The day of his fall, former state Rep. Don Gosen sat in his empty insurance office in the Wildwood Town Center and had a good cry.
The front door was locked. Shed were the coat and tie that had been his uniform from January to May each of the past six years. Gone also, was the dignity that comes — or should come — with such a lofty position. Wearing a red polo shirt and blue jeans, he sat back in his chair, sobbing over the mistakes he had made.
Gosen, a 53-year-old Ballwin Republican, was a decent lawmaker — at least if measured by bills that made the governor’s desk. But like many before him who leave their communities as frogs and enter the state’s capital city as princes, he lost his moral compass.
Starting in 2014, Gosen says, he had an affair. He betrayed his wife and three daughters. He betrayed his faith. Now he’s paying the price. Gosen blames only himself for his bad behavior. On Thursday, Gosen said that on the advice of his attorney, he wouldn’t publicly outline the events that led to his resignation.
But two sources with knowledge of Gosen’s actions, including one whom the former state representative confided to before he resigned, say the downfall started with an event outside the Capitol in 2014.
Gosen met the woman, who is from southeastern Missouri, and they hit it off. She is not a Capitol employee and hasn’t ever worked there. At some point, the sources say, the relationship became sexual. Gosen, following the path made famous by former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner and to a lesser extent former Missouri Speaker of the House John Diehl, sent the woman at least one text that included a photo of a sexual nature. The Post-Dispatch has obtained one of these texts. The couple also made a video of some sort, the sources confirmed.
Gosen lied to the woman, sources say, about many things, including his ultimate intentions, and that led to a bad breakup. It’s unclear when that breakup took place.
It’s the sexts and video — or at least the rumor of their existence — that led to his rapid fall from grace. Those rumors made their way to Speaker of the House Todd Richardson on Monday. He called Gosen into his office and asked for his resignation.
Gosen said he had already made that decision, after telling his wife and daughters what had happened.
It was quite the contrast to last year’s House shenanigans that began when Diehl sent sexually laced texts to a college intern. Diehl, a Republican, at first denied involvement with any salacious or inappropriate behavior, before hiding in a locked Capitol office for much of the night. Eventually, he resigned in disgrace, as did, later, state Sen. Paul LeVota, a Kansas City Democrat, who was accused of some similar behavior.
Richardson wanted to turn the page quickly on the Capitol’s culture of corruption. It’s why the House passed several bills strengthening the state’s weakest-in-the-nation ethics laws early in the session. Perhaps not so ironically, one of those bills made its way to the Senate floor the day after Gosen’s resignation. Possibly the most important provision was a one-year cooling off period that would stop lawmakers from going directly through the revolving door of passing laws to influencing them as lobbyists.
The Senate, as if on cue, took that provision out. Too many senators don’t want their options limited. Like their president pro tem from last year, Republican Tom Dempsey of St. Charles, they want to be able to turn their public service into a lobbyist’s salary overnight.
There is a common theme between Gosen’s fall from grace and the Senate’s failure to pass a minimum ethics standard that mimics what exists in Congress and most other states.
An overgrown sense of entitlement.
Too many lawmakers believe they are entitled to the things that come their way in the Capitol. Gifts. Free meals. Expensive trips. Interns. Women.
But eventually comes the bad breakup, and then the fall. The fall is often quick and hard and devastating.
Almost exactly six years ago I sat in an empty Cape Girardeau hotel restaurant and talked to former Missouri Speaker of the House Rod Jetton about his own fall, which also involved sex with a woman who was not his wife. In Jetton’s case, he eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in the incident.
“I got an application in to drive a garbage truck, and I got turned down to sell appliances, “ he told me. “I’ve got no reputation. I have no money. I’ve got nothing.”
Gosen’s reputation is damaged, as is that of the entire Capitol. But, for now, he’s got his wife and kids. He’s got his business. He’s left victims in his wake, but he’ll have a chance at redemption.