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Greitens pledges end to 'politics as usual,' and shows it with his first official act

Greitens pledges end to 'politics as usual,' and shows it with his first official act

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JEFFERSON CITY • In Eric Greitens’ first official act as Missouri’s 56th governor, the Republican newcomer signed an order barring employees under his control from accepting freebies from lobbyists.

It isn’t a new concept, or even one that may be judicially enforceable, based on a 2002 court ruling. But it highlighted what the political newcomer said on the campaign trail when he pledged to end “politics as usual.”

On a day normally reserved for the pomp and circumstance of the swearing-in ceremonies of five statewide officers, the newly minted 42-year-old chief executive said his action will ensure his administration is distanced from the wining and dining that has become commonplace during the legislative session.

“We promised that we were going to clean up the culture of corruption in Jefferson City. As governor, I will always hold myself and my team to the highest possible standard,” Greitens said.

His order, which also bans political appointees within the governor’s office from working as lobbyists during his tenure, is considered by the Missouri court system as more of a directive than an enforceable law. Despite that, the order notes that punishment could include being fired.

The signing came minutes after Greitens and four other Republicans were sworn into office on the south steps of the Capitol under cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-30s. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who did not run for re-election because of term limits, viewed the proceedings from a nearby seat in front of thousands of onlookers.

Greitens, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, Treasurer Eric Schmitt, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Attorney General Josh Hawley each have four-year terms ahead of them.

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, took the oath with his hand on a Bible that once belonged to a World War I soldier. As part of the military overtones of the day, a B-2 bomber flew overhead, followed by a 19-gun artillery salute and a review by Greitens of National Guard troops on the north side of the Capitol.

The ceremony ushered in an era of Republican dominance in the executive and legislative branch and signaled the start of a push by GOP leaders to chart a pro-business course for the next four years.

In a 10-minute-long inaugural speech, Greitens promised his administration wouldn’t back down “because of political pressure or political correctness.”

He acknowledged “big fights ahead for big things” but also shared a message of unity.

“Yet even as we fight for our convictions, we resolve that the greatest conviction is to love our neighbors as ourselves,” he said.

He also doubled down on his outsider status.

“This is the people’s house,” Greitens said. “And to those who would trouble this house for their own selfish and sinful gain, hear me now: I answer to the people. I come as an outsider, to do the people’s work.”

Jim Matush, 60, a founding partner in a wealth management firm in St. Louis, made the two-hour drive to the Capitol for the events with a group of more than 20.

Matush said he first met Greitens almost 10 years ago and has followed his work with his charity, the Mission Continues, ever since.

“The impact (of Greitens in office) for business owners and the economy will be huge,” Matush said. “He’ll cut through red tape. He’ll simplify and create a much more business-savvy type of government that doesn’t demonize businesses but actually lifts them up.”

Shehzad Khan, 52, of Hazelwood, said he is excited because Greitens is not a career politician.

“I’m excited to see him starting on ethics reform and especially law and order. What happened in Ferguson and Berkeley was not positive for Missouri,” Khan said while waiting in a receiving line at the Governor’s Mansion.

The long-awaited day came after a week in which Greitens toured the state, thanking people who helped him win his first-ever bid for office.

In the evening, legislators, statewide officers and their families were introduced to a crowd in the Capitol rotunda as part of the traditional inaugural ball.

Greitens and his wife, Sheena, led the statewide officers in the Missouri Waltz before Boonville native and country music star Sara Evans launched into “Missing Missouri,” “Suds In The Bucket” and “I Could Not Ask For More.”

Greitens beat Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in a campaign that was heavy on imagery but lighter on specifics. His top priorities are boosting education, defending law enforcement, creating jobs and improving the culture of the capital city.

“An administration can render a check,” Greitens said. “But no amount of money given by a government can ever provide the meaning, strength and dignity that comes from a good-paying job.”

Republicans who control the Legislature appear ready to try to oblige the new governor on issues such as making Missouri a “right to work” state and enacting a lobbyist gift ban. As a signal of their eagerness, committees in the House have scheduled an early round of hearings in an attempt to get legislation to the governor’s desk before the end of the month.

House Speaker Todd Richardson had already promised that that ban will be the first piece of legislation out of his chamber in the 2017 legislative session.

The Senate is more likely to be a roadblock to the sweeping ethics reform Greitens has called for.

Democrats, meanwhile, suggested Missouri could be in for a rough ride under GOP control.

House Minority Whip Kip Kendrick said a litany of anti-union proposals, changes to education policy and reforms to the legal system will be fought by his party.

Greitens also will face a potentially volatile budget situation as revenues have come in slower than projected, said Kendrick, D-Columbia .

“There’s not much more fat in the budget left to cut,” Kendrick said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt told the Post-Dispatch he’s excited about having Republicans in control in his home state and in Washington .

“We now have a governor and a president who will be working with a Legislature of their own party. Neither at the national level or Missouri have we had that for quite a while now,” Blunt said. “I think there are great opportunities for our state.”

Ashcroft, the son of former U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, spent the first hours of his new job hosting an open house at his new office. He said his wife and mother made cookies and brownies for visitors.

“We want the people to know we work for them,” Ashcroft said. “It’s about service, not political advancement.”

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter.

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