Missouri politicians call for change in statewide campaigning

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JEFFERSON CITY - There is a new name painted on the Missouri State Auditor's door, but the effect of former State Auditor Tom Schweich's suicide is still being felt around the state capitol.

Schweich committed suicide in February shortly after he said he found out about an anti-semitic whisper campaign led by Missouri Republican Chairman John Hancock. 

Schweich announced his campaign for governor less than a month before his death. By all accounts, the campaign was running smoothly.

"I would think he was the front-runner," former U.S. Sen. John Danforth said. "As far as the outlook of the campaign, it sounded like he was doing pretty well."

Schweich worked as Danforth's chief of staff during an investigation of the FBI's handling of the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. He was also his chief of staff when Danforth was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Schweich claimed Hancock was spreading rumors he was Jewish in order to benefit Schweich's primary opponent, Catherine Hanaway. 

"I think it was 'fishing'," Danforth said. "It was putting it out there and seeing what the response would be in kind of a deniable way."

Danforth said he is certain Hancock supports Hanaway to be the party's nominee. Hancock was an aide to Hanaway in a previous campaign and was elected as the party chairman five days before Schweich shot himself.

KOMU 8 made numerous attempts to reach Hancock to comment on this story, but calls to his staff went unreturned.

Hancock previously denied leading a whisper campaign against Schweich. Hancock said he "may have said Schweich was Jewish in passing", but he said he never said anti-Semitic comments as part of a deliberate campaign.

State Senator and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Parson called for Hancock to resign shortly after the whisper campaign allegations became known. Parson said "he's past that now," but also said negative campaigning has limits.

"Winning at all costs is not the way we need to be doing things in Missouri. Anymore it's all about the money and whatever it takes to win," Parson said, "I think we're better than that."

Former Democratic Missouri Governor Bob Holden also said political ethics in Missouri have steadily deteriorated since he was elected governor. He said he has seen other whisper campaigns during his time in politics in Missouri.

"Oh sure, every candidate and every campaign is trying to figure out what their strengths are, what the weaknesses are of the opposition and how they can exploit those weaknesses," Holden said. "I think it's become much more personal in the last 10 years."

Danforth said the political process is no longer working the way it used to.

"It's not functioning that way anymore," Danforth said. "It's no longer a place to work out differences. It's a place to take hard and fast positions, uncompromising positions appealing to your so-called base."

Holden said the influx of money into politics is partly to blame for the nastiness of some campaigns.

"I've watched over the years, as money has played a bigger and bigger role in the political process, it's really become about the politics of this issue and not the issues themselves," Holden said.

Parson also agrees statewide politics in Missouri must be improved.

"We're getting a reputation across the United States that Missouri politics are pushing the limits too far," Parson said.

Danforth hopes some change will come after Schweich's suicide.

"What's going to change things is if the public speaks out against it," Danforth said. "That was what I hoped for after Tom's death, that there would be a public outcry. The public outcry has been very, very muted."

There is more than a year remaining until the Republican primary in Missouri. Four candidates, including Hanaway and Parson, have declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination.