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Buoyant Republicans set for solid control of Missouri state government

Eric Greitens addresses the crowd at his victory party on Nov. 9, 2016.
File photo| Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Republican Eric Greitens exults in his victory for Missouri governor.

Missouri Republicans won big Tuesday, sweeping all statewide offices and putting the party almost totally in charge of the Missouri Capitol beginning in January.

And in part, they have Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to thank. His Missouri coattails of 20 percentage points arguably provided a strong wind at the GOP’s back.

Eric Greitens, a best-selling author and former Navy SEAL, becomes the Missouri’s next governor. Like Trump, Greitens has never held political office. And like Trump, Greitens promised to “drain the swamp’’ of what he called corruption by some in both parties who are – or were – leaders in Jefferson City.

Greitens promised in his victory speech late Tuesday "to build a stronger and better Missouri."

He overwhelmingly defeated Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who had been seen as Missouri Democrats’ strongest candidate.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., also won his re-election, defeating Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander in what had been one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate contests. Their battle had been expected to be close, according to the polls.  After leading handily much of the night, the final vote tallies show that Blunt won by about three percentage points.

Referring to the GOP sweep, Blunt said in his victory speech, "The opportunity to move forward in our state just multiplied by a significant number of times."

Also winning are:

  • State Sen. Mike Parsons, R-Bolivar, who becomes the next lieutenant governor;
  • Mizzou professor Josh Hawley, who becomes the next attorney general;
  • State Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, who becomes the state's next treasurer;
  • Jay Ashcroft, son of former governor/U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, who is the next secretary of state.

All three of the down-ballot victors won by margins of more than 300,000 votes apiece.
Democrats have controlled all but one of Missouri's state offices. As of January, the Democrats will only hold one: state Auditor Nicole Galloway.

Tom and Tayebeh Hardy watch presidential election results come in at the Koster campaign's election night watch party at the Chase Park Plaza.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Tom and Tayebeh Hardy watch presidential election results come in at the Koster campaign's election night watch party at the Chase Park Plaza.

Leaders in both parties appeared to be privately stunned by the magnitude of the GOP’s statewide victories.

Missouri Republicans have never held so much power in Jefferson City in modern times. The GOP controlled most of the statewide offices in the 1980s, and both Senate seats by the late '80s, but Democrats were in the majority of the General Assembly.

Blunt, who has been in the Senate since 2010 and in Congress for 20 years, will return to a chamber controlled by Republicans. His success is a defeat, in part, for his Missouri colleague, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who had been aiding Kander. She has noted that Blunt had worked unsuccessfully to defeat her in 2012.


Greitens promises to overhaul state government

Greitens, 42, lives in St. Louis with his wife, Sheena, and two young sons.  He is known nationally for his work founding "The Mission Continues," a nonprofit that seeks to help returning military veterans.

His campaign message has focused on his military service and his past. His favorite phrase: "If you want different, do different."

“I think what’s going to help us win on Nov. 8 is the fact that people in Missouri want a leader,” Greitens told reporters recently. “They want somebody who has a history of getting results. And when they look at what I’ve done at the Mission Continues, running my own business, serving as a Navy SEAL, doing humanitarian work overseas, what they see is a leader. As compared to a career politician who spent his life serving himself.”

In his victory speech, Greitens highlighted his promises to clean up state government, which has had several recent scandals involving legislators in both parties. He also underscored his opposition to expanding Medicaid, as sought by Koster and other Democrats.

Eric Greitens on the trail and in victory said "If you want different, do different."
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Eric Greitens on the trail and in victory said "If you want different, do different."

Greitens may seek to reach out to some GOP legislative leaders who had been privately offended by his criticisms of state government.

But there will be one key point of agreement: In his final rallies over the last few days, Greitens reaffirmed his support for "right to work,'' and promised to sign a law that would bar unions and employers from requiring all workers to pay dues or fees.

Missouri AFL-CIO president Mike Louis asserted in a statement late Tuesday, "It's a sad day for working Missourians. With the election of Eric Greitens the security of our livelihoods is being threatened. Good jobs, decent pay, safe work places are all at risk of disappearing."

In his concession speech, Koster — who has close ties with labor — congratulated Greitens, adding “my sincere hope that the governor-elect will lead our state to a united and prosperous future.”

Greitens, in his victory speech, said his public record has been to focus on bringing people together. “We look forward to working with anyone who shares our mission to bring more jobs and higher pay, safer streets and better schools to the people of Missouri.”

Greitens also observed, “Tonight we did more than win an election. We restored power to the people and we took our state back.”


Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.