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Republican lawmakers ramp up pressure for Greitens to step aside

Gov. Eric Greitens sits down for an interview with St. Louis Public Radio in downtown St. Louis on July 17, 2017.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Eric Greitens sits down for an interview with St. Louis Public Radio in downtown St. Louis on July 17, 2017.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is facing fresh calls for his resignation on Tuesday, this time from Republican lawmakers that haven’t quarreled with the GOP chief executive in the past.

It’s the latest indication that Greitens is in a perilous position after admitting last week that he had an extramarital affair before becoming governor, but denying accusations he took a photo of the woman to keep the infidelity a secret.

After KMOV-TV broke the story after Greitens’ State of the State address on Jan. 10, some Democrats called for the governor to step aside. And some of the GOP senators that a politically-active nonprofit linked to Greitens attacked previously called for an investigation — and broached the possibility of impeachment.

But the statements from state Reps. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, and Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, mark the first time Republicans in the GOP-controlled House called for Greitens to step down. Neither lawmaker is considered to be antagonistic toward the governor. Both women are in charge of important legislative committees and are widely respected among their colleagues.

“Eric Greitens was elected governor based on campaign promises of ethics, transparency, family values and ridding our state of ‘corrupt politicians’ who stood in the way of moving Missouri forward,” said Haefner in a statement Tuesday to St. Louis Public Radio. “He’s attacked good people to elevate his status while taking credit for the work of others. And now we’re faced with this embarrassing situation. 

State Rep. Marsha Haefner
Credit File photo I Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Marsha Haefner of Oakville on Tuesday called for Greitens to resign.

“In a letter he wrote two years ago he stated it’s ‘our duty to kill the snakes,’” Haefner concluded. “As a public servant it’s my duty to ask for Governor Greitens to resign immediately and allow Missouri to move on, move forward and get back to work.”

Conway’s statement to the Missouri Times said: “If Missouri Republicans want to say we honestly support family values, we must be prepared to take a stand and not allow these acts to be supported by our party. It is easy to say we stand for family values. It is much harder today when we actually have to possibly put thought actions behind those words.” Rep. Steve Cookson of Ripley County also said in a statement to the Missouri Times that said Greitens needs to resign.

Later Tuesday afternoon, state Rep. Nate Walker, R-Kirksville, joined his House colleaguesin calling for Greitens to resign. Unlike other elected officials, Walker backed Greitens during a contentious Republican primary for governor.

Asked if the resignation calls from House Republicans that traditionally supported Greitens should send a message to the governor, Walker replied in a telephone interview: "Yeah, I think so."

"For the state's well-being, this is what he needs to do," Walker said. "And life is never over. Sometimes we make mistakes in life that have consequences that are greater than our own personal interest and our own personal self."

Greitens stands firm

When asked Tuesday if Greitens was reconsidering his decision to stay in office, Greitens attorney James Bennett said in an email: “No is the answer.”

Greitensmade a statementon his Facebook page that made it clear he wasn't stepping aside.

"Then and now, we are focused on moving forward," Greitens said. "I ask for your forgiveness and hope you can find it in your heart to do so. I assure you that this personal mistake will not deter us from the mission we were sent here to do. We have been, and we will, continue to work for and to fight for the people of Missouri. We will take our state in a new and better direction. There is still much work to be done, and we are back to work for the people of Missouri."

Many Republicans have taken a wait-and-see approach since Greitens admitted to the affair. Both Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, and Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, said Greitens should step aside if the blackmail allegations turn out to be true. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner opened a criminal investigation into the matter.

At least one Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Charles, says the resignation calls are “premature” and “unfair.”

“Until there is hard evidence of a crime, our focus should be on doing the people’s work,” Christofanelli said in a tweet.“@EricGreitens served our country honorably and has earned the right of the presumption of innocence that we grant to every American.”

If Greitens were to change his mind, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson would succeed Greitens as governor. Parson and Greitens have disagreed over some major policy issues, most notably whether to issue state low-income housing tax credits.

Rauner chimes in 

At a news conference Tuesday, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner would not say if he thought Greitens should resign. “The allegations in that situation are very serious,” Rauner said. “There is an investigation underway and I do hope they get to the truth in that situation very quickly.” 

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Rauner was a major supporter of Greitens' gubernatorial bid, going so far to donate $100,000 to his campaign.
Credit Kae Petrin I St. Louis Public Radio
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Rauner was a major supporter of Greitens' gubernatorial bid, going so far to donate $100,000 to his campaign.

Rauner, a Republican, has supported Greitens in the past; Rauner’s campaign ran an ad featuring Greitens and donated $100,000 to Greitens’ campaign. However, Rauner’s campaign said it would stop airing the ad the day after Greitens admitted to having an extramarital affair.

Rauner maintained that pulling the ad has nothing to do with the accusations of blackmail against Greitens. “I don’t think those are related. I think there’s a plan in place that’s been going on for awhile about messaging, and that’s a separate issue,” he said.

St. Louis Public Radio's Kae Petrin contributed information for this story.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.