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If Greitens doesn’t go, his fellow Republicans may show him the door anyway

Scores of reporters look on as House Speaker Todd Richardson addresses the media on April 11, 2018. The release of House report on Gov. Eric Greitens' conduct is opening the door to impeachment proceedings.
Tim Bommel I House Communications
Scores of reporters look on as House Speaker Todd Richardson addresses the media on April 11, 2018. The release of House report on Gov. Eric Greitens' conduct is opening the door to impeachment proceedings.

State Rep. Kathie Conway was one of the first Republican lawmakers to suggest that Gov. Eric Greitens resign.

It was a move that set her apart from most of her Republican and Democratic colleagues, many of whom wanted to wait for more information to come out about a 2015 extramarital affair.

Now, high-ranking members of both parties have joined Conway in calling for Greitens to leave after a startling House committee report. But Conway isn’t saying ‘I told you so.’ Instead, she’s lamenting how his refusal to step down may affect the business of state government.

“This will probably be the absolute hardest vote I’ve ever made in my life to overturn what the people wanted — or not to overturn what they wanted,” said Conway, of St. Charles, who is leaving the Missouri House after this year due to term limits. “I’m getting older by the minute. I’ve got more gray hairs than I did yesterday at this time. It’s so darn important.”

House Speaker Todd Richardson said his colleagues may call themselves into special session after May 18, which would require signatures from three-fourths of House and Senate members. Democrats want the process to start now, contending that Greitens has no moral or ethical authority to lead Missouri anymore.

But regardless of the timing, both parties agree that Greitens is in a prime position to be impeached and, if “eminent jurists” agree, thrown out of office. And given that Greitens’ relationship with lawmakers wasn’t that good before his scandal came to the public eye, GOP lawmakers aren’t happy that he’s lambasting people in charge of a House committee.

“I’m a family man and I have three daughters,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. “I was raised by a single mother and three sisters, basically. I witnessed firsthand people taking advantage of women my whole life. So I take this very seriously. And the governor’s comments to me were arrogant and not humbling.”

Thrown for a loop

The report from a committee of five Republicans and two Democrats featured testimony from a woman Greitens had an affair with before taking office. She accused Greitens of being sexually and physically abusive.   

Democrats hope that Gov. Eric Greitens will be an albatross for GOP state legislative candidates.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Eric Greitens has said he won't step down, even as Republicans and Democrats call for his resignation.

It was enough to prompt a slew of Republican and Democratic politicians to call for Greitens to step down, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin. Even some lawmakers that had previously called for Greitens to go were shaken by what they read.

“It’s kind of sickening. I’ve reinstated my call for his resignation,” said state Rep. Nate Walker, R-Kirksville. “And if he doesn’t resign, then I think the legislature needs to do the right thing and proceed with other courses — which could be impeachment.”

But Greitens made clear on Wednesday he’s not planning on stepping down. Before the report came out, Greitens made a defiant statement to dozens of reporters: He said the report was full of lies and contended that his relationship with the woman who testified was consensual.

And his felony invasion of privacy trial got a jolt on Thursday when his defense attorneys accused St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner of “gross misconduct”for not turning over video of his accuser until after the House report came out.

“The House report contained explosive, hurtful allegations of coercion, violence, and assault. They are false,” Greitens said in a Thursday statement. “Those allegations can be refuted with facts. Despite the Circuit Attorney's attempts to keep it from the people of Missouri, we have video evidence that contains some of those facts.”

Still, the threshold for impeachment is different from being found guilty on criminal charges. And House and Senate members are laying the groundwork for Greitens’ ouster.

Richardson wants to gather signatures from three-fourths of House and Senate members for a special session after May 18, when lawmakers could consider impeachment.

“We will not take that responsibility lightly. We will not act rashly,” Richardson said on Wednesday. “But we will not shrink from it.”

If a special session happens, the House could then vote on whether to impeach Greitens. A majority vote of the House would be required for impeachment. That would prompt the Senate to pick seven members of the judiciary to decide the governor’s fate. Those judges would then have to decide whether Greitens should be removed for a litany of offenses laid out in the Missouri Constitution, such as moral turpitude.

Democrats like Sen. Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur don’t want to wait until May to start the process. Impeachment proceedings, she says, should start immediately in the House.

“I do believe that there is bipartisan consensus that he has lost the moral authority to govern in the state of Missouri,” Schupp said. “What we can’t continue to do as a state is continue to give this man the power over our legislature — to make, to approve or veto laws. Who knows what system he will use to punish those who may be going along with him or to support those who will stand with him.”

Frayed ties

There’s ample evidence that Greitens will not fare well in an impeachment vote. 

House Republicans talk during the last day of the legislative session. May 17, 2017
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
House Republicans talk during the last day of the legislative session. May 17, 2017

Republican and Democratic senators stressed on Thursday that the outcome of Greitens’ trial will have no bearing on whether he gets impeached. It’s not out of the question that more revelations may come out in the coming weeks, since the House committee that issued Wednesday’s report can keep working until May 18.

“It is extremely heinous what came out in that report,” said Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. “And I have no faith in that man or his ability for him to be working on the second floor in this state. I’m sorry. This is not a political issue. And nor should it be politicized. But I will only speak for myself. It’s time. He needs to go.”

Greitens’ chances in the House aren’t helped by how he’s treated lawmakers since taking office in 2017. He’s alienated Republicans and Democrats with bellicose rhetoric decrying “career politicians.”

“The governor could have come in and built relationships,” said state Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City. “By not building relationships, that’s why he’s in trouble.”

Even lawmakers that haven’t called for Greitens’ ouster, like Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, were taken aback by how the governor attacked people that put together the report. He was especially upset on Thursday that Richardson’s leadership was being called into question.

“I’m going to give the speaker his due,” said Richard, a former House speaker himself. “I mean have you seen the guy? Have you guys seen the speaker? I mean this guy has lost 20 pounds, he’s probably smoking 20 packs of cigarettes. And he’s taken this job very serious. And I don’t like the fact that [the governor] has called this a witch hunt and is impugning the integrity of these members.”

Unless Greitens changes course and lets GOP Lt. Gov. Mike Parson take the helm, Missourians will likely see the governorship be in a state of limbo for a few months. And that provides pause for Conway.

Conway sees little way of continuing business as usual as long as Greitens’ tenure in office remains in flux.

“To say that this isn’t disruptive or that we’re moving ahead is a falsehood,” Conway said. “Are we doing the best we can? Yes. Under the circumstances, we’re doing what the people ask us to do. We’re passing bills and working with the Senate.

“But the whole thing is just something that was so unnecessary,” she added.

On the Trail weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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