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Politically Speaking: Missouri GOP Chairman Hancock defends his reputation, looks to the future

Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

This week’s episode of Politically Speaking features Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock, who has been under fire for weeks, in a candid conversation with St. Louis Public Radio reporters Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies.

Hancock, who grew up in St. Louis County, first made his mark as a teenager when he led the effort to rescue and restore the rooming house in St. Louis where composer Scott Joplin crafted many of his most famous ragtime tunes.

As an adult, Hancock served two terms in the Missouri House as a state legislator representing part of central St. Louis County. Hancock made two unsuccessful campaigns for Missouri secretary of state in 1992 and 1996, then transitioned into political consulting. He was executive director of the Missouri Republican Party from 1997 to 2003 – a time when the state party was ascending in power and influence. He then opened up a successful firm, Hancock & Associates, that specialized in opposition research.

After several years of helping out various campaigns, Hancock ran for and won the chairmanship of the Missouri Republican Party earlier this year. Before he won, Hancock was aiding former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway’s campaign for governor – which for months was on a collision course with state Auditor Tom Schweich.

Schweich committed suicide less than a week after Hancock won the Missouri GOP chairmanship. Afterward, some of Schweich’s political allies – including former U.S. Sen. John Danforth – accused Hancock of engaging in an anti-Semitic “whispering campaign'' by making erroneous comments that Schweich was Jewish. He was Episcopalian, although his father is Jewish and grandfather was also Jewish.

Hancock has acknowledged that he may have mistakenly told some GOP activists last fall that he thought Schweich was Jewish, but he says he refrained from doing so after he was corrected by Danforth.

Hancock has strenuously denied that he was trying to spread any bigoted rumors and so far has declined to step down as party chairman.

During the podcast, Hancock said:

  • He has fought to remain in the job, which is unpaid, because "I didn't do anything wrong." He noted that he won the chairmanship overwhelmingly during the Feb. 21 vote by the state GOP's 68-person executive committee. "I know I can do a good job for the Republican Party," he said. "I didn't do anything to merit my resignation."
  • He's thought a lot about why he initially believed that Schweich was Jewish. When asked why he came to that erroneous conclusion, Hancock didn't mince words: "Just stupidity. I just assumed that he was Jewish.”
  • When Hancock was a state lawmaker, he represented cities in St. Louis County with significant Jewish populations. “I’ve been active in politics now for 30 years. I represented Creve Coeur, Olivette and Ladue in the General Assembly," Hancock said. "If I was an anti-Semite, somebody would have pointed that out by now.”
  • He believes it may not necessarily be bad if Republicans have a crowded 2016 primary for governor. Since Schweich's death, the names of several people -- including state Sens. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, and Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City -- have been floated as possible candidates. “If you’ve got a multi-candidate field out there, it fundamentally changes the whole tone and tenor of the dialogue that takes place," Hancock said. "You’ll have contrast advertising and so forth. But it’s not going to get so personal.”
  • It will be up to Schweich's campaign treasurer to decide what to do with the roughly $1.3 million remaining in Schweich's campaign account. That money could be donated to one or more candidates or returned to donors.

"St. Louis on the Air": Part of the "Politically Speaking" conversation with John Hancock.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow John Hancock on Twitter: @johnrhancock

Music: “Time’s Arrow” by Thursday

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.