I can't believe we're dealing with another Ashcroft in Missouri.
It has long been my policy to keep someone's children out of any argument — political or otherwise — that I might have with an adversary.
That's old school, I confess, but it's the bright red line one doesn't cross. People's kids are off limits.
Unfortunately, I'm not merely old school: I'm old. And I've just discovered one of the many downsides of aging, which is that if one stays around long enough in a profession like journalism, the high-minded rule of respecting the privacy of adversaries' children comes with a catch: They grow up.
Take John Ashcroft. Please.
For many decades, we have not cared for one another's politics, not even a little bit. Our relationship has consisted mostly of me railing against what a holier-than-thou, right-wing extremist Ashcroft has been, as state attorney general, governor, U.S. senator and U.S. attorney general. Not surprisingly, his response has been to ignore me.
But we did once have a pleasant lunch in Clayton back in 1993, after he moved to St. Louis, having finished two terms as a bad governor, and I did find him to be quite engaging and pleasant. In a surreal moment, I even gave him a ride in a bright red, fancy new sports car I had just purchased, during one of my several mid-life crises. I certainly didn't come away from lunch wanting to deride Ashcroft on a personal level or cross any lines about his kids.
But I'll be damned: One of those kids grew up to be just like him. Goodbye, old rule, I'm stepping over the red line: Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has come to work in the family business of politics, and I'm sad to report, he's done his father proud. That's not good.
Now, am I suggesting that young Jay Ashcroft is putting together a public record that might be described with such provocative language as "holier-than-thou and right-wing extremist"? Have I not mellowed with age enough to refrain from such hyperbole?
Yes and no.
In the case of the Ashcrofts, it's not just that the acorn didn't fall far from the tree. We're pretty much talking about the same acorns here.
From this vantage point, the best thing Jay Ashcroft has done in his young political career is to have lost to Democratic State Senator Jill Schupp in their 2014 west-county race. Schupp, my fellow Parkway and Mizzou alum — re-elected last year — has turned out to be one of the brightest lights in the state senate.
Ashcroft rebounded quickly to win election in 2016 as Missouri secretary of state. He seems like a nice enough guy publicly — his persona is a bit less dour and confrontational and, to date, he hasn't appeared prudish enough to cover up a naked statue like his dad famously did as attorney general — but Jay Ashcroft's politics aren't nice at all.
Arguably, much of Ashcroft's right-wing extremism has been normalized as mainstream in today's Republican Party: He's a standard anti-choice, pro-NRA, Trump-enabling member in good standing in the party.
But where it matters most, Ashcroft has acted like, well, an Ashcroft as secretary of state. He garnered fleeting national attention in July 2017 when he shilled for Trump and forcefully defended the paranoid president's bogus, national "voter fraud" investigation, a sham that no fewer than 44 of Ashcroft's counterparts in other states had rejected out of hand.
And he wasn't done. In June 2018, Ashcroft testified on Capitol Hill — before a committee chaired by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt — feeding the Narcissist-in-Chief's Russia denial narrative with the following stupendous response regarding how outside actors had impacted U.S. elections:
"While these are serious allegations, it is vitally important to understand that after two years of investigation there is no credible — and I can strike 'credible' and just put 'evidence' — there is no evidence that these incidents caused a single vote or a single voter registration to be improperly altered during the 2016 election cycle," Ashcroft said. "It was not our votes or our election systems that were hacked — it was the people's perception of our elections.
"The evidence indicates that voter fraud is an exponentially greater threat than hacking of our election equipment," he said.
Well, that qualifies as extremism. Ashcroft stopped short of using the phrase "Russian hoax" in blowing off what just about everyone else in the nation — including his Republican colleagues — have acknowledged as Russian interference in U.S. elections.
And Ashcroft's passion for rooting out nonexistent "voter fraud" has been over the top, from the campaign to the present. He has continued to bang the drums for voter suppression in the form of photo ID requirements that have no more noble purpose than to reduce the number of Democratic votes.
Let's say it all together now: There has not been a single iota of evidence of a single case of voter impersonation on record in the state of Missouri.
And there's also not a shred of evidence that any actual fact is going to deter Ashcroft from misusing his official perch for partisan advantage on the subject. He is the Republican secretary of state, which I'm pretty certain he takes to mean "the secretary of state for Republicans."
Speaking of that, Ashcroft took the abuse of his power to new lengths on June 6 with his successful — albeit illegal — maneuver to run out the clock on what would have been a referendum to overturn House Bill 126, the so-called "Heartbeat Bill," that is, for the moment at least, putting Missouri on the national map as an enemy of women's reproductive freedom.
A month later, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals rejected Ashcroft's rejection, ruling he acted "without authority" in not allowing the effort to challenge the noxious law to proceed. But the intended damage was done: The law won't be stopped by a vote of the people.
Hopefully, legal challenges in the state or nation will eventually stall laws like Missouri's, but ultimately issues like women's reproductive freedom and voter's rights and gun control can only be resolved in a humane and just manner if Americans act at the ballot box.
That pretty much comes down to voting out politicians like Jay Ashcroft, something that wasn't done in the case of his father. So far, the family business continues to do well.
But speaking of the Ashcroft family, Jay Ashcroft and his wife Katie are proud parents to four children. In the spirit of that old, red line of leaving an adversary's kids alone, I genuinely wish them nothing but health and happiness.
That said, if I ever have to debate another generation of Ashcrofts, someone please put me in a home.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann and Jay Kanzler from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).