Eric Greitens was having a rocky 15 months as Missouri governor even before being charged this week with felony invasion of privacy tied to his 2015 extramarital affair.
So far, his term has been marked by disagreements with fellow Republicans, severe cuts to higher education and a state ethics fine. Questions surround his appointments to the state board of education, the use of a secretive texting app and who’s donating to the nonprofit, run by former campaign staffers, that advocates for his agenda.
Now, the fact that Greitens is the only sitting governor in Missouri history to be indicted has led some of the people who voted for him — he got 51 percent of the vote in 2016 — to question their decision. But none of the controversy has shaken Mike Wrenn’s faith.
In fact, when the indictment was announced, the Kansas City small-businesses owner, who not only voted for Greitens but also donated to his 2016 campaign, says he confirmed that he’d be attending a cocktail party with the governor in a couple of weeks.
He wanted, he says, “to say hi to him and talk to him and give him more money.”
Wrenn says he hasn’t seen what he needs to see to know whether the governor is guilty. But if the charges mean Greitens’ “chances of re-election” are not as good, Wrenn has advice for the governor: “Make as many changes as you can, rattle as many cages as you can … do what you think is right, remain determined.”
Wrenn says the indictment feels to him like a setup by Greitens’ political enemies.
“I think Eric stirring things up, making many changes, obviously. I know what happens, what the results of that are. You make enemies really quickly and sometimes there are powerful enemies,” Wrenn says.
“I think that the political system was shocked that he won. Now they've got a smart, determined, um, charismatic guy who was determined to make, so to speak, Missouri a better state," he adds.
Greitens, his legal team and the Missouri GOP all say one of those enemies is St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a former Democratic state legislator who empaneled the grand jury that brought charges against Greitens.
After he was charged, Greitens wrote a Facebook post calling Gardner a “reckless liberal prosecutor.”
That statement, University of Central Missouri political science professor Robynn Kuhlmann says, was a tactical move.
“Given the way the governor's statement was crafted to note that this indictment was a partisan witch hunt, it actually cast some doubt on the veracity of the charges for some Republicans,” she says.
That's the case for Cass County Republican Party chairman Bill Kartsonis, who also says he thinks the indictment was politically motivated. He says he’d vote for Greitens again, but that wouldn’t be the case “if there were evidence of criminal wrongdoing or any factual evidence of abuse.”
Kartsonis says the governor has done good work, including appointing a judge for his county’s family court.
“The good stuff doesn’t get sensationalized,” Kartsonis says.
But others who voted for Greitens can’t abide the indictment.
Health care worker Caleb Saab, who voted for the Republican’s economic policies and military background, says he takes “issue that (Greitens) ran on family values while essentially hiding an affair,” but he can forgive that indiscretion. Thursday’s indictment alleging that Greitens took a nude photo of the woman without her consent, however, just doesn’t sit well.
“If someone’s even charged with that — especially a man in a position of power who could use his influence to essentially blackmail somebody — there’s nothing good about that, and I can’t really support somebody like that even if it’s just an accusation at this point,” Saab says.
He thinks the governor should resign or be removed, because “his public trust has been so damaged” as well as “the image of the state of Missouri.”
While several state lawmakers are calling for Greitens to resign, or are eager for an investigation that could lead to his impeachment, there’s a chance this will play out in November's midterm elections, when Missouri voters will have a chance to weigh in on the state of the Republican Party.
One of the state’s U.S. Senate seats is on the ballot, and Kuhlmann says the Greitens situation could be a talking point for Democrats.
“There are some competitive elections coming up and this may be something that they can utilize, of course, to their advantage,” she says.
Greitens says he has no plans to resign. His first court appearance will come next month, but the Missouri House plans to start an investigation into the felony charge as soon as Monday.
Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media and a contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach on on Twitter @ehunzinger.
Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR