Gov. Eric Greitens can’t stay in hiding if he wants to keep his job

By The Kansas City Star Editorial Board - The Kansas City Star

It’s time for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to come clean and break his silence on the black cloud enveloping his administration.

A week has passed since the story of an extramarital affair and allegations of blackmail rocketed across the state — and the nation — on the same night that the governor delivered his second State of the State address.

Since the story appeared, we’ve heard little from the Republican governor outside of a pair of statements that he and his wife, Sheena, released on the night the story broke and one fresh statement Tuesday evening. In that new statement, which spanned just three paragraphs, Greitens said the media coverage had been “extremely hurtful” and that he was focused on moving forward.

“I assure you that this personal mistake will not deter us from the mission we were sent here to do,” Greitens wrote.

In the earlier statement, the two said that Sheena Greitens had forgiven her husband. “We have emerged stronger,” the statement said.

But there was little more. Given the gravity of this story, and its enduring nature, that isn’t nearly enough. Greitens must go much further and speak to his state honestly and candidly about what’s transpired and what lies ahead. He has given every indication that he will resist the numerous calls for his resignation that have come from members of both parties. But if he’s going to stick it out, he has much to explain to Missourians.

The most pressing questions: How can Greitens lead in the wake of a scandal that’s undermined his political standing at home and left his prospects for national political office in ruins? And how can he re-establish the foundation of trust so essential to successful governance?

If he’s going to press forward, Greitens must accomplish several things that he showed no propensity for during his campaign and his first year in office. He must be forthcoming. He must apologize in the sincerest way possible. Greitens must demonstrate that he understands that he is first a public servant and not just another fast-rising political hotshot. He must show genuine humility, and he must admit that he screwed up. He must also demonstrate a willingness to learn from his mistakes.

That’s a tall order. But all that must happen before the governor can begin to do the actual job of leading Missouri and building the support he’ll need to pass major pieces of legislation, including his plan for a sweeping, albeit ill-advised, tax cut. The stark reality is that these questions are never going to go away. Greitens must face them sometime, and the sooner, the better.

If the governor doesn’t right the ship, he faces the grim prospect that any legislation he publicly supports will immediately be tarnished. His support will, in effect, hurt a bill’s prospects rather than help it. If that happens, silence will become his only ally. At that point, what’s the point of holding the state’s top office if you can’t push anything forward?

Greitens had a ready-made opportunity to begin this healing process. He planned a statewide business tour this week to promote his tax-cut package. Included in that itinerary were stops in Riverside and St. Joseph on Thursday. But on Monday, an events page that had once listed six stops suddenly had gone blank.

That’s a missed opportunity and perhaps a sign that more bad news is in the pipeline. For now, the clock is ticking. Missourians need to hear from their leader. When you’re governor, you don’t get to hide in your shame.

By The Kansas City Star Editorial Board

The Kansas City Star