Tom’s death a turning point in our state,” said Danforth. “Let’s pledge that we will not put up with any whisper of anti-Semitism. We will stand against it as Americans and because our own faith demands it.  We will take the battle Tom wanted to fight as our own cause.  We will see bullies for who they are.  We will no longer let them hide behind their anonymous pseudo committees.  We will not accept their way as the way of politics.  We will stand up to them and we will defeat them.   That will be our memorial to Tom.”

Parson asked his Senate colleagues Monday, “What are we going to do about it?  Will we continue to be driven…by money to win elections at all costs?”  He called on Senators to make a commitment to the people of Missouri and to themselves. “We’re not going to use propaganda. We’re not going to destroy people’s lives at all costs to win an election.”  And he promised with a quivering voice to “no longer stand by and let people destroy other people’s lives using false accusations and demeaning statements all in the name of money and winning elections….Nor will I support candidates that use such tactics ever again.”  He called for a “much-needed overhaul of a system that has gone completely awry.”

Grass will be flourishing on Tom Schweich’s grave by the time the primary election in which he would have been a candidate rolls around.  That’s a long enough time in politics for emotional words spoken about the terrible loss of a good man to be borne away on the winds of Missouri’s political climate.

John Danforth and Mike Parson have challenged private citizens and public officers alike to significantly change that climate.

Let’s hope that the courage to do it will be flourishing by then, too.

May music

Some great public events in May begin with music that produces goosebumps from tens of thousands of people when the first notes are heard. “My Old Kentucky Home” is as much a part of the Kentucky Derby as the horses that run at Churchill Downs. “Maryland, My Maryland,” is ingrained in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, in Maryland.
And last weekend we were on pit road just a few yards away from Jim Nabors as he sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” moments before the engines fired for an extraordinary Indianapolis 500. He’s not going to do it again.

Jim Nabors is 83 now, living in Hawaii, has had some health problems, and finds the long trip to the Speedway more than he wants to tackle every year.
We have written before about the place in personal culture the race occupies. But within that culture has been a special place for those days when we consume the race off a television screen in the living room. While other things might be going on in the house during the pre-race broadcast, they stop when the track announcer introduces “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
A few years ago, health problems kept Jim Nabors from performing the song. The Speedway put the words to the song on the large video screens throughout the track and the crowd sang the song. I think I was in the press area inside the first turn that year and I sang like a native Hoosier. I sent a letter to the Speedway management suggesting they seek a Guiness Book of World Records designation of the event as the world’s largest choral performance but I don’t think they ever did.
The music of May highlights a dismal situation in Missouri.
Name one significant event in Missouri—and, sadly, we have nothing that matches the horse and car races of Kentucky, Maryland, and Indiana–where someone sings our state song.
Just one. Name one.
Opening day of the baseball season in Kansas City and St. Louis?
First home game of the Missouri Tigers?
Opening night of the American Royal?
Inauguration of a new Governor?
Would we dare have anyone sing The Missouri Waltz before a Super Bowl in either of our big cities? We can surely hope not. It would be embarrassing.
Missouri’s state song was a political mistake by the legislature in 1949. And while our legislature finds it significant to argue about which dog should be a state dog, or pass a law designating a tasteless, crumbly pastry as the official state dessert (the ice cream cone–with no mention in the law that ice cream would be in said cone), or designate a state exercise, it shows an appalling lack of interest in finding a new song that will be as meaningful to Missourians as the songs sung in May in Kentucky, Maryland, and Indiana.
We haven’t heard every state song but we can tell you that the first words of Missouri’s state song, “Hush-a-by my baby; slumber time’s a-comin’ soon,” will never have the emotional impact of the first words Jim Nabors has sung at the Speedway almost every year for almost four decades, “Back Home Again in Indiana…”
Right, Jim?

Jim Nabors
(photo by Rick Gevers)

Rick the ingrate

The Missourinet forgot to skewer Texas Governor Rick Perry a few days ago when we talked to him during his job-recruiting visit to our state.  But the fact is this:

By rights, Missourians should consider Texas little more than a southern colony. If it hadn’t been for Missourians, there might not be a  state for Rick Perry to govern, which makes his visit even harder to swallow. 

Plenty of other people have commented on what they see as the hypocrisy of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which presumably advocates for Missouri business, welcoming him to our state and even giving him a big forum to encourage Chamber members to move to a state that Missourians helped create.  We won’t go into that very much here.  But Missouri deserves more respect than Governor Perry seemed to give it with his raid.  

To begin with, it was Moses Austin, a Potosi lead entrepreneur, who came up with the idea of establishing an American Colony in Texas, the first incursion of American settlers into Spanish territory.  He got permission to bring 300 families, descendants of which proudly claim membership in “The Old 300” organization.  Moses died before he could lead the settlers but his son, Stephen, carried on his father’s dream.  It was while traveling from New Orleans to San Antonio that he learned Mexico had declared its independence from Spain, which allowed closer ties between Austin and the state of Coahuila y Texas.  He took the first 300 families to his settlement in 1825 and got the government to let him bring in 900 more in a few years. 

Austin sowed the seeds of trouble for the Mexicans when, under the power given him, he created a Constitution of Coahuila y Texas.  He also formed an armed group to protect his colonists, an effort that some consider the start of the Texas Rangers.  

Austin’s Americans grew increasingly restive as citizens of Mexico and when Santa Anna started trying to push the settlers out of Texas, the settlers fought back.  The first shooting happened at Gonzales.  A Republic of Texas was proclaimed and six months after the revolution began, Sam Houston captured Santa Anna and Texas became its own nation.   Austin died  at the end of 1836. 

Governor Perry works in a city named for this Missourian.  One would think, therefore, that  he would have more respect for Missouri. 

Apparently not.  At least he didn’t try to take Moses Austin’s bones back home with him.  Texas tried that in 1938 and we wouldn’t let it happen.  Moses and his wife still sleep in Potosi. 

Then there was Green DeWitt.  Green DeWitt was the Ralls County Sheriff  when he, with Austin’s support, got permission to take 400 respectable, hard-working, Catholic families to Texas.  The capital of his colony would be Gonzales.  DeWitt died in 1835.  The story is told that his widow and daughter made a dress into a banner that read “Come and Take It,” a reference to the cannon the Mexicans gave to the community to fend off Indian attacks.  The flag was waved during the battle of Gonzales that started the Texas revolution. 

The revolution that created a state for Governor Rick to govern began in a town founded by a Missourian.  

More than 30 men from that Missourian’s town marched to San Antonio to help the besieged garrison that had taken refuge in the Mission San Antonio de Valero. Some of those men were Missourians or had Missouri ties. 

One was John Smith, a carpenter and engineer from Hannibal who had gone to Texas to collect a debt and stayed there, deserting his Missouri family.  Some sources say Smith was the last adult to leave the Alamo after the siege began, carrying a message to Houston asking for help.  He later became San Antonio’s first mayor and was a member of the Texas Congress.

Jacob Durst left Missouri in 1830. His name is “Darst” in Texas.  He was one of those who dug out the hidden cannon at Gonzalez and fired a load of shrapnel at Mexican troops. 

George Washington Cottle, a member of a pioneering Lincoln County, Missouri family joined other Cottles who settled in the Gonzales area.  Daniel W. Cloud was a Kentuckian who had come to Missouri, as many Kentuckians did in those days, but found little success as a lawyer here, so he headed to Texas.  Missouri native George Tumlinson was also one of those who went to the Alamo from Gonzales. 

Several others with Missouri ties were inside the walls of the Alamo on that final day including two cousins, Asa and Jacob Walker, relatives of Joseph R. Walker, the first sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri.   And the legendary Jim Bowie lived some of his childhood years in southeast Missouri. 

The “Father of the Santa Fe Trail,” William Becknell, moved to the northeast corner of Texas in 1835, fourteen years after leading Missouri’s first successful trade mission to a foreign country (Santa Fe, then Mexican territory).  One story says former Congressman David Crockett spent some time at his home waiting for associates before going on to San Antonio.  Becknell established a company of mounted volunteers in the summer of  ’36 to protect his region from Mexicans.  After the revolution he became a successful livestock raiser and broker.  When the first United States congressional elections were held in Texas, Becknell was appointed to supervise them.  He died in Texas in 1856. 

Missourians considered Texas such a Missouri-friendly place that our Confederate government sought refuge in Marshall where it established the Confederate capitol of Missouri.  The Confederate commander of the western theatre, E. Kirby Smith, gathered the governors of four Confederate states at Marshall to discuss whether he should disband his army.  Missouri Confederate Governor Thomas C. Reynolds didn’t want to give up although a month had passed since Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.  But the other three governors decided the cause was lost.  So Smith told United States officials that he had disbanded his army—except for the Missourians.

In June of 1865, Reynolds, Missouri commander Sterling Price, Jo Shelby’s Iron Brigade, and others headed for Mexico, refusing to admit the South had lost the war.  They lowered their banner into the Rio Grande and crossed the border.  Some of the Missourians returned home. Others went to Mexico hoping to take part in another revolution.  But when the revolution collapsed three years later they came back across the river and eventually most came back to Missouri.  

Despite all of the things Missouri has done for Texas, Rick Perry has trotted into Missouri— the parent state of Texas for crying out loud—and has allowed himself—various editorial writers have more or less said– to become a tool of business interests playing political games with a tax increase bill.   

Rick the ingrate, the Governor of Missouri’s prodigal child, Texas.  

And to think Missourians fought and died so he could pull something like this.

tsk, tsk, tsk.