EDITORIAL: Missouri lawmakers must step up and do what Gov. Greitens cannot — lead

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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is talking a lot about his own discomfort these days as he attempts to resurrect his governorship following the bombshell allegations surrounding his extramarital affair.

“God has a way of helping people in the midst of pain to emerge with wisdom,” Greitens told the Associated Press recently in his first interview since acknowledging the affair. On Monday, he was back on the offensive with an email blast in which “Team Greitens” suggested it was “tired of the lies people are spreading about Eric.”

All this confirms that Greitens has a lot to learn about taking responsibility and issuing genuine apologies for the damage he’s caused. His message is clear: The affair is ancient history, and he’s moving on. If only things were so simple. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has launched a criminal investigation, and CNN has reported that the FBI has opened an inquiry, though Greitens’ attorney denies knowledge of it.

The ongoing chaos suggests a new reality for Missouri lawmakers. More so than at any time in decades, the General Assembly must pick up the ball and run with the business of state government without help from the state’s top elected official. The governor now looms as little more than an afterthought.

That’s an extraordinary position for a chief executive. But it’s exactly the position Greitens finds himself in now that he’s repeatedly announced he has no plans to step down, despite the criminal probe and blackmail allegations that surfaced. The initial report by KMOV, the St. Louis television station that broke the story, included an audio recording of a conversation between the woman who had the affair and her then-husband. In the recording, the woman said Greitens had bound her hands, blindfolded her and had taken a photo of her partially nude to warn her to remain silent.

It’s the blackmail allegation, which Greitens has strongly denied, that has given this story its legs. Greitens, though, continues to sidestep questions about whether he took photographs of the woman. Lawmakers of both parties realize the burden is on them to make government go.

“We can overcome the governor,” Rep. Jean Evans, a Manchester Republican, said on “This Week in Missouri Politics.”

The ability of legislators to do the work of state government is helped by the fact that Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. The leadership includes two well-regarded veterans of state government: Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard and House Speaker Todd Richardson.

The two would be wise to limit the 2018 agenda to a few must-accomplish priorities. First is passage of a new state budget. Second, lawmakers should again seek a sweeping ethics reform package that was one of the cornerstones of Greitens’ 2016 campaign.

A third priority would be one the governor inexplicably left off his to-do list for the year, and that is serious consideration of a gas-tax increase for highways. A bipartisan legislative task force recommended the bump, and that’s all the more reason the General Assembly should consider it this session, even though it’s an election year.

Legislative leaders should keep things simple. Even this limited agenda would keep the state moving forward while its governor tries to regain his balance.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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