This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 16, 2010 - The Missouri Democratic Party eagerly pounced today on Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, after his office announced that Deputy Lieutenant Governor Jerry Dowell is on five-days unpaid leave as punishment "for using state resources to advocate for political candidates."
Dowell, executive director of Kinder's beloved annual Tour of Missouri bicycle race, apparently used a state computer and a Tour of Missouri email account Monday to forward a message about a fundraiser former state Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, who is now running for the Missouri House. (The Tour of Missouri has been until now partially bankrolled with state money.)
Kinder chief of staff Rich AuBuchon said that Dowell's message "was sent during his lunch hour in what appears to be a genuine mistake."
Still, AuBuchon continued, "While I believe this is an honest mistake, this is one that I will not tolerate. Therefore, Jerry has been placed on unpaid leave for five days effective as of 8 a.m. today"
Kinder tweeted about the incident Tuesday morning, shortly after learning about it from his staff. He took swift action, aides said, in part because he was aware that the Missouri Democratic Party also knew about Dowell's misstep and was about to pounce.
A couple hours after Dowell was put on leave, the Missouri Democratic Party did.
In a statement, state Democratic Party communications director Ryan Hobart said:
"This is part of a long-standing, disturbing trend involving Peter Kinder’s top staff mixing their official duties with politics. Using taxpayer resources for political campaigns is explicitly forbidden by state law, and it is apparent that a line has been crossed. This trend goes all the way back to his time as president pro tem of the Senate when his chief of staff was raking in thousands of dollars in consulting fees. The people of Missouri deserve to know why Lt. Gov. Kinder has allowed his capitol office to be overtaken by politics."
The Democrats then listed a series of newspaper articles in recent years involving political activities by Kinder's staff, on and off state time, or while also drawing state salaries. Using state resources for political activities violates Missouri law.
Kinder spokesman Gary McElyea replied that the Democratic Party may be forgetting "much bigger violations of this law by other elected officials."
"The auditor's report on Jay Nixon's violations come to mind," McElyea added.
He was referring to a 2007 dispute, while Nixon was attorney general, over Nixon's use of a state car and state security as he campaigned for governor.
Nixon's staff had maintained it was necessary and didn't violate any state laws. The Missouri Republican Party had disagreed, and accused Nixon of committing the same kind of missteps that landed his predecessor -- Republican Bill Webster -- in prison in 1993.
Nixon and fellow Democrats noted that then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, was openly campaigning using state transportation and state security, which the GOP said was legal under state law. However, it turned out that the law clearing Blunt wasn't passed until 2005, which raised questions about the state-resources practices of all of his predecessors, Republican and Democrat.
State Auditor Susan Montee subsequently examined the matter and said the law clearing Blunt violated the state constitution.
Nixon asked Montee to conduct an audit of his car-use practices. In the end, Nixon repaid the state for campaign use of the state car and staff, and switched to using a campaign car, with a separate Blackberry for political activities.
Kinder, by the way, got caught up in the same trouble over using his state car for political purposes, although he had been reimbursing the state for his campaign mileage. He ended up switching to a non-state-owned car as well.
All of that state-resources history, said McElyea (referring to the Democrats), is a bit more serious than Dowell's errant email.
Democrats assert that Kinder's staff is simply trying to change the subject from their own latest missteps.
In any case, this latest episode is unlikely to quell any tensions between Kinder and Nixon.
Nor will it ease the governor's officially unrelated opposition to using state money to help pay for the Tour of Missouri, Kinder's pet project. Regardless of what happens to Dowell, Kinder will likely need to find private donors to keep the bike race going.