Top Republican leaders unite in call for Greitens’ departure

Gov.+Eric+Greitens%2C+left%2C+talks+to+south+county+resident+and+former+Rep.+Earlene+Judd+in+St.+Louis+County+the+day+before+he+was+inaugurated+earlier+this+year.+Photo+by+Gloria+Lloyd.

Gov. Eric Greitens, left, talks to south county resident and former Rep. Earlene Judd in St. Louis County the day before he was inaugurated earlier this year. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.

By Lexi Churchill
Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — Republican leadership in the House and Senate abandoned Gov. Eric Greitens last week, calling for his resignation.

But the governor said he’s not going anywhere.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, released a statement April 17, saying that after speaking with Attorney General Josh Hawley, “I believe the governor has no other respectable option than to resign from office,” adding that “the weight of his actions are being felt around the state.”

If the governor does not act, Richard said his wish is that the House will “immediately start impeachment proceedings.”

House leaders stopped short of that, but several minutes after Richard’s statement was released, House Speaker Todd Richardson, House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr and House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo all called for Greitens’ resignation in a joint statement.

“When leaders lose the ability to effectively lead our state, the right thing to do is step aside,” they wrote.

Less than 30 minutes later, Greitens put out his own statement.

“I will not be resigning the Governor’s office,” Greitens wrote, adding, “I will do what the people of Missouri sent me here to do: to serve them and work hard on their behalf.”

Lawmakers were responding to the latest development in the unfolding investigations into the governor.

The morning of the statements, Hawley held a press conference to announce that an investigation by his office found evidence indicating Greitens took computer data listing donors to charitable organization The Mission Continues without its consent, and used it to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign.

At the same time, Greitens faces a May trial in the city of St. Louis on felony charges related to a relationship he had with his former hairdresser in 2015. He is accused of taking a compromising photo without her consent and transmitting it, which is a felony.

In his statement, Richard referred not only to the ongoing legal questions, but to the strained relationship that the governor has with lawmakers.

“Since his time in office, the governor has caused tension, conflict and hostility,” Richard wrote. “Now, these alleged illegal actions are further harmful to the people of Missouri and do not represent Missouri values.”

Sen. Mike Kehoe, the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, called for Greitens’ resignation the previous week.

House leaders did not mention impeachment. Richardson has previously said that the House should delay considering that option until the summer, when a special session could be held. Other lawmakers have called for immediate action.

Meanwhile, in the House’s first session since a special investigative committee released its findings last Wednesday, the distraction caused by the ongoing controversy dominated early debate on a tax bill.

Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, did not want to talk about Haahr’s 400-plus page tax reform measure. Razer wanted to focus on impeachment.

“We all know what we should be voting on,” he said.

Although no representative made the motion to do so, impeachment was on several lawmaker’s minds. Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, argued that the tax bill should be put on hold because the timing isn’t right, saying that the Missouri public “is not paying attention to this bill” because of the governor’s situation.

That was quickly swatted down by Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, who said that was the worst reason he’d ever heard not to pass a bill. He said that it’s up to the Legislature to “do the business of the people, regardless of what’s happening across the street.”

Merideth said the circumstances are unprecedented and that the House’s focus should be elsewhere.

“This isn’t the usual distraction we’re talking about,” Merideth insisted. “This is something different, and guess what? The public is waiting on us to act. We are the body that can actually move to impeach the governor — just us. Everything else we’re doing is what we’re doing instead of that.”

Under Missouri law, the House votes to impeach a governor.