One of the most read stories of last week was one that many never expected to read: Former Lt. Governor Joe Maxwell endorsed Eric Greitens for governor.
It certainly stands out when one of the most highly regarded liberal Democrats in the state endorses the Republican nominee for governor, and pointedly denounces the Democrat, but – as it’s already cliché to say – it’s a wild election year.
The story that led to this headline was equally as wild, and I thought you might enjoy some of the background surrounding it.
Lt. Gov. Maxwell left statewide office, not in scandal or by being defeated for re-election or even by losing a contest for another office, but voluntarily to take care of his family. He left office nearly universally respected and has spent some of his time since leaving office working with the Humane Society on causes he cares about.
When Maxwell left state politics a new state senator, Chris Koster, was arriving in the state senate as a Republican. While Maxwell was taking up the cause of the Humane Society, Koster was becoming a leading advocate for Missouri agriculture groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Cattlemen Association, groups who have now endorsed him for governor.
Maxwell has made it clear that he was unhappy with Koster’s right-wing stances on agriculture and told several people he was even considering challenging him for the Democratic nomination, a challenge where he would have been a very serious contender to win.
While making his mind up, he was also telling some that he was having good conservations with Eric Greitens on Humane Society issues. Ultimately Maxwell decided against running, and Koster was basically unopposed in the primary.
Friday, while Missouri agriculture groups were celebrating Governor Nixon’s decision to release the withhold on several million in funding, rumors began to move through Missouri political circles that the Humane Society’s political arm, Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), was about to endorse Greitens.
This may not surprise some as during the Obama administration, Greitens had considered running for office as a Democrat, but this seems to be more about more recent conversations over HSLF priorities, than prior involvement with the Democratic Party.
Friday afternoon, Maxwell, who serves as HSLF senior political director, told Missouri Times reporter Travis Zimpfer on the record that the HSLF was endorsing Jason Kander for U.S. Senate, Russ Carnahan for Lt. Governor, Teresa Hensley for Attorney General, and perhaps controversially Eric Greitens for Governor.
Early Friday evening HSLF sent out an official release with a stinging rebuke of Koster, but no mention of Greitens. While the Greitens campaign was tweeting out that they had not been endorsed by HSLF.
Obviously, this led to our reporters attempting to follow up with HSLF to clear up the ambiguity, and Greitens supporters contacting the Missouri Times informing us that Greitens was denying any endorsement or connections to HSLF or their staff.
Around 9:00 p.m. that night, I was able to speak with Mr. Maxwell who was in a rural area of Oklahoma working on Humane Society project. He was the same dignified statesman on that call standing on a hill in rural Oklahoma to get a bar of cell service that makes his endorsement big Missouri political news, and a big get for Greitens.
I can’t do his quote justice explaining it so I’ll give it to you straight:
I apologize for this confusion. Its my fault, and have been traveling outside the state. A vote was taken by the HSLF leadership to not support Koster. Mr. Greitens campaign is not wrong. I misspoke. The reporter reported exactly what I said word for word.”
I’ve dealt with several of these situations, and have never seen anyone more stand up and candid than Mr. Maxwell was there.
Then he told me he personally was endorsing Eric Greitens for governor.
His reasoning was that while Koster was in support of Prop B when it passed in 2010, he had subsequently worked to undermine it, thereby ignoring the will of the people which Maxwell said he couldn’t abide by.
He also said that over multiple conversations with Koster and Greitens, he was convinced that Greitens was the one who truly respected the will of the people in regards to Prop B and would safeguard its protections it provides on animals rights issues.
The only question left is what exactly did Greitens say about animal rights that convinced Maxwell to endorse him?
Many have wondered if, as Koster is so far to the right, Greitens might track back to his roots and begin to pick off Koster votes from the left. If he is, then there is no better beginning than by picking up the endorsement of one of the most respected statesman in the Democratic Party, Joe Maxwell.
A few other notes:
- While Congresswoman Ann Wagner may not be supporting Donald Trump, she is taking on a larger role in attacking Hillary Clinton. She is proving to be a very effective messenger on the deficiencies of the Democratic nominee.
- It seems like it will be very hard for Democratic politicians to convince anyone they are serious about campaign finance limits when they have taken huge checks themselves. This ballot measure may be the only path.
- Seeing District 70 in play reminds me of the work Jack Spooner has done to grow the Republican Party in St. Louis County. He was once a lone voice crying in the wilderness, but in a short period of time Republicans are competing in districts they wouldn’t have imagined when this map was released in 2012.
- I really enjoyed the Senate’s farewell speeches during veto session. It’s a charming tradition where current and former senators give farewell speeches for a colleague leaving the body. It’s interesting to look at some of today’s highest-profile politicians who served in the Senate and see who spoke on their behalf as they left the Senate.
- The heart of everyone in politics with a heart goes out to the family of John Diehl after the loss of his son, Samuel.
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.