The 4 GOP Candidates for Governor of Missouri Are Betting Anger Over the 2-Year-Old Riots Will Carry One of Them Into Office

AP Photos
AP Photos

On a Friday evening in late July, Catherine Hanaway stood before 50 attentive citizens of a small town in southeastern Missouri—men in slacks and sneakers, women with nicely done hair. Her 6-foot-tall frame swayed slightly as, with her usual frankness, she made a spirited case to be the next governor. The country is breaking down, the former federal prosecutor told the group gathered in the newly opened headquarters of the local Republican Party—police ambushed and murdered in Dallas, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Ballwin, Missouri—three shootings and eight dead in 10 days.

As people nibbled cupcakes topped with small American flags, Hanaway painted a picture of violence and decline every bit as dark as the vision Donald Trump had delivered in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland a day earlier. Then she brought it home.

“I think it started in Ferguson,” she says.

Nationally, “Ferguson” has become a byword for a new American civil rights movement. The protests that followed the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by a white police officer, marked the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has pushed overpolicing to the foreground of national politics. Mothers of other police-shooting victims stood together on the stage of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week.

But for many people in Missouri, especially the approximately 600,000 Republicans who expect to vote in the GOP primary Tuesday, the lesson of Ferguson is not that the police used too much force, it’s that it used too little. Ferguson, to them, was an embarrassment: preventable chaos that tarnished the name of the otherwise orderly St. Louis suburbs. Those nightly images of lawlessness, in their eyes, were an indictment of the weak-kneed way Democratic Governor Jay Nixon let protesters and outside agitators run amok, looting without apparent consequence. This governor’s race, the first major statewide contest since the unrest, is the first chance Missourians have had to register anger that has only grown since the summer of 2014.

As Americans seem to be having two different conversations about law and order—the fear-driven, paternal message of Trump and Rudy Giuliani; the concerned inclusiveness of the Democratic National Convention—there may be no better place to see the divergence at work than Missouri. In the increasingly conservative corners of Missouri, there has been far less interest in improving the relationship between police and minority communities than in making sure that the next governor has zero tolerance for violent protests. And that widespread sentiment has created a surprisingly consistent voice among the four GOP candidates who have struggled to separate themselves through a heated, troubled and extremely costly primary that has been marred by the suicide of one of the early candidates and a spending binge on negative ads.

But the defining issue of the campaign is the anger directed at Nixon, who is at the end of his term limit—over Ferguson and the subsequent high-profile protests at the University of Missouri. Republicans know that Nixon has made his party vulnerable and they are primed to seize one of the last statewide seats still in Democratic control. To do that, the Republicans are competing to prove which of them is the toughest.

After Hanaway wrapped up her remarks in Sikeston with her standard rallying cry—make Missouri “safe and strong”—she sat a few feet from the crowd and 130 miles from the site of the Ferguson protests. She returned to the theme that has defined her campaign. Missourians, and people across the country, she said, are feeling threatened by the recent jump in crime rates in cities. They are small increases compared with the decades of declines in homicides nationally, but a sudden spike nonetheless, and to Hanaway they signal an existential threat.

“I feel like the positions we’re taking are a response to Ferguson getting burned down [and] the protests at the University of Missouri—that’s our flagship university,” she said. “There need to be some basic operating rules.”

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Source: Politico | MAGGIE SEVERNS