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“It Doesn’t Make Any Sense”: Two Suicides Rock Missouri Politics

Last Thursday, on the one-month anniversary of the suicide of his boss, Missouri’s Republican auditor and a candidate for governor, Spence Jackson took the day off.

Tom Schweich’s suicide came amidst what had become a brutal campaign for governor and shocked the state’s Republican Party.

The circumstances surrounding his death, including nasty, anti-Semitic rumors, pitted donors and party elites like former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth against Missouri Republicans like former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond who were calling for party unity.

Jackson, Schweich’s spokesman, was in the middle of that fight.

And last week, Jackson took his own life.

Police say it was the fear of losing a job, not political whispers, that may have haunted him the most in his final days.

Until about three weeks ago, Jackson, like a loyal soldier without a commander, continued to carry the torch in Schweich’s memory.

Only moments after Schweich’s funeral, Jackson was one of the first to call for the resignation of John Hancock, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party who Schweich believed had orchestrated an anti-Semitic “whisper campaign” against him (Schweich was Episcopalian, but had Jewish heritage).

Jackson pushed the late auditor’s side to reporters and influencers in the state party as he and others tried to shame Hancock out of the office.

But, Hancock—who has vehemently denied the allegation that he was pushing an anti-Semitic message against Schweich—has not stepped down, and on Friday, Catherine Hanaway, who Schweich was challenging in what had already become a brutal Republican primary for governor, reemerged on the campaign trail.

On Friday, Jackson was back in the auditor’s suite in an office building across the street from the state Capitol for part of the day.

But after lunch, Jackson did not return to work, police here said.

Those who knew him said when Jackson left the office, he turned out the light and closed his door.

But on Friday afternoon, he left his lights on, the door open and his things as they were.

At some point later in the day, Jackson returned to his apartment only a couple miles away from his workplace.

There, he penned a note and left it in his living room before disappearing into his bedroom where police say he fatally shoot himself with a .357 Magnum revolver, which was found with him in his bed.

It was not until Sunday night, when Jackson’s mother was in Jefferson City to meet with him in advance of a scheduled doctor’s appointment on Monday, that Jackson was found dead in his apartment by police responding to a “check well-being call.”

Jackson, who had worked as a Republican communicator for nearly two decades, had served in former Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration as a personal spokesman for the governor and then for the Missouri Department of Economic Development. When Blunt decided to not seek reelection and Democrat Jay Nixon was elected to take his place, Jackson was let go and left without a job.

“I am so sorry. I just can’t take being unemployed again,” Jackson apparently wrote, according to Captain Doug Shoemaker of the Jefferson City Police Department.

David Luther, a spokesman for John Watson, Nixon’s temporary appointee as auditor as he seeks a full time replacement to fill out Schweich’s term though 2018, told reporters on Tuesday that senior staff had been told last week that, “if there was a change in the interim auditor, that might impact them.”

But, Luther said, nothing was specific, and nobody had been told they would soon be out of a job.

“Everybody was going to continue to be under employment, but in the political landscape, those things can change,” Luther said. “No one had been told their job was in jeopardy, but knowing that there would probably be a change down the road, I’m sure they were all understanding of that.”

Jeff Layman, a fraternity brother of Jackson who attended Missouri State University with him 25 years ago, said he was “heartbroken over the loss.”

“Spence was kind, caring and loyal; but most importantly, he was like a brother to me. Spence was a savvy political communicator who was passionate and intense about his politics. I will miss his huge smile, infectious laugh and larger than life personality,” Layman said on Monday.

Jackson’s coworkers and other Schweich staff members would not speak on the record for this article. But, speaking privately, one Republican who knew both Schweich and Jackson said the two had “emotional highs and lows” and “wore their emotions on their sleeves.”

Still, the fear of losing a job, at least immediately, should have been unfounded, the Republican said: “Nothing was going to happen immediately. He had a job and people were looking out for him to find something next. It doesn’t make any sense.”

 

By: Eli Yokley, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2015

April 1, 2015 Posted by | Missouri, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Shoot-Me State”: New Missouri Law Will Allow Teachers To Carry Guns, Defying Statistics And Common Sense

Nobody really knows how Missouri got the nickname the “show me state,” but what we do know is that under a new gun law passed last week, Missouri residents will be able to walk around openly showing their guns. And what we further know is that this law drops the concealed carry (CCW) age requirement from 21 to 19 and allows local school districts to grant CCW privileges to teachers whose job will be to protect everyone else in the school from all those bad guys carrying guns.

The intent of this new law obviously is to make Missourians more safe because lowering the CCW age to 19 will qualify more people to walk around armed and letting teachers bring concealed weapons into schools will also protect the children and other teachers when a bad guy with a gun comes into the school. In other words, the new law supports a favorite theory of the NRA which can be summed up as “more guns equals fewer guns.” Oops, what we mean is more guns carried around by the “good guys” means fewer guns carried around by the “bad guys.”

The last time Missouri made it easier for its citizens to arm themselves was in 2007 when the legislature abolished a law which required that people wishing to buy handguns first had to go to the police department and get a permit-to-purchase (PTP) in order to take possession of the gun. To show you how successful this measure was in helping good-guy Missourians use guns to protect themselves from bad-guy Missourians, the gun homicide rate over the next three years jumped by almost 25 percent, even though the non-gun homicide rate remained about the same.

Of all 50 states, only Louisiana currently has a higher gun homicide rate than Missouri, and while the overall violent crime rate in Missouri has declined by about 20 percent between 2007 and 2012, the homicide rate has remained remarkably stable and remarkably high, a testament no doubt to the legislature’s uncanny ability to understand how making it easier for everyone to acquire handguns would lead to a safer and more secure place to live. Having seen the positive impact of easier handgun access on gun homicide rates, the legislature in its wisdom now believes that it will move the gospel of “good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns” into the schools.

But what are the facts about the utility of using guns to protect kids (and teachers) in schools? Actually, the number of homicides that take place in schools each year has shown the same gradual decline over the last twenty years that has characterized violent crime rates in the United States as a whole. From 1994 to 2013, violent crime dropped roughly 50 percent, with most of the decline taking place prior to 2004. As for school homicides, according to a Justice Department study, they have dropped by about the same amount over the period 1992 to 2010, and serious victimizations, including robberies and assaults, have declined by as much as two-thirds.

Most of this decline in school criminality seems to have been the result of increased attention paid to people entering school buildings and increased surveillance within the buildings. By 2011, nearly 90 percent of all public schools had some kind of security measures to monitor access and the same percentage reported requiring visitor sign-ins. On the other hand, less than one-third of all schools had armed security patrolling on a full-time or part-time basis. And while I don’t have specific numbers on school security in Missouri, I can tell you that the last school shooting in the ‘show me’ state occurred in 1993.

Do you think there was any connection between the passage of the new Missouri gun law and the racial strife in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown? It’s as good a theory as any about what really motivated legislators to let guns into schools, because there sure isn’t any violence problem in Missouri schools that this law will solve.

 

By: Mike Weisser, The Hufington Post Blog, September 15, 2014

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Guns, Missouri, Schools | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The True Foment Is Deeper And Broader”: Ferguson’s Schools Are Just As Troubling As Its Police Force

A day after his visit to Ferguson, Missouri, Attorney General Eric H. Holder stated in a press conference that, “History simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.” To what history was he referring? Many assumed General Holder meant the longstanding tensions between the mostly black residents of Ferguson and the mostly white police force, but I believe General Holder meant a deeper and broader history that goes well beyond policing. The anger in Ferguson is not just in reaction to shabby treatment by the police, but also the city’s housing, educational, and other civic institutions.

The history of racial mistrust in Ferguson can be found in the legacy of residential segregation in the St. Louis metropolitan area, enforced from the early to the middle twentieth century through mechanisms such as racially restrictive covenants, zoning laws, realtors agreements, and assessors ratings, as research by Professor Colin Gordon demonstrates. Because of these longstanding policies, black Ferguson residents today are disproportionately renters without a strong political stake in the town’s governance and geographically concentrated in areas without economic power.

The broader perspective can be found by looking to recent events surrounding the school district that serves Ferguson residents. Michael Brown graduated from Normandy High School, which was located, until recently, in the Normandy School District. The facts here are a bit complex, but note that I said “until recently.”  That is because the Normandy School district lost its accreditation in 2012 due to dismal standardized test scores. (Normandy was one of only three out of 500 school districts in Missouri to lose its accreditation.) The state school board took over the Normandy School District and renamed it the “Normandy School Collaborative.” By 2013, though, the new district also had lost its accreditation. Missouri law allows students of failed districts to transfer to higher-performing schools in surrounding suburbs, but the failing school district has to pay tuition and transportation costs to get the kids to their new schools. The 1,000 transfer students of Normandy obviously had no desire to remain in the “new” failed district, but the cost was high, so, incredibly, the state board voted to waive accreditation of the Collaborative rather than classify the new district as unaccredited. Ferguson’s teenagers were therefore trapped in a failed school because state politicians didn’t want to pay for them to transfer out.

These kinds of shenanigans put the policing of Ferguson into context.  The protests we have watched unfold there are not simply about unfair policing in that town; rather, they are the result of a deep and broad collection of official decisions that residents, not surprisingly, interpret as demeaning to them. Viewed in this light the analogies that some have drawn to the riots of the sixties make more sense. The Kerner Commission, charged with investigating urban unrest, hypothesized that conditions in slum living such as poor housing, schools, and jobs fueled the violent reactions of residents, but the reporters also fingered as a prime cause of every riot during the period tensions between police and residents of so-called racial ghettoes. The Commission noted specifically that public confrontations between law enforcement personnel and residents of segregated urban neighborhoods, usually ordinary arrests or stops, as opposed to extraordinary and tragic events like the one in Fergsuon, specifically sparked many riots. Policing incidents may trigger social unrest, but the true foment is deeper and broader.

The lessons that police can learn to prevent incidents such as these also have broader application. My colleague Tom Tyler and I have written that police legitimacy is a key to promoting compliance with the law and better cooperation between police and the public. Decades of social psychological research shows that the foundation of legitimacy is in four components of procedural justice. Legal authorities such as police promote legitimacy by (1) treating people with dignity and respect; (2) making decisions fairly, based on fact and not on illegitimate factors such as race; (3) giving people a chance to tell their side of the story, what psychologists call “voice;” (4) and acting in a way that encourages those with whom authorities deal to believe that they will be treated benevolently in the future. The research is quite clear. People care more about these factors than outcomes. That is, it is often more important to them to be treated with dignity and respect while receiving a negative outcome, such as a traffic ticket, than it is to be treated poorly and not receive a ticket even in a situation where they clearly violated the law. The bottom line? The citizens of Ferguson want to believe that the authorities they interact with believe that they, Ferguson residents, count. Instead, again and again the message the Ferguson residents have received through official action, word and deed is that they do not.

Those of us outside of Ferguson received a lesson in what I have sketched out here when Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol came to Ferguson. It is true that his race and the fact that he grew up in the town helped smooth the way for him. It is also true that the fact that he went out and spoke to the demonstrators, listened to them, and explained what he was doing and why are all textbook components of procedural justice.  When police authorities act in this way, if a tragic incident such as the shooting of Michael Brown occurs, police executives get a “moment of pause” rather than a riot.

City leaders and the Normandy School board can benefit from a greater commitment to legitimacy in their decision-making as well. Transparency and inclusiveness are keys. I believe that the citizens of Ferguson simply want to be treated as just thatcitizens. It is far past time to provide them with what they deserve.

 

By: Tracey Meares, The New Republic, August 22, 2014

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Missouri, Missouri Legislature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Leave The 19th Century Behind”: Let’s Stop Whistling Dixie; Missouri’s Toxic Political Culture Must Change

Quite properly, journalistic reaction to events in Ferguson, Missouri, has focused on the militarization of the police, on the role of racism in the killing of unarmed African-American men, and on the political disenfranchisement that allows communities like Ferguson to operate in obvious defiance of public sentiment.

But there is another element peculiar to Missouri politics that must have light shed upon it. That is the sharp right-ward turn conservative politics in that State has taken. In its best moments, conservatism stands for caution, for prudence, for a government that is efficient yet serves the needs of all.

There was a time when conservatives in Missouri stood for these things, but that is no longer the case. Rather, what is visible to the outside observer is a dangerous movement towards the outermost fringes. For it is fair to say that a toxic neo-confederatism has emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the very heart of Missouri’s government — its state legislature.

Let’s consider Brian Nieves, a State Senator from West St. Louis. Nieves is not some obscure back-bencher. He’s been a member of the State Legislature since 2002, rising to the position of House Majority Whip before moving on to the Senate, where he now chairs the Committee on General Laws.

And what has Senator Nieves been doing in this position of trust? He has injected neo-confederatism into the law-making function. Consider Senate Joint Resolution 45, a state constitutional amendment Nieves proposed in January, 2012, which sought to revive the discredited Confederate principle of state nullification. The amendment would have declared that Missouri enjoyed the “sovereign” right to treat as null and void all federal law on gun control; abortion; climate change; federally-subsidized health care; same-sex marriage; hate crimes; and a range of other topics. In other words, had this amendment been adopted, Missouri would have been free to reject as non-binding a large body of federal statutes and judicial decisions.

Nullification, of which this is a modern manifestation, is an idea that has its origins in the efforts of the Southern planter class of the 1820’s and 1830’s to defend slavery against an encroaching federal government. In 1832, the federal government tried to enforce a tariff in South Carolina that posed a threat to the profitability of the slave-based cotton trade that formed the cornerstone of that State’s economy.

Purporting to defend the Constitution from an allegedly unconstitutional tariff, the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification declared that laws which “violated the true meaning and intent [of the Constitution] are null, void, and no law.” When President Andrew Jackson threatened a military response, South Carolina backed down, although three decades later it chose secession rather than recognize Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Nieves’ joint resolution did not carry the day. But that did not deter the nullificationists in the State Legislature from a second, more successful attempt to assert Missouri’s self-proclaimed right to nullify federal law.

“The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” it was called, and it was introduced in January, 2014. It took direct aim at federal gun control legislation. Listing numerous federal laws on the subject, it declared the named provisions “shall be invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.” Just like the South Carolina slave owners of the 1830s, the bill’s sponsor declared that the proposed law was needed to defend the Constitution against an aggressive and out-of-control federal government.

This time, the nullificationists enjoyed greater success. In February, 2014, the Missouri Senate approved the bill by a vote of 23-10, with near-unanimous Republican support. The Missouri Tea Party rejoiced. In April, 2014, the State House of Representatives also passed the bill.

It is past time, way past time, 150 years past time, to be playing around with Confederate ideology. That Republicans in the Missouri legislature gave overwhelming support to a piece of legislation whose origins can be traced to the ugliest moments in America’s slave-owning past stands as a badge of infamy. The Missouri Republican Party would do well to repudiate this legislation and promise to stop playing with the dynamite of nullification.

I’ve got news for Missouri’s political class. They need to stop reviving the odious, discredited ideology of the Southern slaveocracy. They must instead return to reality and address the social crisis Ferguson represents. For in truth, African-Americans face substantial obstacles in Missouri. The four-year high-school graduation rate for African-Americans is 76 percent (as of 2009/2010). (The white graduation rate is 89 percent). The poverty rate for African-Americans is 27.7 percent (as of 2007/2011). The white poverty rate for the same period is 12.1 percent. The unemployment rate of African-Americans (2008/2012) is 18.0 percent. (For white Missourians it is 7.3 percent). The incarceration rate for African-Americans (as of June 30, 2012) is 38.2 percent.

It’s time for Missouri’s right-wingers to leave the nineteenth century behind. It is time for all Missourians — indeed, time for all Americans — to start building a more just and equitable world, one free of institutional racism and yawning racial disparities. Missouri was once the home of far-sighted progressives. Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948. Democratic Senator Stuart Symington voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act at great political risk. Missouri, it is time to get serious. The world is watching.

 

By: Charles J. Reid, Jr., The Huffington Post Blog, August 20, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Missouri, Missouri Legislature | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Missouri Burning”: Why Ferguson’s Inferno Is No Surprise

The past week’s unfolding tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, with its militarized and overwhelmingly white police force confronting angry and hopeless African-Americans, is not a story unique to that place or moment. Many cities and towns in this country confront the same problems of poverty, alienation, and inequality as metropolitan St. Louis — or even worse.

But beneath the familiar narrative there is a deeper history that reflects the unfinished agenda of race relations  – and the persistence of poisonous prejudice that has never been fully cleansed from the American mainstream.

For decades, Missouri has spawned or attracted many of the nation’s most virulent racists, including neo-Nazis and the remnants of the once-powerful Ku Klux Klan. Associated with violent criminality and crackpot religious extremism, these fringe groups could never wield much influence in the post-civil rights era. Beyond those marginalized outfits, however, exists another white supremacist group whose leaders have long enjoyed the patronage of right-wing Republican politicians.

The Council of Conservative Citizens, headquartered in St. Louis, is a living legacy of Southern “white resistance” to desegregation, with historical roots in the so-called “citizens’ councils” that sprung up during the 1950s as a “respectable” adjunct to the Klan. Its website currently proclaims that the CCC is “the only serious nationwide activist group that sticks up for white rights!” What that means, more specifically, is promoting hatred of blacks, Jews, gays and lesbians, and Latino immigrants, while extolling the virtues of the “Southern way of life,” the Confederacy, and even slavery.

The group’s website goes on to brag that the CCC is the only group promoting “white rights” whose meetings regularly feature “numerous elected officials, important authors, talk-show hosts, active pastors, and other important people” as speakers.

Although that boast may be exaggerated, it isn’t hollow. Founded in 1985 by the ax handle-wielding Georgia segregationist Lester Maddox and a group of white activists, the CCC remained obscure to most Americans until 1998, when media exposure of its ties to prominent congressional Republicans led to the resignation of Mississippi senator Trent Lott as Majority Leader. Six years later, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group monitoring racist activity in the United States, reported that the CCC had hosted as many as 38 federal, state, and local officials at its meetings (all of them Republicans except one Democrat) – despite a warning from the Republican National Committee against associating with the hate group.

Over the years, the CCC’s friends in high places included such figures as former Missouri senator John Ashcroft, who shared much of the CCC agenda as governor, when he opposed “forced desegregation” of St. Louis schools – along with the CCC members who served on the city’s school board. When President George W. Bush appointed Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General, the CCC openly celebrated, declaring in its newsletter that “Our Ship Has Come In.”

Recently, many fewer Republican officials have been willing to associate in public with the CCC’s racist leaders. Then again, however, Ashcroft himself tended to meet secretly with those same bigots, while outwardly shunning them. When asked about his connections with the group during his confirmation hearings in 2001, he swore that he had no inkling of its racist and anti-Semitic propaganda – a very implausible excuse given the CCC’s prominence in St. Louis while he served as governor.

Despite the CCC’s presence, Missouri is home to many fine and decent people, of course – but malignant traces of the group, and the racial animus it represents, have spread far beyond the state’s borders. The most obvious example is Rush Limbaugh, the “conservative” cultural phenomenon who grew up south of St. Louis in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and who has earned a reputation as a racial agitator over many years on talk radio, where he began by doing mocking bits in “black” dialect.

In 1998, the talk jock defended Trent Lott when other conservatives were demanding his resignation over the politician’s CCC connection. Today, Limbaugh echoes the CCC line on the Brown killing, which suggests coldly that the unarmed teenager deserved his fate because he may have been a suspect in shoplifting or smoked marijuana. Why would a young man’s life be worth less than a box of cigars? Back in Rush’s home state, the answer is all too obvious.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, August 19, 2014

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Missouri, Racism, White Supremacists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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