Missouri Republicans are starting to take sides over the future of the party’s leadership after the apparent suicide of Tom Schweich.
Schweich, it is said, believed Missouri GOP Chairman John Hancock was behind a “whispering campaign” saying Schweich was Jewish, that Schweich believed was intended to hurt him among evangelical Christian Republican voters.
Five Republican state lawmakers this morning joined others in the party who have called for Hancock to resign. Hancock, meanwhile, told KMOX he doesn’t plan to resign and produced a list of 22 people who support him remaining the chairman.
“Now I hope to put this tragic time behind us. It is clear that there was no whisper campaign, and it is time to move on. I intend to continue working to unify our party during this critical time in our nation’s history,” said Hancock.
Hancock released an e-mail exchange between himself and former senator John Danforth, who in his eulogy of Schweich condemned that “whispering campaign.” In the e-mail, Hancock told Danforth he was “deeply disturbed by the allegations,” that he is anti-Semitic.
He told the former senator about his first effort in politics, to save the home of African-American ragtime composer and pianist Scott Joplin. That effort was successful.
“The Joplin House … is still the only historic site in the state of Missouri that honors an African-American, and that’s my heart, so it disturbs me that anybody would consider me a bigot,” said Hancock on KMOX.
Hancock said he doesn’t specifically remember ever saying Schweich was Jewish but said he can’t deny that he ever had.
“It is possible that I said to somebody that Tom was Jewish because I thought Tom was Jewish,” said Hancock. “What I know for certain is that after Senator Danforth informed me that Tom was Episcopalian, I would never have said that he’s Jewish ever again.”
Senator Mike Parson (R-Bolivar) said he met with Hancock and his wife last week and asked him whether he’d said Schweich was Jewish. He said Hancock gave him a similar answer.
“The problem is that cloud’s there and that cloud’s not going to go away,” said Parson, who suggested that Hancock should step down for the good of the party.
“I don’t think there’s a cloud hanging over me,” said Hancock. “I believe this issue is over and its time to move forward.”
Parson and the other Republicans who today called for Hancock to resign said they did so for more than the allegations about the “whispering campaign.” They said the party has failed to take a stand against personal attack ads, the type Danforth and others said also contributed to Schweich’s decision to take his own life.
They point to an ad released in February that said Schweich physically resembled TV character Barney Fife, and said he would be squashed like “a bug.”
Senator David Pearce (R-Warrenburg) said, “There have been no suggested changes in campaign financing, no suggestions on how to change the negative nature of advertising, no suggestions on what to do with campaign consultants, ethics reform: nothing from our party. The reason why we’re asking for change is right now the party’s not working.”
“Our chairman,” said Pearce of Hancock, “has not responded to media calls, not offered a new direction, and really has been more interested in keeping his job than leading the party.”
“In terms of campaign finance reform and ethics reform, I think our legislators take the lead on those issues, and I would look to our legislative leaders to provide legislative leadership,” said Hancock. “My job is to provide political leadership and to help elect Republican candidates up and down the ballot.”
He responded to the call by those five and other Republicans for him to resign, saying, “Now is the time to unify our party, not divide it. It’s disappointing to me that some fellow Republicans have jumped to conclusions before the truth has been fully revealed.”
“I’ll say this as chairman of the party,” Hancock continued. “If any of these legislators are confronted with false rumors or false allegations in the future, I will be the first person to come to their defense.”