JEFFERSON CITY • On a normal weekday, Gov. Eric Greitens enters the Missouri Capitol through a basement entrance and heads up an elevator into his warren of offices on the second floor.
But the myriad meetings and planning sessions that comprise a normal day at the office will be put on hold beginning Thursday when Greitens instead heads to a St. Louis courtroom for jury selection in his felony invasion of privacy trial.
With the high-profile trial expected to continue through most or all of next week, how will Greitens govern the state?
A spokesman for the embattled Republican said his absence from the capital city will be little different than when the governor is out of town on other business or campaign matters.
“As he usually does, the governor will get updates from senior staff and cabinet members, get policy and legislative briefings and meet with staff and other officials — in person and over the phone,” said Parker Briden. “Whenever the governor travels, we stay in regular contact. The governor and his team will continue to work — around the clock — for the people of Missouri.”
It is not unusual for governors to operate state government by remote control. Former Gov. Jay Nixon went on numerous trade missions to far-flung nations. Governors get sick and stay home. Greitens has spent time away from Missouri campaigning on behalf of other Republicans.
But in each of those cases, the governor could stop what he was doing and take an urgent phone call. Or, he could cancel his plans and quickly return to the office to tend to the matters at hand.
Greitens won’t have that kind of latitude next week. As a defendant in a criminal case that has cast a cloud over the Capitol since January, he is expected to be present when the trial is underway.
Unless the governor declares himself unable to serve, dies or is impeached and removed from office, there are no provisions for the lieutenant governor to take over when a governor is absent.
Lawmakers, who are heading into the final week of their legislative session and are planning to consider impeachment immediately afterward, say the governor’s absence during the hectic final week of the session is of little consequence to them.
“He hasn’t been here all session, basically,” said Rep. Nate Walker, R-Kirksville, who has called on Greitens to resign. “I had dialogue with him last session some, and he didn’t seem to want to listen to anything. It was more or less his way or not. This governor has really never figured out the political process. He’s a wonderful campaigner, but he hasn’t learned to govern yet. That’s a serious flaw that he has.”
Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, has not requested the governor’s resignation and was one of a few lawmakers who did not sign a petition calling for a special session to consider impeaching Greitens. He said former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, didn’t play a big role during the last week of session.
“Where Nixon would come into play is maybe you would need to go talk to him to try to get him to not veto something,” White said. “I’m not concerned about our governor vetoing our legislation. Our major conservative efforts, the governor’s on board with. The governor being gone for a couple of days isn’t a big deal. It happens all the time. The executive branch in my opinion is running quite well now.”
Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, who has called on Greitens to resign, said Greitens being stuck in a courtroom may have little impact on how the House and Senate operate.
“He’s not here anyway. I haven’t seen him all session. We’re going to keep doing our work,” she said. “They do their thing, and we do our thing.”
Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis, who has called on the governor to resign, agreed with his Republican counterparts.
“The House has continued to move whether some of us feel we should or we shouldn’t,” Franks said. “I don’t think the trial is going to stop that.”
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, who has called on Greitens to resign, said he’s concerned the governor’s trial will divert attention away from what’s happening in the Capitol.
“We’re passing a lot of bills which are very controversial and are major changes to our state and to the people who live in our state,” Merideth said. “My concern is the focus and attention of all of those people in our state will be on that trial and not on what’s happening in this building, which gives us the freedom to pass some really awful things without proper scrutiny.”
As examples, Merideth pointed to a Republican-led push to change the state’s civil service system for state employees and proposals to overhaul the state’s tax system, which would cut taxes for individuals and corporations.