Faughn: What I learned when I got knocked off my horse

   

In a continuation of a pattern of desperate acts the Governor started last Wednesday when his staff was pushing people to believe accusations about two other legislators the day his scandal became public, he is attempting to tar as many people as he can along with him by alleging somehow I’m responsible for his affair and sex scandal.

His only problem is that I’m not responsible for his affair, the scandal he finds himself in today, or the fact he won’t answer material questions about it.

If the Governor thought the answer to getting out of his current scandal was to have his dark money operation drop an opposition research file on me to a local DJ, then he misjudged this hillbilly, and that line of thinking is likely to lead him into more scandals.

If we would have had the complete story we would have run it. That’s our job, and we aren’t apologizing for it. For the record, if we have a similar story in the future, complete with corroborating facts, then we will run that, too. The fact is that the fear the Governor and his dark money operation once instilled in the Capitol is gone.

There is no reason to be afraid of them when they have to wake up every morning wondering if today is the day someone new comes forward. Honestly, if you wake up without feeling sanctimonious then when you go to sleep with a DJ tweeting screens shots of an opposition research file, it actually helps you to sleep easier.

Something tells me that spreading opposition research files on Lauren Trager, or Jason Hancock, or Mike Mahoney won’t see them backing down either. Everyone in the Capitol had heard the story of the Governor’s affair, and many more just like it, and everyone was chasing the story, including us.

Which is why it reeked of desperation when the Governor’s team began telling a St. Louis DJ that somehow I had masterminded an ingenious plot to entice the Governor into an affair in his own home, manipulate him into self-righteous condemnations of legislators, convinced the woman’s husband to record her confessions to him, held the audio tape for two years through an election where I didn’t support him, forced KMOV to run a story on it, then forced state legislators to encourage him to resign.

I did happen to feel a little pity for the guy, when after carrying all that water for the Governor, they still gave their first radio and television interviews to a professional journalist.

Here are a few facts: the Governor’s affair is not my fault, I do not have any influence over what KMOV chooses to report on, and I cannot force any duly elected representatives to do anything.

Sometime late last night on about 20th tweet the DJ tagged me in it became clear that he was trying to hurl conspiracy theories to get me into the Governor’s story, and it became clear why.

Most of you know, but for those who don’t, 15 years ago, I was the mayor of my hometown in the bootheel and got my self in a situation where I was convicted of a crime, but what was worse than the real situation that I created was the personal destructiveness that I engaged in after. I lashed out and blamed others and plotted revenge on shadow enemies. It sounds silly now, but it was a few years before I had the maturity to actually just accept the situation and own it, and move on.

Looking back, I laugh about how, at 25, getting knocked off my horse was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was on a hot run and thought that I was invincible, and, frankly, was pretty harsh on anyone else who were suffering problems.

Being forced to feel that humility taught me some empathy, especially for those in public life. It’s the reason why you won’t hear me hide from or duck things in my past. I’ve never edited the Wikipedia page on me for the same reason. One advantage of having your dirty laundry is out there it makes it hard to be sanctimonious. I make no assertions that I’m in any way better than anyone else. Anyone who has taken a fall, I can assure you that I’ve fallen harder or in a more embarrassing way.

That experience has been useful when The Missouri Times has covered the personal failings of legislators. We have been slower to break those stories and, in one case, in particular, made decisions not to release images that might have gotten clicks, but would not have added to the story. I’m not sure that if I had never been knocked off my horse I would have made the same decisions.

Because of my past, I can relate on some small level to some of the feelings the Governor is going through, and I’ve heard his campaign manager state on a couple of occasions that you always need an enemy to fight. If their enemy to “fight” is going to change from fighting corrupt career politicians, and fighting “snake-like consultants” to fighting this simple hillbilly, well, then I suppose I have no choice but to accept being raised to this new level of prestige and importance.

However, it’s an odd choice in messaging by this Governor’s office at this time, to, after alleging the woman on the tape is lying about him, to then accuse Lauren Trager of not being able to report this story without me telling her to do it, and then allege that Representative Marsha Haefner and Representative Kathie Conway wouldn’t make the decision to call for the chief executive of the state to resign without thinking for themselves. It’s as desperate as it sounds, and probably offensive to them.

The odd thing is most of the public policy decisions the Governor has made are ones that I would personally agree with, or could at least see an argument for them. My criticism of him has been more on the manner in which he has gone about them.

Take the reaction to this scandal. The conspiracy theories I’ve been told by other reporters include the Governor’s staff pushing that this is all somehow the tax credit industry responsible for the Governor’s affair. Well, why didn’t they give it to KMOV in November before he ended the program? If it’s public school teachers who are responsible for the Governor’s scandal, then why didn’t this scandal break last month before firing the Commissioner of Education? If labor unions are responsible for the Governor’s affair, why didn’t they wait until August for the scandal to break right before the Right-to-Work referendum?

I can’t speak to this with certainty, but my impression is the man whose wife the Governor slept with saw the #MeToo stories unfolding and then saw the man who slept with this wife elected governor, and maybe went to renew his driver’s license and saw a politician’s picture as the happy family man while his marriage ended in divorce and chose to come forward.

When I first met the Governor, something in my sizable gut detected a certain lack of authenticity. It just seemed odd to go from well-tailored suit-wearing Obama supporter in 2008 to the most right-wing of right-wingers dressed in jeans and work boots a few years later. I didn’t really know him then enough to tell, and still don’t.

That lack of authenticity first came up with the “corrupt, career politician” line that he made famous. More times than I can count I have defended the members of the legislature against the Governor’s attacks – they just seem hollow.

While an affair isn’t a reason to resign from office in 2018, it is the most glaring example of that lack of authenticity in attacking the ethics of legislators, while at the same time projecting the image of a “family values” candidate in the middle of an affair. I’m not one to judge his morals, but common sense says it’s hypocritical.

One of the things getting knocked off my horse taught me was if you’re never sanctimonious, it’s hard to be hypocritical.

I have been critical of the Confide app scandal and the dark money committees who I’m sure paid for the opposition research file on me that the DJ was posting screenshots of. It’s another example of that lack of authenticity to do those things while claiming to have the most transparent administration in state history.

The Governor isn’t the first Republican politician to rail against consultants. However, he is the first I’m aware of to call them evil people and compare them to snakes who profit off the pain and suffering of others. That was on the anniversary of Tom Schweich passing away, I can remember it being lonely defending the consultants from both St. Louis and Kansas City that he was referring to.

No one has asked, but I’ll offer my opinion on his future, a reasonable person can argue he should step aside. I also think a reasonable person can argue that if he told the truth when calling legislators, there isn’t a case for impeachment. There is a large difference between calling for a politician to resign and calling for his impeachment.

However, that same lack of authenticity that should be on the back side of a reboot is already rearing its head.

While the Governor is telling the media that he is sorry to those he let down and takes full responsibility for the situation – his staffers are ordering opposition research memos on people in the media, it makes a reasonable person question the authenticity of the apology or his denials in the first place.

As the east coast style of political discourse has seeped into Missouri, it seems that we forget that it’s possible to disagree with someone without hating them or accusing them of being evil or corrupt.

I have a longstanding relationship with former Senator Jason Crowell. I have the utmost respect for him and value his thoughts on matters of public policy and in my private life. I 100% disagree with him on the issue of LIHTC, I would predict that one day I’ll change his mind, but this is Jason we are talking about after all. However, that doesn’t in any way mean I don’t like him and don’t still have the utmost respect for him or think he is evil.

In the same way, I don’t agree with the Governor on the Confide app, or dark money, or calling members of the General Assembly corrupt career politicians, but that does not mean Eric Greitens is evil, or a terrible person, or an “enemy.” Just because I’m attacked by one of these extremists doesn’t mean I’m going to become one to respond.

The main thing I’ve learned from being knocked off my horse is that most people are more Jean Valjean than they are Javert. Speaking from experience, many more people want to be part of a reclamation, not a destruction.

Either way, I guess this very flawed and mistake-ridden hillbilly is lucky that things that happen years ago (28 months) are long ago irrelevant matters.

However, as the former Randles for Lt. Governor campaign chairman who now believes that Eric Greitens’ word is gold, and his judgment is unquestionable, with that logic Greitens was right when on October 24, 2016, Greitens was quoted in the Post-Dispatch, “You talked about former speakers of the House such as Steve Tilley and Tim Jones having ongoing campaign accounts even though they aren’t running for office. It’s a real problem I’ve written about extensively. The Legislature actually passed a law to try to solve that problem last session.”

“They launder the money through other campaigns,” the Governor said.

I recall defending the former Speaker against those attacks of committing money laundering by then-candidate Eric Greitens, but as he is quick to point out today, I’ve made mistakes before.