Have you ever wondered what keeps people up at night in Cape Girardeau? OK, neither have I, but the answer is still pretty interesting.
They're afraid they might become like us.
"Don't let St. Louis radicalism sweep into our neighborhoods," proclaims a dire warning, nestled strategically beneath images of three "Black Lives Matters" signs, another reading "Defund the Police" and, of course, the faces of a couple of menacing folks who don't appear altogether white. "Vote no on Swampy Swan."
As you might have inferred, these are the words of a Republican campaign flier, aimed at one far-right conservative, State Rep. Kathy Swan, by another far-right conservative, State Rep. Holly Rehder. The two are vying for the vacant seat in Missouri's 27th state senate district in deep-red southeast Missouri.
This is Rush Limbaugh country, where they don't bother with racial dog whistles. You want to warn about "the Blacks," as our president calls them, you screech your message with the 150 decibels of an NHRA dragster. Especially in a Republican primary for which sinking to the depths of St. Louis lurks as the scariest of prospects.
Normally, the St. Louis angle to the southeast Missouri race would constitute no big deal: Outstate hostility to the state's "urban" population isn't breaking news. But this one's a little different because the fellow who's ultimately funding the racist messaging is none other than Rex Sinquefield, proud native and self-appointed guardian of St. Louis.
Sinquefield has funded Rehder's "Holly PAC" with a generous $50,000 donation of his own and another $2,500 from his "Grow Missouri" PAC for good measure. That would represent the large majority of Holly PAC funding to date, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.
Certainly, Sinquefield would deny any part in messaging that stokes racial fears, denigrates his beloved hometown or in this case, both. But if Holly Rehder owes a huge portion of her campaign treasury to you, then you own a huge portion of how she spends it.
It's Rehder's good fortune that she embraces two precious Rex causes that Swan does not, at least not as passionately: Private school vouchers and the elimination of state tax credit programs. These were formerly known as "Defund Public Education" and "Defund Historic Preservation."
For her part, Swan is also not afraid to stick out her neck for Trumpism. Her anti-abortion stances are as extreme as it gets — and as if her positioning as an anti-women's rights woman weren't enough — she stood on the floor on the House in March as a registered nurse and proclaimed that all this COVID-19 stuff was "boring Doomsday talk." Fortunately for Swan, the pandemic went away like magic in April, or she might have looked bad.
It won't matter to us who winds up casting creepy votes from the fighting 27th senate seat. But it should matter that a self-proclaimed civic guardian is participating in such a horrid misrepresentation of St. Louis.
Sinquefield arguably looks worse than Swan. Not only is he subsidizing garbage about creeping St. Louis radicalism, but the campaign piece also contains a bizarre reference to how Swan "voted to send billions of tax dollars to a St. Louis mega-corporation and wealthy developers." That does seem a bit overstated, but also implies that Sinquefield and his own priorities are not far from the Rehder effort.
Sinquefield is an eccentric noted for twin hobbies: as a master of chess and as an avid collector of political souls. The two passions often intersect as the secretive quasi-billionaire arranges his pieces on the political chessboards of St. Louis and statewide Missouri.
Sometimes the passions don't intersect so well. Right now, Sinquefield is in the midst of trying to convince people of color that they will be people of more money if only they'd support his pet libertarian dream of airport privatization. He seems to be selling the project as a civil rights cause to the NAACP and others, which is bizarre to begin with. I wonder what they'd think of the message his candidate is selling in Cape Girardeau.
Along those lines, it's also discomforting that Sinquefield takes comfort in political consultant Jeff Roe, whose company apparently was responsible for the campaign piece. Roe is not your everyday champion of chicanery. He has built quite a national enterprise with his Axiom Enterprises and can proudly boast that he was once described by disgraced ex-Governor Eric Greitens as a "snake, liar and coward." It is fitting, then, that Roe has signed on to Team Greitens.
That reclamation project will need to wait as Roe and others with national connections will focus on stoking fears as the only means of Trump's reelection.
If fear is the strategy, St. Louis will be ground zero, and that means everyone's favorite neighbors from hell — Mark and Patricia McCloskey — will remain centerstage in places like Cape Girardeau. No matter how much people in St. Louis would like to forget they are here.
The McCloskeys gained international repute for themselves — and one more nice round of race-related humiliation for St. Louis — by training their firearms on those most frightening of all criminal elements: peaceful protesters walking down the street past one's house. Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged them Monday with Class E felony counts of unlawful use of a weapon.
Then, as if that won't make their heads explode enough, Gardner kindly offered them participation in her diversion program, one of the criminal justice reforms that make right-wing Republicans howl that she's soft on crime. Now, that's poetic justice.
It will remain to be seen how crazed the Republicans care to get in trying to martyr these flawed figures. President Trump tweeted on their behalf, presumably just to honor the cause of pointing guns at people of color.
Senator Josh Hawley arguably hit a new low — which is saying something in his case — when he called upon Attorney General William Barr to investigate Gardner for investigating the McCloskeys. What might the violation be termed? Prosecuting While Black?
Finally, there was Gov. Mike Parson jumping on the pile by promising to pardon the McCloskeys without the benefit of a single fact other than what is in the media.Now that's good governance, consistent with that famous Second Amendment provision, "The government will pass no law restricting the use of firearms by white residents of gated communities."
But to those of you who want to ridicule and vilify the McCloskeys for their meanness, for their fashion tragedy, for being despised by their neighbors, for having given Trump $1,600 in 2016, for playing the victim in a mess of their own making, sure, go ahead and take all the cheap shots you want.
Me? I want to help the McCloskeys. In fact, I've got a good idea, one that Rex Sinquefield could help with. Let's raise enough money for Moms Demand Action, a gun-control organization, to purchase the McCloskeys mansion from them at fair market value.
And then let's organize a GoFundMe to cover all the moving costs to send the McCloskeys to Cape Girardeau. They can buy another nice mansion.
And I'm certain they will feel safer there.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).