Mired in Scandal, Missouri Governor Cancels Tax Tour

by | January 16, 2018

By Kurt Erickson

A statewide tour to promote a Trump-style overhaul of Missouri's tax system has fallen victim to the scandal enveloping Gov. Eric Greitens.

But Greitens' spokesman Parker Briden told the Post-Dispatch on Monday that the embattled chief executive still plans to release details of his tax plan sometime this week.

Greitens, 43, admitted to an extramarital affair hours after delivering his second State of the State speech on Wednesday. The revelations shocked Missouri's political class and put the governor's longtime national aspirations on life support.

The governor has denied any violence or blackmail against the woman with whom he had an affair -- a defense spawned by allegations in an account and an audio recording released by her ex-husband.

The Post-Dispatch has not identified the woman, who has declined repeated interview requests.

In the aftermath of the revelations, the Republican chief executive spent Thursday and Friday shuttling between the mansion, the Capitol and the offices of his dark-money nonprofit A New Missouri. On Thursday, he called donors and lawmakers to apologize.

Over the weekend, however, his aides would not reveal his whereabouts, nor would they confirm whether the statewide tax tour was formally canceled.

Neither his private attorney, Briden nor his senior campaign adviser would say if he was at his home with his family in Innsbrook.

In a text Sunday, Briden would only say, "The Governor will be back in the office after the holliday (sic) weekend."

State government offices were closed Monday because of the Martin Luther King holiday.

On Monday, Briden added: "The Governor is committed to rolling out his plan to cut taxes for working families -- and will lay out his principles for tax reform this week. The tour to promote the plan is being rescheduled."

With Greitens' behavior during the affair now the subject of a criminal probe by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, it remains unclear how the Republican-controlled Legislature will move forward in the remaining four months of the legislative session.

The stunning development already upended plans to push forward with the governor's agenda on ethics and regulatory reform. The House had been poised to cap off last week by taking votes on a Greitens-led initiative to limit gifts from lobbyists, as well as lift regulations on hair braiders, but they left town Thursday without taking a vote, saying they wanted members to leave early to beat an impending winter storm.

The ability of Greitens to govern was already in jeopardy in the Senate, where he is facing blowback for appointing a majority of new members to the state Board of Education in order to oust the state's top school leader.

Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, earlier said he planned to use his filibuster powers to block the appointments from being confirmed. Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he was putting the appointments on the backburner to let tempers cool.

Greitens was further impeded by an investigation by Attorney General Josh Hawley into his administration's use of a secretive app that deletes text messages, potentially in violation of state open records laws.

Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves acknowledged Monday the governor's woes have made the path forward rockier.

"I think the agenda will continue to advance, (but) it's going to cause some additional hurdles," Graves said.

Despite the potential roadblocks, some lawmakers said they don't believe the governor's troubles will affect the session.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, said she expects committee hearings and floor action to go on as planned despite Thursday's pause in the House.

"I haven't heard that there's going to be anything different than business as usual regarding our work," Haefner said.

Meanwhile, the Republican Governor's Association, which bankrolled much of Greitens 2016 general election campaign, had no comment, communications director Jon Thompson said.

The next major gathering of governors will be Feb. 23-25 in Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association. Most governors attend this meeting, which is part policy, part social, and they usually have a meeting with the president.

More than five weeks out, it is unclear if Greitens plans to attend this year.

Kevin McDermott, Chuck Raasch and Jack Suntrup, all of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this report.

(c)2018 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch