Dems Could Take a Page From a Dusty Old GOP Playbook

In her run for governor, Auditor Nicole Galloway has her choice of opponents.
In her run for governor, Auditor Nicole Galloway has her choice of opponents. DANNY WICENTOWSKI

In 1972, a young, bright and energetic state auditor named Kit Bond ran successfully against Democratic Gov. Warren Hearnes to become the first Republican governor in 40 years.

It was a stunning achievement, with Bond garnering a 55-45 percent victory margin thanks to a "Bondwagon" campaign promising to end a legacy of corrupt one-party rule by Hearnes and decades of predecessors. Bond, at 33, had become Missouri's youngest-ever governor in ending his party's historic drought.

I probably should note one detail: Hearnes wasn't actually on the ballot that year.

Even though Bond made a constant target of the incumbent's record — current and inherited — Bond's specific opponent that year was prominent St. Louis attorney Ed Dowd, a Democrat conservative enough to have run on a platform of "law and order." It was basically a battle of moderates in a year that the national election was anything but that (with Tricky Dick Nixon crushing liberal Senator George McGovern in a sadly epic landslide).

In any event, Bond didn't pay nearly as much attention to Dowd as he did to railing against the ills created by decades of iron-fisted Democratic — arguably Dixiecrat — rule. He had a fistful of audits his office had done, and his campaign was less against one guy than it was to throw the rascals out. Or, as they say today, drain the swamp.

That's why I take the liberty of saying Bond ran successfully against Hearnes, even if they weren't in the ring together. (Full disclosure: I was hired by Bond as a speechwriter in 1975.)

Here we are, 48 years later, and I couldn't help but notice some serious parallels when Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway announced last week that she was running for governor in 2020. It's deja vu all over again.

Like the Kit Bond of 1972, she is a young, bright and energetic state auditor running for governor, just slightly older at 37. Like Bond, she proudly can point to a record of state audits that have uncovered widespread misuse of state funds and, in some cases, corruption. On that score, she has more ammunition, having been auditor about three times as long as Bond was at this point.

(Galloway was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon in April 2015 — after the death of State Auditor Tom Schweich — before winning a full four-year term last November. Bond was elected auditor in 1970, just two years before the governor's race in 1972.)

Galloway's accomplishments in office are impressive: Widely known (at least until now) as being a solid, equal-opportunity auditor in terms of who her office reviews, Galloway points to audits that uncovered $350 million in government waste and fraud and led to 40 criminal charges against Republicans and Democrats.

In announcing her candidacy for governor, Galloway cited all of that and also demonstrated that she wasn't going to be shy in attacking Gov. Mike Parson, her likely opponent. She released a strong video depicting two shadowy guys exchanging envelopes while accusing Parson of helping lobbyists and corporations receive favors in a "broken system."

Already, Galloway is calling out Parson for his administration having allowed 95,000 kids to fall off the Medicaid rolls — a subject covered in this space three weeks ago — and she's attacked him on the subject of women's reproductive rights with far more vigor than any Democrat has dared to show in recent memory. She's even spoken out for background checks on guns, again venturing into a hot-button region often treated as a radioactive site by candidates of her party.

She has reminded Republicans of their failure to accept the will of the people, who overwhelmingly approved the "Clean Missouri" initiative to reform the way state government and its lobbyists and politicians do business. And she has done it with an air of calmness and moderation that might play well throughout the state.

It has gotten Parson's attention enough that his aides are already firing back with Trumpian tactics:

"Liberal Nicole Galloway echoes the talking points of the national liberals she's backed in the past and has been critical of historic state and federal tax cuts that have provided great savings to hardworking Missouri families."

And there was this comment, notably, from the governor himself: "If I were to give her advice, I'd tell her to not worry about what the current governor is doing."

Galloway fundraised off of that curious line. Still, she has not embarked on an easy mission. The elephant in the room is the Democrats' choice of presidential candidates. Galloway's fate likely rests with the same balancing act her party faces between tapping the energy of a passionate, woke base while maintaining enough moderation to win the suburbs and the Rust Belt.

We'll see how that works out. But regardless, I think she and other Democrats would do well to take a page from the 1972 Bond playbook, one that I'm not sure they have on their radar, which is to run against a guy whose name should not be forgotten. That would be "Republican Governor Eric Greitens."

As much as Eric Greitens' party would like to sing kumbaya and forget he existed, it really does own him as much as he owned it until being forced off the stage as if he were, say, tied up and blindfolded.

It was, after all, less than three years ago that the ticket of Greitens-Parson was elected. And while there is no question that Parson is a much nicer and more honest man than Greitens — a low bar, if ever there was one — it's also true that much of the mean-spiritedness that Greitens embodied lives on behind the more benign face presented by Parson.

With the exception of the issue of low-income housing tax credits — on which the two men differed and which were at least partly restored by Parson after being cut by Greitens — not a single major priority changed, not a single hardline policy softened. From the disgusting no-rape-and-incest anti-abortion bill to the neglect of poor kids to the rejection of Clean Missouri, it's still his party.

Even if the kinder, gentler era of Parson, the Republicans supermajority showed no respect for Democrats in the legislature. Virtually every substantive Democratic bill that was introduced in the House waited until the last day of the legislative session to be referred to committee (a referral required by law). Democrats were completely frozen out of the budget process to a degree not seen in any current legislator's memory. Democrats stood for hours on the floor of the House without getting acknowledged, only to have debate cut off. The Senate was a place with a bit more collegiality but few truly bi-partisan outcomes.

In fairness, the Republicans' ongoing bullying tactics pale in comparison to the sad history of the state's Democratic Party in the first two-thirds of the last century when, for example, one needed a signature from a Democratic county chairman to apply for one of thousands of patronage jobs.

Kit Bond had a good point in his day, which is why the strategy of running against Hearnes and those who came before him was such a success. Dowd, a much more decent guy, was essentially ignored as a false front.

Today, Galloway faces a similar task: running against a man whose affable characteristics disguise a state Republican Party that has truly lost its way. This isn't Bond's reform-minded party anymore. It's something different, something much less fair and kind.

Galloway, in this view, needs to call that by its name: Greitens. 0x006E

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