Work screwed up my plans. Our annual St. Louis Tea Party / Heritage Action Christmas Party started at 6:00 in the evening on December 17. I knew Auditor Tom Schweich planned to attend, and I looked forward to seeing him.
About 3:00 the problems started. People scurrying to wrap up projects before the Christmas break led to errors, questions, and never-ending email threads.
I finally made it out of the office about 7:30 and arrived at Scarecrow in Chesterfield a little after 8:00.
"You missed Tom Schweich," someone said as walked into the room. "He was great."
Later, someone who long questioned my favorable view of Tom said, "I have to re-think everything I've said about Schweich. He impressed me. And a lot of people, I think."
I experienced the same surprise when I met Tom Schweich the first time. We met for lunch on a hot day in 2010. I expected a typical GOP establishment hack: smooth, overly friendly, defensive, and forgettable. I expected the man others told me to expect. But I met someone very different.
Rock n Roll Lunch
How different? That lunch ended listening to his band's recording of their original rock song. We were sitting in Tom's car in the parking lot at Lamp and Lantern Village. The car was suffocating, but the music was great.
"Reminds me of the Rolling Stones," I said.
"I love the Rolling Stones," Tom shot back. Beamed back. "They're a big influence."
Of all the many politicians I met in 2009 and 2010, none stood as distinctly as Tom Schweich. Most of my friends adamantly opposed him, of course, preferring his competitor Allen Icet. While Icet garnered the full support of the tea party movement in Missouri, Schweich's support--financial support in particular--came from Sam Fox, John Danforth, and others in the intellectual Republican world.
Schweich addressed his donors head-on and before I asked. "I am one-hundred percent completely pro-life," he told me. "I disagree with my donors on many issues, including pro-life, and they don't expect me to change my position. Because I won't."
I kept in touch with Auditor Schweich after he became auditor. We meet occasionally for lunch. Our conversations usually touch on politics, but only briefly. Literature, business, and music consume most of our talks.
I hadn't seen Tom for a few months before Lincoln Days in St. Louis in 2013. On opening night, Auditor Schweich gave a speech that several of my friends found disturbing. Schweich urge all center-right people to look for common ground we could take together. He asked the Republicans assembled to give their fellow conservatives the benefit of the doubt and a little slack.
Again, work kept me from the Friday night opening events, but arrived early on Saturday. I made a point to say "hello" to the Auditor, but he saw me before I saw him. He was on me in a second.
"Listen, Bill, I might have some things last night that you might not like. I wanted to tell you about it myself."
Different. Other politicians who've said things I might not like simply dodged me. Not Tom. As with the Danforth thing, he addressed this issue head on and directly with me. If his words had disappointed me, his courage and straight talk immediately won me back. I'd rather deal with a politician who honestly and openly disagrees with me than with a politician who says one thing and does another.
The Run for Governor
January 2015 is way to early to get too deep into 2016 races, but it's not too early say this: in a race between Catherine Hanaway and Tom Schweich, my decision is already made. I like Schweich.
You probably know that Rex Sinquefield gave Catherine Hanaway a million dollars last year. While I agree with much of Rex's philosophy, I question his methods. For all his millions spent to influence issues and elect obedient politicians, his record sucks.
Plus, something about single-source candidates feels unsavory.
Finally, Catherine Hanaway strikes me as a squish. A squish being someone who worries more about being a Republican than about doing the right thing. For example, Hanaway notoriously opposed concealed carry when she was Speaker of the Missouri House. She changed her position only when its unpopularity became impossible to deny.
Tom Schweich has flaws, of course. So do I. And so do you. But "for sale" isn't one of Tom's weaknesses. A politician for sale doesn't address disagreements head-on the way Tom does. And politicians who sell out to the highest bidder don't waste time scrounging up support from lowly voters like me. They just court a few massive donors and spread the wealth around.
In the race for Missouri Governor, I honestly believe that integrity is an indispensable quality for the Republican candidate. "Integrity" is the first word I think of when trying to describe Tom Schweich.