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Capitol Perspectives: The Pain of Loss

Phill Brooks
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Mo Capitol
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Every election night, I think back to the losers of past elections.

I remember how some have been magnanimous in defeat, while others have been bitter.

It is difficult, I think, to realize the emotional pain a candidate must feel at being rejected in such a public fashion.

It was expressed in 2010 when U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s spokesperson explained the absence of an election night appearance and concession by Susan Montee who had lost her bid for reelection as state auditor.

“Auditor Montee is at home trying to figure out and waiting on results in a private way…When close races happen, they are really hard to deal with,” Danny Rotert said.

The first statewide loser I covered was Haskell Holman. He had been and remains the longest serving state auditor in Missouri history.

But after 18 years in office, it was clear he would lose to Kit Bond and a re-energized Republican Party in 1970.

On election night, Holman had no election party or watch. Instead, he just went to his office to wait out the results alone.

When I called him that night, he was cleaning out his files, clearly in expectation of defeat.

He actually asked me if it was time to concede. All I could do was give him the results so far — to which he gave, as best I know, the only official concession statement that night.

It was a sad interview. He had been an institution in Missouri government. But, time had passed him by. From that interview, I think he recognized the passing of an era. Holman died just a few years after his defeat.

The humility of Holman contrasts sharply to the reaction of Republicans at John Ashcroft’s loss for the U.S. Senate in 2000.

Ashcroft’s Senate colleague Kit Bond charged a “criminal enterprise” and called for a federal investigation into a judge’s decision to keep some polling places in St. Louis City open past legal closing hours. The state party’s chair charged there had been an organized effort to steal the election.

Eight years later, the Republican loser for governor took a quite different approach to defeat. “I love Missouri too much for our state to remain divided,” Kenny Hulshof said.

Campaign staffers are affected almost as deeply as the candidate in defeat. Many are dedicated to their candidates. They have sacrificed enormous hours and time on their candidates’ behalf.

Like their candidates, some are magnanimous in defeat. Often they become remarkably candid with reporters because they no longer are obligated to protect their employers. Or, for some, you almost sense a desire to distance themselves from a failed campaign by spilling dirt on how things would have been better if they had been in control.

But some staffers get bitter, even more bitter than their candidates.

Among the most bitter I’ve encountered were some of the campaign staff for the 1992 GOP candidate for governor, Bill Webster.

Arriving at the election night watch for a campaign that clearly was going to lose, I was told by top staff that I would not be given any information by them because of how I had covered reports of a ~federal criminal investigation that had sunk Webster’s campaign.

The story actually had been broken by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in what was one of the best investigative reporting efforts I’ve seen in Missouri. But in picking up on the newspaper’s investigations, I became the target of staff bitterness.

It turned out that it actually gave me a reporting advantage.

Seeing me excluded because of staff revenge, I was invited to the private table where sat the candidate’s mother and the long-term administrative assistant to the candidate’s father, the late Sen. Dick Webster who had been one of the lions of the Missouri Senate.

From there, I got a unique perspective on the passing of a major Missouri political dynasty and the pain that political loss inflicts on family. It reminded me of the pain I first encountered in Haskell Holman’s 1970 defeat.

We should not forget that Webster, his family, and his staff suffered the pain of loss because of Webster’s own criminal activities for which Webster spent time in federal prison.

But for so many others, I’ve come to understand that part of the sacrifice paid by some public servants and their families is the pain of loss.

As always, let me know (at column@mdn.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email. Past columns are available at www.mdn.org/mpacol or here.

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