COLUMBIA, Mo. – In the first televised GOP gubernatorial debate Thursday night hosted by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the tone of congeniality and oft-repeated talking points present in previous debates and forums evaporated some time during the third question.
When moderators from KOMU asked former Speaker Catherine Hanaway a question relating to the minimum wage, she answered it quickly and then dropped the gloves and continued her campaign’s week-long attack against Eric Greitens and his ties to embattled billionaire Michael Goguen. Goguen is currently being investigated for sexually abusing a woman over the course of more than a decade.
“You should allow this woman’s voice to be heard,” she told Greitens over a flurry of boos from his supporters, who were numerous in the crowd.
“This is what happens when desperate politicians get very desperate,” Greitens said in response. “I like you, Catherine, but you can’t trust her.”
A few questions later, Kinder added fuel to the fire by saying presidential candidate John Kasich, who received a $250,000 donation from Goguen, had done the honorable thing by donating the money to charity and not using it during his campaign.
Greitens said Kinder was the “last person on stage who should be trafficking in tabloid stories about men hanging out in strip clubs.”
John Brunner, who has not shied away from attack Greitens in the past and has even had somewhat of a feud with Greitens, did not get as involved as the other two candidates.
He called the interaction on stage a “pleasant surprise,” and during his press conference after the event, reiterated his statement from earlier in the day that he believed Kasich had done the right thing.
During a press conference at the end of the debate, Hanaway said that the Goguen story went beyond politics and hit her at a personal level when she first found out about it. She detailed a case from when she served as a U.S. Attorney where a woman had been drugged and sexually abused. Some of the woman’s claims were met with skepticism, but the case resulted in a conviction.
To Hanaway, the Goguen case seemed open and shut.
“In many of the cases I pursued as a federal prosecutor involving sex abuse, child exploitation, human trafficking, women had a difficult time making their voices heard. In this case, while the court has yet to sort out all of the facts as Mr. Greitens has said, what we do know, or what Mr. Goguen has admitted, is that he had a relationship with this woman for over ten years, spanning three of his marriages. He has admitted she had to have surgery.* He has admitted that he has paid her $10 million and had an agreement to pay her $40 million in hush money.
“If [Greitens is] such a prolific fundraiser, for goodness’ sakes, send the money back or give it to an abused women’s shelter. But don’t bring this taint into the race for governor.”
Greitens responded by saying his decision not to return the million-dollar donation was based on principle.
“If you’re taking a stand on principle, then you stand on principle,” he said. “Unlike the career politicians, I’m not going to convict someone in the court of public opinion. We’re going to see what the facts are so that we can make a decision based on the facts.”
Greitens also said the media had a history of inflating the circumstances of sexual assault and abuse cases, citing the University of Virginia Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” and the Duke lacrosse scandal. He also said media reports had caused Gov. Jay Nixon to act with bad information during the Ferguson protests and riots.
Kinder found it disingenuous that the candidate who has continually spoke about the misdeeds of those in the Capitol now found himself embroiled in one of the first real scandals of the campaign.
“A candidate whose entire campaign is based on almost every public utterance that comes out of his mouth alleging corruption in Jefferson City now has a million dollar donor in Mr. Goguen,” Kinder said after the debate. “I don’t believe the people of Missouri are going to stand for a million dollar donation from a man like this, from a source that tainted, that stained and that contaminated.”
Towards the end of Greitens’ press conference, he confirmed that he had been at a fundraiser specifically for his campaign in the state of California earlier in the week and that Goguen had attended, though the two had not met while there. The fundraiser took place after news came out of the lawsuit against Goguen.
Greitens did not respond to a question of whether he would take more money from Goguen if Goguen donated to him.
“I have always stood on principle,” he said. “And I will not collapse in the face of these attacks by career politicians and their allies in the media.”
*The surgery was for a 17 cm (6.5 inch) anal tear allegedly from a particular aggressive instance of sodomy.