A former Missouri lawmaker ripped what he called political “bullying” on Tuesday, saying that it contributed to state Auditor Tom Schweich’s (R) suicide last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“We often hear that words can’t hurt you. But that’s simply not true,” ex-Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) said in his eulogy for Schweich (pictured above), adding, “Well how about anti-Semitic whispers? And how about a radio ad that calls someone a ‘little bug,’ and that is run anonymously over and over again? Words do hurt. Words can kill. That has been proven right here in our home state.”
Police found Schweich, who was running for his party’s gubernatorial nomination, dead in his home last Thursday from a self-inflicted gunshot. Before becoming state auditor, he served as Danforth’s chief of staff both when Danforth was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and when Danforth led an investigation into the FBI’s involvement in the fatal siege against a Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993.
“Tom was the model for what a public servant should be,” said Danforth, who is also an ordained Episcopal priest. “He was exceptionally bright, energetic and well organized. He was highly ethical, and like the indignant prophets of Biblical times, he was passionate about his responsibility for righting wrongs.”
Danforth also said that Schweich was “indignant” when they spoke on the phone two days before he killed himself, both over the commercial and by comments attributed to state party chair John Hancock saying he was Jewish when Schweich was an Episcopalian.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Hancock has admitted to making the comment casually, but called it an error instead of an attack, comparing it to someone saying, “I’m Presbyterian and somebody else is Catholic.”
But Danforth rebuked Hancock’s reasoning on Tuesday without mentioning him by name.
“Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?” Danforth told the audience. “Tom told me of his Jewish grandfather who taught him about anti-Semitism, and told him that anytime Tom saw it, he had to confront it. So Tom believed that that was exactly what he must do. There was no hint by Tom that this was about him or his campaign. It was about confronting bigotry.”
Hancock did not attend the service. A spokesperson told the Post-Dispatch that “today is not an appropriate time to engage in political back-and-forth. Out of respect for Tom and his family, we have nothing to add at this time.”
KTVI-TV reported that the ad calling Schweich a “bug” was paid for by a group calling itself Citizens for Fairness in Missouri PAC. The narration — done by an actor impersonating House of Cards star Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Frank Underwood — also compares Schweich to Deputy Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show.
“Schweich is an obviously weaker opponent against Democrat Chris Koster,” the ad states. “Once Schweich obtains the Republican nomination, we will quickly squash him like a bug that he is and put our candidate, Chris Koster in the governor’s mansion.”
KTVO-TV reported that the group’s treasurer, Seth Shumaker, had his law license revoked in 2011 for “unprofessional conduct.” Schweich also criticized Shumaker this past January, saying he was “harassing my supporters with letters telling a dizzying series of lies.”
“This is truly a tragedy,” Shumaker told KTVO. “Out of respect for him and his family, I will not make any comment.”
On Tuesday, Danforth called the attacks agains Schweich “the low point of politics” and called on lawmakers and future candidates to reject that style of campaigning.
“This will be our memorial to Tom: that politics as it now exists must end, and we will end it,” he said. “And we will get in the face of our politicians, and we will tell them that we are fed up, and that we are not going to take this anymore. If Tom could speak to us, I think he would say about the same thing. To borrow a familiar phrase, he would approve this message.”
[h/t Talking Points Memo]