ST. LOUIS • John Hancock's radio co-host jumped to his defense Wednesday, insisting that the Missouri Republican state party chairman wouldn't have made anti-Semitic remarks or done anything else to prompt state Auditor Tom Schweich's suicide last week.
“I've known John 20 years ... and I know that John's not an anti-Semite or a bigot,” Michael Kelley, Hancock's Democratic partner on KMOX Radio's bipartisan talk show "Hancock & Kelley," told the Post-Dispatch today. “Anyone who rushes to the conclusions that are being drawn here is not thinking about the issues that surround a person's decision to commit suicide.”
Kelley added: “John has a clear conscience. He feels extremely sad, as we all do, about what's taken place. He also is being implicated in some things that just aren't true. That's a hard place, I'm sure, for John to be.”
Kelley's unprompted call to the newspaper is the latest move in a struggle between Hancock and his detractors in the wake of Schweich's Feb. 26 death.
Those detractors include former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., whose eulogy at Schweich's funeral Tuesday made unnamed but obvious reference to Hancock's behind-the-scenes conflict with Schweich, and implied that it played a role in Schweich's death.
Schweich, newly elected to his second term as state auditor and one of two Republican front-runners for next year’s GOP gubernatorial nomination, died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on Feb. 26 in his home in Clayton.
Schweich had earlier alleged that Hancock had deliberately spread disinformation about Schweich’s religion. Minutes before his death, Schweich had set up an interview for later in the day in his home with reporters for the Post-Dispatch and the Associated Press to discuss those allegations.
Hancock is a consultant who has worked for Catherine Hanaway, Schweich's main opponent in the GOP gubernatorial race.
Schweich had claimed that Hancock had mentioned to people in passing that Schweich was Jewish. Schweich wasn’t Jewish. He said he believed the mentions of his faith heritage were intended to harm him politically in a gubernatorial primary in which many Republican voters are evangelical Christians.
Hancock hasn’t denied that he may have mentioned his mistaken belief that Schweich was Jewish, but he has adamantly denied it was intended as a smear.
Danforth, in his eulogy Tuesday, dismissed that explanation and painted the conflict as a deliberate anti-Semitic campaign designed to hurt Schweich. He also invoked a taunting radio ad against Schweich, run by a PAC that has had ties to Hanaway's campaign, which made fun of Schweich's appearance and derided him as a "little bug."
"Words do hurt. Words can kill," said Danforth.
Schweich's spokesman at the auditor's office, Spence Jackson, has called for Hancock's resignation as chairman of the party.
While major party officials so far aren't joining in that call against Hancock, they aren't offering much in the way of public support, either.
"This is ultimately up to the Republican State Committee, which elects the State Party Chairman,” U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a written statement when asked whether Hancock should resign. “I continue to focus my attention on remembering Tom's life and work in the wake of this tragedy."
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, said through a spokesman that he favors a systemic overhaul to get some of the dirt out of Missouri politics. But on the question of whether Hancock should step down, he called it “a matter for the state party.”
Hanaway, when asked Wednesday whether Hancock should resign, responded with a similarly neutral written statement: “I suspended my campaign last week out of reverence to Auditor Schweich’s family and will not add any additional commentary to further politicize this tragedy. I continue to pray for the Schweich family during this difficult time."
Kelley, Hancock's radio partner and a former Missouri Democratic Party executive director, expressed admiration for Danforth as a political icon in Missouri. But he strenuously took issue with the suggestion that politics would have prompted Schweich's suicide.
“The senator is in the same the position that so many of us are in trying to have a rational explanation as to why someone takes their own life. It's only human nature that we look for a cause," said Kelley.
"But this is one of the most irrational acts that can take place ... No one really can quite understand the thought process that a person is in when they choose to take their own life.”