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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

“Politics Has Gone So Hideously Wrong”: Did Bullying Kill Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich?

Shortly after Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich killed himself last week, questions about whether politics—and politicians themselves—were to blame hovered quietly beneath the surface.

But on Tuesday, as the state’s political establishment gathered around Schweich’s flag-covered casket at the Church of St. Michael and St. George near the Republican’s former home in Clayton, the Band-Aid concealing the political mess was quickly ripped off in an emotional and frustrated homily by Rev. Jack Danforth, a former U.S. senator for whom Schweich served as chief of staff starting in 1999 during his investigation into the FBI shooting in Waco, Texas.

In his remarks—before two U.S. senators, Missouri’s governor, dozens of state lawmakers, and the state’s political consultants and lobbyists—Danforth said he felt “overwhelming anger that politics has gone so hideously wrong” in the state’s Republican primary for governor, which Schweich joined last month.

That anger, Danforth said, stemmed from a series of moves by people he called “bullies” in the state’s political scene.

One person he referenced was Jeff Roe, a Kansas City-based Republican political consultant who works for Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway and U.S Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Roe produced a negative radio commercial that referred to Schweich as a “little bug” and likened his physical appearance to that of the quirky, unintelligent deputy sheriff on the television show The Andy Griffith Show.

Then there was John Hancock, the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

In the months leading up to Schweich’s death, the auditor believed that Hancock—an opposition researcher who did work last year for the campaign of Hanaway, Schweich’s primary opponent and a former U.S. attorney—had led a whisper campaign that he was Jewish.

While Schweich did have a Jewish heritage stemming from his grandfather, he did not practice the faith. He was Episcopalian and open about his Christianity.

Schweich, Danforth said, believed that Hancock was telling Christian conservative donors that Schweich was Jewish in an effort to feed off the anti-Semitism that still exists in parts of Missouri.

Since Hancock announced his candidacy for party chairman late last year, Schweich had pleaded with his campaign staff to make his story known.

Even those closest to Schweich, in interviews following his death, said the problem was that Schweich had no substantial evidence of a whisper campaign to present to the press, and they refused to push his narrative.

Last Tuesday, two days before Schweich took his own life, he had planned to stage a news conference in Jefferson City to make his claims known.

Danforth, in his eulogy a week later, said he had advised Schweich against it. Schweich backed down, but two days later, he moved forward on his own, scheduling interviews with reporters from the Associated Press and leaving a message with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Minutes after Schweich left that message, Danforth’s office was on the phone with Schweich’s home, once again urging him to back down.

It was at that point, when Schweich felt that he had lost everyone, that he pulled out a handgun and ended his life, with his wife nearby.

“He may have thought that I had abandoned him and left him on the high ground, all alone to fight the battle that had to be fought,” Danforth said in his remarks.

That high ground, Danforth said, was against what Schweich saw as anti-Semitism. Schweich, he said, was taught by his grandfather to take the high ground against it.

“Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” Danforth said.

That charge, Schweich spokesman Spence Jackson said Tuesday, should be enough for Republican leaders to distance themselves from Hancock and demand his resignation.

“There is no way that the Missouri Republican Party can move forward under his leadership for the reasons that Sen. Danforth made,” he said. “It is unconscionable to think that the party can be successful in 2016 with John Hancock as the chairman.”

On Wednesday, David Steelman, a Missouri politician who now serves on the University of Missouri Board of Curators, joined the call, along with state Rep. Paul Fitzwater, for Hancock to resign.

But aside from calls made by those close to Schweich, the party has steered clear of calling for Hancock’s resignation.

After a tumultuous two years under a previous chairman during which the state party went underfunded, establishment Republicans here were joyous at the election of Hancock—one of their own—late last month at a committee meeting in Kansas City.

One of those was U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who is seeking reelection next year.

“This is ultimately up to the Republican State Committee, which elects the state party chairman. I continue to focus my attention on remembering Tom’s life and work in the wake of this tragedy,” said Blunt, whose wife, Abigail, is Jewish.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican who is close to both Hancock and Hanaway, also resisted calls for the chairman to step down.

“Ann does not feel that it is appropriate for anyone to inject politics into the situation so soon after Tom Schweich’s tragic suicide,” said Christian Morgan, Wagner’s chief of staff.

Hancock, of course, has said repeatedly that nothing nefarious went on and has denied the charge that he led an anti-Semitic campaign against Schweich. In a letter to the Missouri Republican State Committee last week, Hancock said that until recently, he believed Schweich was Jewish.

“While I do not recall doing so, it is possible that I mentioned Tom’s faith in passing during one of the many conversations I have each day. There was absolutely nothing malicious about my intent, and I certainly was not attempting to ‘inject religion’ into the governor’s race, as some have suggested,” he wrote.

In light of Schweich’s death, Hanaway has suspended her campaign and is not making a public peep about her relationship with Hancock.

“I suspended my campaign last week out of reverence to Auditor Schweich’s family and will not add any additional commentary to further politicize this tragedy. I continue to pray for the Schweich family during this difficult time,” she said in an email Wednesday.

Privately, Republicans here believe that in order to mount a campaign against Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, for governor in 2016, someone soon will have to give, whether it be Hancock or Hanaway, to relieve the negative pressure that has built following Schweich’s death.

Danforth questioned what kind of candidate would even want to emerge in a political field open seemingly only to the “tough and the crude and the calloused.”

“If this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it?” he said.

 

By: Eli Yokley, The Daily Beast, March 5, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Missouri Republican Party, Tom Schweich | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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