JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — I was kind of snookered into politics. The first state representative I ever met was my hometown representative, Mark Richardson. So I naturally assumed that every legislator was as intelligent, dedicated, and as eloquent as he was…little did I know.
The same outstretched expectations of professionalism, judgment, and loyalty were set in stone with the first political operative I ever got to know. His name was Spence Jackson. I quickly realized that I had met two of the finest men that I would ever meet.
I’d like to tell you a little about the person I knew. I’ll always remember Spence Jackson as a consummate professional. We met when I was serving as Butler County coordinator for Matt Blunt. During the campaign I met this handsome, charismatic guy that never seemed to complain or sweat any of the normal traps that most staffers fall into.
Spence was always honest with me. He was seemingly always in good spirits, and always had a quick joke. I can’t remember a time that I was around Spence Jackson when I didn’t smile, and I can’t remember ever regretting a chat with him. He was the coolest guy in every room he was in; the guy every woman seemed to want to talk to and every other guy wanted to have a beer with.
He didn’t tell stories or drop names to build himself up, or to tear others down. He seemed so self-confident that he didn’t need to. He simply seemed to know himself. Spence didn’t tell jokes to belittle his boss to make himself look smarter or important. I never heard Spence say a negative word about Governor Blunt in my life.
He never told me about office politics to make himself look better than the rest of the staff. He was the guy who would build up his co-workers to you, and more than once discussed how he admired Andy Blunt and never enjoyed a campaign more than when they worked together.
Spence had a way of disagreeing with you that left you respecting him more than if he had agreed with you. I’ve found that true professionals develop a respect amongst each other. I spoke this morning with Jack Cardetti and he remembered that he and Spence “traded lots of paint” during the Blunt years, but he was always professional and never took it personally. He said it had been good running into him in recent years when they could both laugh about it.
He was one of the closest advisors to Governor Blunt and together they made huge changes to Missouri, creating a legacy that his family can be very proud of. When he worked for Sarah Steelman’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign, Spence organized a 43-stop bus tour that, frankly, only he could have pulled off.
Being Auditor Tom Schweich’s communications director was challenging task. Auditor Schweich always spoke his mind and often his degree of candor, for good or ill, leaves some work to do for the communications shop, and Spence was excellent at it.
At the time of his death, he was still serving the state, serving as one of the people whose professionalism held the State Auditor’s office together the past month.
He was already highly sought after by the various campaigns gearing up for 2016. A seasoned professional, it was only a matter of time before he shifted jobs. The last time I spoke with him, he said he was considering a couple offers, but wanted to make sure everything was in order at the Auditor’s office. In true Spence Jackson form, he complimented John Watson for how he was handling the job and how kind he had been to a staff full of Republicans.
In light of Spence’s death, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I can’t help but feel that there is something wrong in Missouri right now. Don’t worry; I’m not about to launch into some sanctimonious diatribe here. I’m no better than anyone else and worst than most.
When there is one event like this it’s a tragedy, but a second a month later seems to hit me differently, and with greater impact. Tom Schweich was politician, a man in the arena. Honestly, when I think about it, with the scrutiny and the criticism that politicians sign up for, I suppose it’s perhaps surprising that we don’t hear of more stories like Auditor Schweich’s, but Spence was an operative and a staff member; jobs I can relate to. Spence had been through races like this one several times before, which makes it all more unsettling.
Personally, I don’t believe either of these tragedies are singularly the result of a negative ad, or an incorrect religious label, or that Missouri politics is somehow worse than it was 20 years ago. I think these types of tragedies are much more complex than the simple answers we would all like to have and the easy blame we would like to be able to cast.
In the last few weeks, good people have suggested ending negative campaigns and cleaning up politics. To me, anything that limits free speech in campaigns is more likely to do harm than good. In my opinion, the first step is agreeing to look forward, not backward. There is no one in politics completely pure or totally evil – just a profession full of flawed people who would like to do better.
Certainly on this issue, the media is no better than the politicians or the consultants, myself included. I think to have the credibility to move forward, everyone must come to terms with their own part in creating the current climate.
I’ll start with myself. A few months ago I wrote a letter from the publisher. It was about an article in the Columbia Daily Tribune. I felt that I had some good points, but reading it back the rhetoric seems unnecessarily heated. I’ll step up and apologize to Mr. Rudi Keller or any other reader offended by it. In the perspective of tragedies like this, it seems like a very trivial thing to quarrel about. It shouldn’t have taken a tragedy for me to realize that fact.
It seems to me the only real way to improve the public discourse is to self-police. It’s common sense that as long as voters respond to negative campaigns then campaigns will be negative. In the same way that as long as bombastic editorials get more clicks than policy-driven ones, editorials will be bombastic. But how can you chastise someone for going too far on a topic they are passionate about if you do the same yourself?
I wish I were the type of man that Spence felt he could reach out to when he lost hope. I know what it is like to have to reach out for help, and am grateful someone was there for me.
I believe that The Missouri Times is fortunate to have some of the most influential readers in the state, and if that influence was used to promote and elevate people who aspire to better, maybe what’s wrong with Missouri could begin to be fixed.
Personally, I struggle with this tragedy because Spence was a veteran of several bare-knuckle campaigns and I never saw the battles bother him. It doesn’t make sense to me on any level, and I doubt it ever will. I hope people remember Spence for his many positive contributions to the state. I know he will be missed.
I’ve included here a statement that was released by the person who perhaps knew him best, Jeff Layman:
I’m heartbroken over the loss of my longtime friend, Spence Jackson. Our friendship began 25 years ago as fraternity brothers at Missouri State University. Spence was kind, caring and loyal; but most importantly, he was like a brother to me. Spence was a savvy political communicator who was passionate and intense about his politics. I will miss his huge smile, infectious laugh and larger than life personality.
– Jeff Layman, personal friend of Spence Jackson.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, The SEMO Times, the Territorial Enterprise and host of This Week in Missouri Politics.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton, Mo; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff, Mo.; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.